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Khashoggi Murder, but Not Yemen Crisis, Elicits Calls for Freezing Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia

After the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, multiple Western nations called for a pause in arms exports to Saudi Arabia but why doesn’t the humanitarian crisis in Yemen illicit the same response?

The Swiss government recently decided to pause exporting arms parts to Saudi Arabia due to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was once the kingdom’s darling before turning into its strongest critic. The Swiss administration first halted arms export to Saudi Arabia in 2009 but was, until the recent announcement, still sending parts and munitions to Saudi Arabia. Switzerland is not the only country calling for a freeze in arm sales to Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi’s murder.

Jamal Khashoggi

Khashoggi was a Saudi journalist who often criticized his country’s policies, including the kingdom’s military intervention in Yemen. The 59-year-old Washington Post columnist was killed while entering his country’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

The latest statement from Turkish investigators said the prominent writer was choked a few minutes after entering the building and then dismembered.

Saudi Arabia was slammed for being inconsistent in making statements about how Khashoggi died. Government officials in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, also denied being the mastermind of the incident. Turkey claimed the order to kill Khashoggi came from the highest level of the Saudi government, not from Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. The brutal incident has ruined the relations between Saudi Arabia and the West and triggered a call for arms sale bans to the oil-rich nation.

Who Else is Calling For Banning Arms Sales to Saudi Arabia?

A week ago, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his country was ready to freeze an arms sales deal should Saudi Arabia prove to have misused the weapons. The young prime minister issued the statement following the mounting pressure to punish the kingdom after the killing of Khashoggi.

Canada and Saudi Arabia signed an arms deal worth $12 billion in 2014. But the relations between the two nations became strained when the Saudi government froze its diplomatic ties with the North American nation due to human rights issues in August after Canada urged Riyadh to release human rights activists detained by the kingdom.

Germany froze arms exports to Saudi Arabia and called on fellow European Union (EU) member countries to suspend arms sales until the murder case is solved.

However, in Spain deputies voted against a proposal in Spain’s parliament to cancel arms sales to Saudi amid the global outrage over the Khashoggi scandal. Spain and the Saudi government just agreed to a deal worth 1.8 billion Euros to supply Saudi Arabia with five navy ships.

France and the U.K., among Riyadh’s biggest arms suppliers, have so far opposed Germany’s proposal to suspend arms sales. The latter’s bomb and missile’s sales to Saudi jumped 500 percent since the Yemen war broke out in 2015, according to a report in 2017.

The United States, President Trump has not supported any initiatives to consider suspending arms sales to Saudi Arabia either. However, a bipartisan bill was put forward in the House calling for a freeze on all arms sales to Saudi Arabia upon its passing.

The World Unites to Condemn Saudi Arabia on the Khashoggi Incident But Remains Silent on Yemen

In late October, the United Nations warned the world that half the population of Yemen – 14 million people – are at risk of starvation which was an increase over their previous estimate that 11 million Yemenis were at risk of starvation.

“Our revised assessment, the results of new survey work and analysis, is that the total number of people facing pre-famine conditions — meaning they are entirely reliant on external aid for survival — could soon reach not 11 million but 14 million,” said U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator Mark Lowcock. “That is half the total population of the country.”

Yemen is on the brink of disaster due to the escalating conflict that erupted in 2015 when the Saudi-led coalition invaded the country after Houthi rebels took control of Yemen’s western territories and expelled then Yemen President  Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.

Thousands of Yemenis have died since the war started, but the West remained silent. The U.S. and its European allies continued to supply weapons to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations in the coalition that is bombing one of the poorest countries in the Middle East and has killed innocent Yemen civilians.

So Why Is the Khashoggi Incident Seen as More Important Than the Endless Bloodshed in Yemen?

First, Khashoggi’s background. He befriended Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the journalist maintained close ties with Saudi’s royal family until he lost favor with Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).

Khashoggi then went into a self-imposed exile in the U.S. and continued to criticize the kingdom until his death.

Second, the location of the murder. This complicates the situation since it happened in the Saudi consulate office in Istanbul, which is protected under international law. Despite whatever happened inside the building, Turkish officials and investigators are not allowed to enter it without permission from Saudi authorities.

Last, the geopolitical impact of the murder and the future of MBS. The influential young prince condemned the killing and  called it “a disgusting incident.” However many suspect MBS’ involvement in the murder and he has gone from an admired prince to a brutal despot in the eyes of much of the world.

Riyadh arrested 18 people related to the murder on October 20. Erdogan has called for the 18 suspects to stand trial in Istanbul, where the prominent columnist was murdered. The 18 men implicated in the murder allegedly have special ties to MBS.

Erdogan and Turkey may be using the Khashoggi murder as an opportunity to measure how powerful the prince is and to limit the reach of MBS and Saudi Arabia – Turkey’s regional rival.

Yasmeen Rasidi

Yasmeen is a writer and political science graduate of the National University, Jakarta. She covers a variety of topics for Citizen Truth including the Asia and Pacific region, international conflicts and press freedom issues. Yasmeen had worked for Xinhua Indonesia and GeoStrategist previously. She writes from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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