Disappearance of Saudi journalist could increase tensions with Turkey

Questions over the future of political Islam in the Middle East loom behind the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi after he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, an incident that may “rev up” a rivalry between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, said foreign affairs reporter Ishaan Tharoor in a Washington Post article.

Khashoggi, one of the sharpest critics of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has not been seen since entering the consulate on Tuesday afternoon to finalise divorce papers.

Turkish authorities and friends of Khashoggi quoted in Tharoor’s piece have insisted the journalist is being held by the Saudis, a claim Saudi officials deny.

However, since his rise to dominate Saudi Arabian politics last year, Salman has not hesitated to detain political opponents and critics from every walk of life, including powerful members of the royal family, as Tharoor’s article notes.

Khashoggi has earned the prince’s ill will both for his outspoken criticism of his policies, and for his commentary on political Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which are not tolerated by Salman or his allies, but which the journalist argued are necessary for any kind of reform or democracy in the Middle East.

This is a view shared by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose support for the Muslim Brotherhood affiliated deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, and for Qatar, which was blockaded by Saudi Arabia and its allies for sheltering political Islamists, has ruffled Saudi feathers.

So, while Erdoğan has cracked down on domestic opposition and carried out sweeping purges at home, Turkey under his administration has also become “something of a sanctuary for Arab dissidents of various stripes,” Tharoor wrote.

Meanwhile, with Ankara's overtures to Iran, a country that Turkey is collaborating with in Syria but which is Saudi Arabia's arch rival, the differences with Riyadh have grown even deeper, and, in Tharoor's terms, the disappearance of the journalist from Turkish territory may "rev up" the conflict.