Connect with us


Saudi Arabia fights to rehabilitate its image after Khashoggi murder




Saudi Arabia fights to rehabilitate its image after Khashoggi murder

Tuesday’s arrest in France of one of the possible killers of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi has brought Khashoggi’s gruesome murder to international attention once more. But up until now, Saudi Arabia has slowly but surely been emerging from underneath the shadow of that crime.

In October 2018, global headlines about the assassination, allegedly committed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, saw a renewed focus on the Saudis’ dismal record on human rights, as well the country’s authoritarian leadership practices.

In terms of international diplomacy at least, the Saudis have been something of a pariah state for the past three years. While campaigning for the office he now holds, US President Joe Biden even described Saudi Arabia as such, saying “there was very little social redeeming value in the present government.” Biden has yet to have a personal conversation with Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A French first

This month though, French President Emmanuel Macron did exactly that, becoming the first Western leader to visit the 36-year-old crown prince, who’s often known as MBS, at home.

At the same time, Saudi Arabia was also garnering global attention last weekend by hosting a Formula One Grand Prix car race for the very first time and, this week, by opening the inaugural Red Sea International Film Festival. Until 2018, public cinemas were banned in Saudi Arabia, thanks to ultraconservative religious ideals promoted by the Saudi clergy and royal family.

The events are part of a grand plan, Vision 2030, to modernize the country socially and economically. Hundreds of millions are being poured into one of the objectives of Vision 2030, which is to bring these kinds of events and this kind of positive attention to Saudi Arabia. Human rights organizations have criticized this, claiming that it’s a deliberate tactic to deflect attention from human rights abuses.

Coming in from the cold

In fact, the rehabilitation of Saudi Arabia’s image and the country’s return to international diplomacy has been going on for a while, Eckart Woertz, head of Hamburg’s GIGA Institute for Middle East Studies, pointed out.

“There seems to be a widespread view that, OK, we showed them the red lines — for example, that it is not acceptable to simply murder people in your consulate — and they have not appeared to cross those red lines again,” Woertz told DW. “There have been no similar, high profile cases since. And that is why diplomatic and business ties are becoming more prominent again, the way they were before the Khashoggi murder.”

It is also true that, at the same time as overt diplomatic relations were getting colder, there was still plenty of business being done behind the scenes. Weapons sales to Saudi Arabia by the US and France have continued, with France the biggest vendor to Saudi Arabia in 2020. Arms sales from Canada and Germany resumed last year.

Business as usual?

In January this year, the Saudi business networking event “Davos in the Desert” was well-attended — in contrast to other years when it was boycotted. In October, the Saudi king led his country’s delegation to the G20 summit in Rome. In 2020, Saudi Arabia organized the G20 in Riyadh, even though, in the end, it was held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to questions about his visit to a country with a reputation for carrying out the most executions in the world, including that of underage prisoners, the French president himself pointed out this very hypocrisy, noting that most G20 countries had attended the summit.
Macron also told reporters that it would not be possible to resolve crises in the region without the Saudis onboard. For example, while in Riyadh, he and the Saudi crown prince held a three-way call with the prime minister of Lebanon to try and resolve the political crisis in the former French colonial territory.

Important interlocutor

Despite the US president avoiding a direct meeting, the Americans have also been working more regularly with Saudi Arabia. In September, the US government climate envoy, John Kerry, and the US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, both met with the Saudi crown prince, the highest ranking US officials to do so in several years.

As analysts at the US Council on Foreign Relations wrote in February, “Saudi Arabia remains the US’ primary interlocutor in the Arab world.”

“Saudi Arabia is an important country within the region and a big oil exporter,” GIGA’s Woertz explained further. “No country in the world would throw overboard those ‘realpolitik’ considerations in the long term because of a murder in a consulate, no matter how horrible. There may have been a desire to isolate the Saudis for a while,” he added, “but now there is definitely a notable thaw in relations.”

Other Middle East analysts have pointed out that nobody wants the Saudis to look too far afield for new friends, either. “The Chinese have a lot to offer, and the Russians are particularly good at taking advantage of stress between the US and its traditional partners in the region,” Foreign Policy magazine columnist Steven A. Cook pointed out earlier this year.

Ignoring abuses

Obviously, none of these arguments particularly impresses human rights activists.

“While Saudi Arabia has, since 2017, introduced some landmark social and women’s rights reforms and has recently announced criminal justice and labor rights reforms, this has also been the worst period of repression in Saudi Arabia’s modern history,” Hiba Zayadin, a Human Rights Watch researcher focused on abuses in Arab Gulf states, told DW.

