October 5, 2019 at 5:00 am
A year after the brutal murder of
Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, attempts by Turkish President Recep Tayyip
Erdogan to exploit the controversy to boost his own political standing have
Ever since Mr Khashoggi was
murdered moments after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul in
October last year to obtain documentation for his forthcoming marriage, Mr
Erdogan has skilfully exploited the incident to cause maximum embarrassment to
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom he regards as one of his major
Ankara has been at loggerheads
with Riyadh ever since the Muslim Brotherhood, a key ally of Mr Erdogan, came to
power in Egypt in 2012, a move bitterly resisted by the Saudis, who regard the
Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation.
Indeed, one of the reasons the
Saudis targeted Mr Khashoggi in the first place was because of his close links
with the Brotherhood, as well as his close relationship with Qatar, the Gulf
state that is bitterly opposed to the Saudi royal family and is one of the
Brotherhood's most important backers.
Khashoggi's gruesome fate was very
much the consequence of this complex web of bitter regional rivalries between
prominent Muslim leaders, so that when a team of Saudi assassins carried out
their plot to silence Khashoggi's high profile criticism of the Saudi regime --
his columns regularly appeared in the Washington Post, among other prominent
publications -- Mr Erdogan responded by doing everything in his power to
orchestrate an international campaign denouncing the Saudi crown prince.
Thus, in the immediate aftermath
of the Khashoggi killing, the Turkish authorities oversaw a steady drip-feed of
revelations about the murder that were acquired as a result of numerous bugging
devices that had been placed in the Saudi consulate by Turkish intelligence.
Turkish efforts to maintain their
anti-Saudi public relations offensive have continued right up until the first
anniversary of his death, which fell earlier this week, with new, even more
graphic, details of how Mr Khashoggi met his end being made available to Western
media organisations such as the BBC, which this week broadcast a programme
claiming to have the "secret" tapes of Khashoggi's last moments.
If Mr Erdogan's aim throughout
this process was to cause the Saudi Crown Prince maximum embarrassment, then, to
judge by the way Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler is conducting
himself, the ploy has failed miserably.
There was, of course, much
speculation in the immediate aftermath of the affair that MbS, as the Saudi
Crown Prince is universally known, might be removed from his position over
claims that he was personally responsible for ordering the murder, which was
very much the line being pushed by Mr Erdogan in the Western media.
A number of administrative changes
were indeed made to the running of the Saudi royal court. But as no conclusive
evidence has been produced to link MbS directly to the killing, his position as
the key figure in the Saudi regime appears undiminished. Moreover, his candid
acceptance, in an interview with the PBS network aired this week, that ultimate
responsibility for the Khashoggi killing rests with him because the murder
happened on "my watch" appears to have drawn a line under the affair
so far as most Western governments are concerned, with the US, as well as most
European countries, slowly adopting a "business as usual" approach to
their dealings with the Saudis.
By contrast, Mr Erdogan, who has
been the main driving force behind efforts to cause the Saudis maximum
discomfort, now has an abundance of problems of his own, challenges which could
spell the end of his 16-years in charge. After Mr Erdogan's Islamist AKP party
lost badly in last April's mayoral election for control of Istanbul, the Turkish
leader now finds himself trying desperately to salvage Turkey's battered
economy, where the currency is in free fall, foreign debts remain vast, and
inflation and joblessness are alarmingly high.
Many Turks blame their country's
plight on Mr Erdogan's obsession with pursuing his radical Islamist agenda,
which includes supporting groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.
Many prefer him to concentrate
instead on addressing their domestic concerns, a view the Turkish president
would be well-advised to take on board if he intends to remain in power.
Con Coughlin is the Telegraph's
Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at