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How The Khashoggi Story Is Playing In The Middle East


Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been under fire since a Washington Post columnist was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Bessma Momani is an expert on Middle East affairs, and she joins us now to talk about how the Saudi crisis is playing out across the region. Thanks for being with us.

BESSMA MOMANI: My pleasure.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: How are the developments of this story playing out in the Middle East? Is it proving to be a loyalty test to the kingdom, or is there any opposition in the region?

MOMANI: Well, I mean, governments are certainly crowding to display their loyalty, many of them issuing statements supporting both Saudi Arabia and King Salman. Of course, the public is a whole different story. I think there, there's a lot of fear, a lot of worry that people who are activists, journalists, dissidents and those who may be speaking their opinion may, in fact, be threatened now. There is a real great chill, I think, in the air amongst those members of civil society.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Many are trying to figure out Turkey's role here. We wouldn't know what happened to the Washington Post columnist without their intelligence services leaking the information. It's also a major player in the Middle East, an American ally, though far from a robust democracy. How is this affecting Turkey's role in the region?

MOMANI: Well, they've been very interesting, I think. And they've been very calculative in terms of how they've released information really to extract as much, I think, leverage as possible, particularly with the Saudis. And I would say that they've played it very smart. They've looked like the hero in this story.

Ironically, they have, you know, 40,000 people imprisoned. Many of them are journalists, as well, and activists and others. So they're clearly not the beacon of liberal democracy in the region, but they've been able to play this role of basically defending, you know, this one man, Jamal. And, of course, it - really extracting, I think, an important price from the Saudis, which has yet to be determined, I believe.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I mean, that's the bigger question - I mean, what is in it for Turkey? What game are they playing? I mean, why expose Jamal Khashoggi's murder in this way?

MOMANI: Quite simply, they want some sort of economic relief. They are facing an impending economic crisis. They have an enormous amount of dollar-denominated debt. They need hard currency. They need foreign exchange. They need investment. They need investment opportunities. And that's all something that Saudi Arabia and much of the Gulf countries can provide. It can't be provided by Europe. It can't be provided by other allies or what were allies. And so it doesn't want to go to the IMF. Erdogan was very clear about that. And so it really depends on, now, countries with liquidity.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And just briefly - we only have about 30 seconds left - we can't talk about Saudi Arabia without mentioning Iran. How do you see this balance of power playing out?

MOMANI: Well, in many ways, it's kind of strengthening Iran. But more importantly, I think it's going to make it very difficult, I believe, for the U.S. government, who wants to impose sanctions next week and continue to ratchet up the pressure on Iran, when, in fact, Saudi Arabia looks like a much more menacing actor in the region.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Bessma Momani, political scientist at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. Thank you so much.

MOMANI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.