The Saudi Arabian leadership continues to try and ensure the world’s attention is on topics like business deals, entertainment and auto racing, she said, while at the same time silencing any dissenting voices. “When the Saudi government brutally punishes citizens and residents who dare provide honest critical feedback, it can’t credibly spin proposed reforms as genuine efforts to improve people’s lives,” Zayadin argued.

‘People are afraid’

Most analysts agree that while Vision 2030 has brought more social freedoms — such as women being allowed to drive, or venues being open to both sexes — political freedom in Saudi Arabia has in fact decreased.

“The kingdom remains an autocracy. The expansion of civil rights is a gift from the ruler rather than any response to pressure,” Simon Henderson, who heads the Bernstein Program on Gulf and Energy Policy at US think tank The Washington Institute, wrote in October.

Ali Adubisi, director of the Berlin-based European Saudi Organization for Human Rights, agreed. “A while ago, there were still some people who could criticize the Saudi government publicly,” he reported. But that has changed.

“People are afraid. Some of those who criticized the country’s economic policy a while back are now behind bars. Action like this by the authorities obviously intimidates a lot of people,” Adubisi concluded.



Get more from The Thaiger

Looking for your next home in Thailand? Let us match you with a local expert in minutes!

Thank you for your interest!

One of our agents will
reach out to you soon.

