It has been a rough few weeks for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Millions spent on western public relations firms failed to stave the outpouring of sharp and biting accusations against the kingdom, following the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist living in the United States and writing for the Washington Post. He was in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, formalising some paperwork for his upcoming marriage to a Turkish national when he disappeared.
Indeed, Saudi Arabia was not spared seconds or even given an opportunity to state its case before knives were being sharpened and vitriol spent by western politicians and media figures. The wind was definitely knocked out of the country’s sails. But there was a sense of closure across the kingdom when the government announced that the journalist had died and there was relief in hearing the announcement that those who perpetuated the crime would not be allowed to get away.
In the days following the initial announcement, Saudi Arabia said his death was the result of a ‘rogue operation’ by people acting beyond the scope of their authority, and 18 Saudis have been arrested. More recently, with the investigation continuing in full swing, the Saudi public prosecution said last Thursday that the killing was premeditated.
The government was emphatic in stating that anyone tied to Khashoggi’s death would not be free for long. It was a heinous crime, and some of those who took part in the murder had been rounded up by the authorities for full investigation into the tragic incident. King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz has made it clear that such a reprehensible act was contrary to the principles of Saudi Arabia and that no one should doubt the sincerity of the government in getting to the bottom of the truth. Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman said that the case of Khashoggi was “painful” and that “justice will prevail”. He added that all culprits would be punished, and that Saudi Arabia and Turkey would work together “to reach results”. “The incident that happened is very painful, for all Saudis. The incident is repulsive and not justifiable. Justice in the end will appear,” he said.
The king, the crown prince and all the senior members of the government and the Saudi community have offered their condolences to the Khashoggi family. It seemed that one of our own was brutalised and we were not forgetful of the family’s pain.
But all the news concerning the country was not bad. A major economic conference held in Riyadh brought in a wave of fresh investments.
The event, attended by world leaders, kings and prime ministers, showcased what indeed Saudi Arabia as a country is marching towards. Leaders and scions of major economic firms and interests were in attendance and giving full ear to the planned outline of the kingdom’s vision for the next decade. Things were buzzing and deals were being signed. On the sidelines, deals worth more than $56 billion (Dh205.96 billion) were inked for 25 different projects.
The crown prince added that the country would be “completely different” in five years and will be well on its way to wean itself off the riches of its natural resource of oil. He said the country had already taken “very big steps to develop its own economy. The numbers speak for themselves. Our non-oil revenues have almost tripled.”
This was welcome news to many Saudis who had been burdened by all the negative publicity in the previous weeks. At last there was an air of positivity about Saudi Arabia. No, this country is not a den of rogues and murderers. It is about people, good people who had been maligned by a very unsympathetic western media that put Saudis on the back foot before all the details on that sordid crime emerged.
Saudis are resilient and will no doubt seize on the crown prince’s words to shake off the pall of gloom that has descended over the kingdom. This is a people that existed before the discovery of oil and will continue to do so long after our natural resources are exhausted. No longer will our existence depend on the availability and export of the crude.
Such is the vision of the country’s leaders, and there is every expectation that with diligence, transparency and clarity we will get there. The wind is back in our sails.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena.