Oct 16 2018

The irony of Turkey’s campaign for a missing Saudi journalist

It is ironic that details about missing Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi have come from Turkey, which has crushed dissent and strangled the free press under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Ankara’s reaction to Khasshogi’s disappearance can be understood by considering its fraught relations with the Arab world and Erdogan’s deference to the Saudi royal family, who are the custodians of Islam’s holiest sites, Krishnadev Calamur wrote in the Atlantic.

Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) believe that only those who subscribe to its combination of social conservatism and conservative politics are authentic, according to Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute.

The Turkish president has vocally supported the Muslim Brotherhood and its political allies in the Middle East through and after the Arab Spring, while other ideologies have been seen as foreign, Cagaptay said.

“He sees only them as authentic, native, and everything else as imported,” he said. “So Turkey played its hand wrong in the Arab uprising, and when the Muslim Brotherhood parties lost, it lost.”

Turkey has become one of the safest places in the world for the Muslim Brotherhood and other dissidents from Egypt to the Gulf to Syria, Calamur wrote. But Khashoggi’s disappearance suggests that they’re not really safe in Turkey, according to Cagaptay.

 “This must have sent shivers down the spines of dissidents from Egypt and from Gulf countries in Turkey,” Cagaptay said. “And that's why I think Erdogan has to find a way that whatever path the Saudis take to dig out of this, it becomes very clear that it won't happen again, it won't be repeated because that will hugely undermine Erdogan's design to maintain a lever against Egypt and GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council]-bloc countries through supporting the opposition, predominantly by hosting Muslim Brotherhood dissidents.”

Erdogan is hoping that Saudi Arabia takes the “exit ramp” and blames “rogue elements” or the deep state, and throws “someone important under the bus” for Khashoggi’s alleged murder, Cagaptay said. He also does not want a rift with the Saudis because it will almost certainly rupture the already brittle Turkish economy, he said.

“So I wouldn’t be surprised … if this ‘rogue elements’ rhetoric sticks, and Erdogan embraces it as well,” Cagaptay said. “I would also not be surprised if in the aftermath of it, the Saudis help Turkey financially and its economy.”