I want to:
  • Thailand (ไทย)+66
  • United States+1
  • United Kingdom+44
  • Australia+61
  • Afghanistan (‫افغانستان‬‎)+93
  • Albania (Shqipëri)+355
  • Algeria (‫الجزائر‬‎)+213
  • American Samoa+1684
  • Andorra+376
  • Angola+244
  • Anguilla+1264
  • Antigua and Barbuda+1268
  • Argentina+54
  • Armenia (Հայաստան)+374
  • Aruba+297
  • Australia+61
  • Austria (Österreich)+43
  • Azerbaijan (Azərbaycan)+994
  • Bahamas+1242
  • Bahrain (‫البحرين‬‎)+973
  • Bangladesh (বাংলাদেশ)+880
  • Barbados+1246
  • Belarus (Беларусь)+375
  • Belgium (België)+32
  • Belize+501
  • Benin (Bénin)+229
  • Bermuda+1441
  • Bhutan (འབྲུག)+975
  • Bolivia+591
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina (Босна и Херцеговина)+387
  • Botswana+267
  • Brazil (Brasil)+55
  • British Indian Ocean Territory+246
  • British Virgin Islands+1284
  • Brunei+673
  • Bulgaria (България)+359
  • Burkina Faso+226
  • Burundi (Uburundi)+257
  • Cambodia (កម្ពុជា)+855
  • Cameroon (Cameroun)+237
  • Canada+1
  • Cape Verde (Kabu Verdi)+238
  • Caribbean Netherlands+599
  • Cayman Islands+1345
  • Central African Republic (République centrafricaine)+236
  • Chad (Tchad)+235
  • Chile+56
  • China (中国)+86
  • Christmas Island+61
  • Cocos (Keeling) Islands+61
  • Colombia+57
  • Comoros (‫جزر القمر‬‎)+269
  • Congo (DRC) (Jamhuri ya Kidemokrasia ya Kongo)+243
  • Congo (Republic) (Congo-Brazzaville)+242
  • Cook Islands+682
  • Costa Rica+506
  • Côte d’Ivoire+225
  • Croatia (Hrvatska)+385
  • Cuba+53
  • Curaçao+599
  • Cyprus (Κύπρος)+357
  • Czech Republic (Česká republika)+420
  • Denmark (Danmark)+45
  • Djibouti+253
  • Dominica+1767
  • Dominican Republic (República Dominicana)+1
  • Ecuador+593
  • Egypt (‫مصر‬‎)+20
  • El Salvador+503
  • Equatorial Guinea (Guinea Ecuatorial)+240
  • Eritrea+291
  • Estonia (Eesti)+372
  • Ethiopia+251
  • Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)+500
  • Faroe Islands (Føroyar)+298
  • Fiji+679
  • Finland (Suomi)+358
  • France+33
  • French Guiana (Guyane française)+594
  • French Polynesia (Polynésie française)+689
  • Gabon+241
  • Gambia+220
  • Georgia (საქართველო)+995
  • Germany (Deutschland)+49
  • Ghana (Gaana)+233
  • Gibraltar+350
  • Greece (Ελλάδα)+30
  • Greenland (Kalaallit Nunaat)+299
  • Grenada+1473
  • Guadeloupe+590
  • Guam+1671
  • Guatemala+502
  • Guernsey+44
  • Guinea (Guinée)+224
  • Guinea-Bissau (Guiné Bissau)+245
  • Guyana+592
  • Haiti+509
  • Honduras+504
  • Hong Kong (香港)+852
  • Hungary (Magyarország)+36
  • Iceland (Ísland)+354
  • India (भारत)+91
  • Indonesia+62
  • Iran (‫ایران‬‎)+98
  • Iraq (‫العراق‬‎)+964
  • Ireland+353
  • Isle of Man+44
  • Israel (‫ישראל‬‎)+972
  • Italy (Italia)+39
  • Jamaica+1
  • Japan (日本)+81
  • Jersey+44
  • Jordan (‫الأردن‬‎)+962
  • Kazakhstan (Казахстан)+7
  • Kenya+254
  • Kiribati+686
  • Kosovo+383
  • Kuwait (‫الكويت‬‎)+965
  • Kyrgyzstan (Кыргызстан)+996
  • Laos (ລາວ)+856
  • Latvia (Latvija)+371
  • Lebanon (‫لبنان‬‎)+961
  • Lesotho+266
  • Liberia+231
  • Libya (‫ليبيا‬‎)+218
  • Liechtenstein+423
  • Lithuania (Lietuva)+370
  • Luxembourg+352
  • Macau (澳門)+853
  • Macedonia (FYROM) (Македонија)+389
  • Madagascar (Madagasikara)+261
  • Malawi+265
  • Malaysia+60
  • Maldives+960
  • Mali+223
  • Malta+356
  • Marshall Islands+692
  • Martinique+596
  • Mauritania (‫موريتانيا‬‎)+222
  • Mauritius (Moris)+230
  • Mayotte+262
  • Mexico (México)+52
  • Micronesia+691
  • Moldova (Republica Moldova)+373
  • Monaco+377
  • Mongolia (Монгол)+976
  • Montenegro (Crna Gora)+382
  • Montserrat+1664
  • Morocco (‫المغرب‬‎)+212
  • Mozambique (Moçambique)+258
  • Myanmar (Burma) (မြန်မာ)+95
  • Namibia (Namibië)+264
  • Nauru+674
  • Nepal (नेपाल)+977
  • Netherlands (Nederland)+31
  • New Caledonia (Nouvelle-Calédonie)+687
  • New Zealand+64
  • Nicaragua+505
  • Niger (Nijar)+227
  • Nigeria+234
  • Niue+683
  • Norfolk Island+672
  • North Korea (조선 민주주의 인민 공화국)+850
  • Northern Mariana Islands+1670
  • Norway (Norge)+47
  • Oman (‫عُمان‬‎)+968
  • Pakistan (‫پاکستان‬‎)+92
  • Palau+680
  • Palestine (‫فلسطين‬‎)+970
  • Panama (Panamá)+507
  • Papua New Guinea+675
  • Paraguay+595
  • Peru (Perú)+51
  • Philippines+63
  • Poland (Polska)+48
  • Portugal+351
  • Puerto Rico+1
  • Qatar (‫قطر‬‎)+974
  • Réunion (La Réunion)+262
  • Romania (România)+40
  • Russia (Россия)+7
  • Rwanda+250
  • Saint Barthélemy+590
  • Saint Helena+290
  • Saint Kitts and Nevis+1869
  • Saint Lucia+1758
  • Saint Martin (Saint-Martin (partie française))+590
  • Saint Pierre and Miquelon (Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon)+508
  • Saint Vincent and the Grenadines+1784
  • Samoa+685
  • San Marino+378
  • São Tomé and Príncipe (São Tomé e Príncipe)+239
  • Saudi Arabia (‫المملكة العربية السعودية‬‎)+966
  • Senegal (Sénégal)+221
  • Serbia (Србија)+381
  • Seychelles+248
  • Sierra Leone+232
  • Singapore+65
  • Sint Maarten+1721
  • Slovakia (Slovensko)+421
  • Slovenia (Slovenija)+386
  • Solomon Islands+677
  • Somalia (Soomaaliya)+252
  • South Africa+27
  • South Korea (대한민국)+82
  • South Sudan (‫جنوب السودان‬‎)+211
  • Spain (España)+34
  • Sri Lanka (ශ්‍රී ලංකාව)+94
  • Sudan (‫السودان‬‎)+249
  • Suriname+597
  • Svalbard and Jan Mayen+47
  • Swaziland+268
  • Sweden (Sverige)+46
  • Switzerland (Schweiz)+41
  • Syria (‫سوريا‬‎)+963
  • Taiwan (台灣)+886
  • Tajikistan+992
  • Tanzania+255
  • Thailand (ไทย)+66
  • Timor-Leste+670
  • Togo+228
  • Tokelau+690
  • Tonga+676
  • Trinidad and Tobago+1868
  • Tunisia (‫تونس‬‎)+216
  • Turkey (Türkiye)+90
  • Turkmenistan+993
  • Turks and Caicos Islands+1649
  • Tuvalu+688
  • U.S. Virgin Islands+1340
  • Uganda+256
  • Ukraine (Україна)+380
  • United Arab Emirates (‫الإمارات العربية المتحدة‬‎)+971
  • United Kingdom+44
  • United States+1
  • Uruguay+598
  • Uzbekistan (Oʻzbekiston)+998
  • Vanuatu+678
  • Vatican City (Città del Vaticano)+39
  • Venezuela+58
  • Vietnam (Việt Nam)+84
  • Wallis and Futuna (Wallis-et-Futuna)+681
  • Western Sahara (‫الصحراء الغربية‬‎)+212
  • Yemen (‫اليمن‬‎)+967
  • Zambia+260
  • Zimbabwe+263
  • Åland Islands+358


