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Saturday, February 22, 2020

Out of my Mind: Lawless lawmen

The most encouraging aspect of the Khashoggi story is that a single honest journalist was seen as a threat by the Saudi regime.

Written by Meghnad Desai | Updated: October 28, 2018 12:30:28 am
jamal Khashoggi murder Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was a columnist for The Washington Post. (AP Photo)

It has been a strange week for the Rule of Law and the fragility of Absolute power. The case of Jamal Khashoggi has shown that even if you have absolute power in your own country and unlimited wealth to buy people around the world, there may come a moment when all power and wealth are as nothing.

The most encouraging aspect of the Khashoggi story is that a single honest journalist was seen as a threat by the Saudi regime. Indeed Khashoggi seemed to create so much fear in the absolute rulers of Saudi Arabia that he had to be killed. The pen is mightier than the sword. Even so, the killing seems to have been a needlessly cruel and messy job. How much must be the anger against Jamal Khashoggi that he was not just shot, nor poisoned. As far as we know, he was hacked to pieces and the body parts were scattered. It is a horrible way of showing hatred for someone who poses a threat by merely writing newspaper columns.

If the act had been carried out within Saudi Arabia, no one would have found out. But the irony of globalisation and the power of technology is such that even crime was found out. Getting Khashoggi killed away from Saudi Arabia (but technically on Saudi Arabian territory — the Embassy in Turkey) proved a serious error. For one thing, the Turkish government had bugged the Embassy. (I presume every country bugs the foreign embassies routinely. If not, why not?) I guess the Saudi team which carried out the heinous crime was used to doing such things routinely with impunity back home.

But abroad is not home. The big blow was first landed not by other countries, not even Turkey and the US. It was the invitees to the ‘Davos in Desert’, the rich corporations and their top officers, who boycotted the conference. They were worried about the damage to the brand by association with a cruel act and hence losses. Money talked loudly and the Saudi money could not drown out global business money. This is the power of consumers to inflict losses if they boycott a brand for unhealthy behaviour. This happened before the last World Cup in football when FIFA had problems with corruption. The big sponsors such as Coca-Cola insisted that the FIFA clean itself up or they will withdraw sponsorship.

Even worse than the crime has been the totally incompetent way in which Saudi authorities have failed to tell a credible story. People think that democracies are soft and not very efficient. Here is a monarchy which has not learnt how to protect its reputation.

The Chinese showed how they do such things. Meng Hongwei was the first Chinese head of Interpol. When he went to China for some work, he was arrested. The charge was corruption. The Chinese government declared that he had to be tried. No one from Interpol complained. The inside story is that Meng was a protege of Jiang Zemin, the former Chinese president, and Xi Jinping’s rival. The elimination of a high-ranking official was carried out and no one is any wiser about his whereabouts. No hypocrisy about the Rule of Law.

Democracy is the best guarantee for the Rule of Law.

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