    Join the conversation and have your say on Thailand news published on The Thaiger.

    Thaiger Talk is our new Thaiger Community where you can join the discussion on everything happening in Thailand right now.

    Please note that articles are not posted to the forum instantly and can take up to 20 min before being visible. Click for more information and the Thaiger Talk Guidelines.

    The Thaiger is Thailand's largest online portal for news, videos and information.


    Follow Thaiger by email:

    Video10 mins ago

    Phuket Night Life Entertainment | Bangla Walking Street is Busier Than Ever

    Phuket2 hours ago

    UPDATE: German woman found in Phuket

    Environment4 hours ago

    More Thai national parks to close to allow for recovery during monsoon season

    Sponsored3 hours ago

    Siam Paragon wins the Best Luxury Shopping Mall 2022 Award

    Tourism4 hours ago

    TripAdvisor’s 2022 Best of the Best Awards includes 2 Thai hotels

    Coronavirus (Covid-19)5 hours ago

    Survey shows fear of side-effects preventing Thai parents from vaccinating children

    Thai Life5 hours ago

    Dengue hasn’t gone away – Dengue fever in Thailand 2022, and how to avoid it

    Join the conversation on the Thaiger Talk forums today!
    Phuket5 hours ago

    Elderly German woman still missing in Phuket as search enters seventh day

    Thailand5 hours ago

    Getting Goosebumps in Bangkok | GMT

    Coronavirus (Covid-19)6 hours ago

    Studies show Omicron infection in vaccinated people “turbo-charges” immunity

    Thailand7 hours ago

    Thai Golf website has 36% jump in views since borders reopen

    Thailand7 hours ago

    Visakha Bucha Day 2022. Today is the substitute public holiday.

    Chon Buri21 hours ago

    Authorities worry too many elephants in Chon Buri, eastern provinces

    Politics22 hours ago

    Yet another allegation of sexual crimes against Thailand’s Prinn

    Coronavirus (Covid-19)23 hours ago

    Thailand’s officials announce fewest daily Covid-19 cases in months

    Video1 day ago

    Can your Embassy protect you from the local police in Thailand?

    Thailand8 months ago

    Morning Top Stories Thailand | Police to end protests, Human Trafficking | September 14

    Thailand1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Thai Airways in rehab, All go for Songkran | March 4

    Tourism1 year ago

    Phuket’s nightlife. Yes, bars and clubs are still open | VIDEO

    Phuket1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Covid passport talks, Thai Airways heads to court | March 2

    Tourism1 year ago

    Phuket Thai food treats you need to try | VIDEO

    Thailand1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Bars, pubs and restaurants ‘sort of’ back to normal | Feb 23

    Tourism1 year ago

    In search of Cat & Dog Cafés in Phuket Town | VIDEO

    Thailand1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Gambling crackdown, Seafood market to reopen, Vlogger challenge | Jan 21

    Thailand1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Covid testing for visas, Business impact, Vaccine approval | January 19

    Thailand1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Weekend Bangkok bombs, Thailand fires, Covid update | January 18

    Thailand1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Stray car on runway, Indonesian quake, 300 baht tourist fee | January 15

    Thailand1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Governor off respirator, sex-trafficking arrest, condo prices falling | January 14

    Thailand1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Chinese vaccine, Thailand ‘drug hub’, Covid update | January 13

    Thailand1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Bangkok may ease restrictions, Phuket bar curfew, Vaccine roll out | January 12

    Thailand1 year ago

    Thailand News Today | Covid latest, Cockfights closed down, Bryde’s Whale beached | January 11