Opinion A look at the world leaders who have cozied up to MBS

(Video: Washington Post staff illustration; photos by Anadolu Agency, Getty Images and AFP)

On Oct. 2, 2018, Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and was brutally murdered by Saudi agents. According to a CIA assessment, Khashoggi’s killers were acting on the orders of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, widely known as MBS.

In the days that followed, politicians and leaders around the world condemned Khashoggi’s killing and called for justice and accountability.

Four years later, as the world looks for alternatives to Russian oil and gas, many of those same figures have posed for photos with MBS, shaken his hand or fist-bumped him.

The United States

Then: In a November 2019 debate, presidential candidate Joe Biden was asked whether he would punish Saudi leaders for Khashoggi’s murder. He vowed: “I would make it very clear we were not going to, in fact, sell more weapons to them, we were going to, in fact, make them pay the price and make them, in fact, the pariah that they are. There’s very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia.”

Now: In July, Biden visited Saudi Arabia and was photographed fist-bumping MBS. “From the start, my aim was to reorient — but not rupture — relations with a country that’s been a strategic partner for 80 years,” Biden wrote in a Post op-ed explaining the rationale for his visit.

Turkey

Then: In November 2018, the month after Khashoggi’s murder, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wrote in a Post op-ed that “the murder of Jamal Khashoggi involves a lot more than a group of security officials, just as the Watergate scandal was bigger than a break-in and the 9/11 terror attacks went beyond the hijackers. As responsible members of the international community, we must reveal the identities of the puppetmasters behind Khashoggi’s killing.”

Now: In April, Erdogan ended Turkey’s prosecution of Khashoggi’s killers and visited Riyadh as part of his efforts to gain Saudi investment in Turkey’s struggling economy. He hosted MBS in Ankara in June, welcoming the prince with kisses on both cheeks.

France

Then: In a phone call with Saudi King Salman in October 2018, French President Emmanuel Macron expressed “profound indignation at the crime and demanded that all possible light be shone on the circumstances that led to this drama,” according to a statement from his office. “France will not hesitate to take international sanctions, together with its international partners, against the guilty.”

Now: Last December, Macron became one of the first Western leaders to meet with MBS — during a visit to the Middle East since Khashoggi’s murder. In July, the French president hosted MBS in Paris, posing for a long handshake.

Britain

Then: Writing in the Telegraph before he became prime minister, British politician Boris Johnson called Khashoggi’s murder “sick” and “bizarre.” “This cannot become a pattern. We cannot just let it pass,” he argued. “We have crucial commercial and security partnerships with Saudi Arabia. … But the UK and the US must lead other countries in holding Saudi Arabia properly to account.”

Now: Johnson, while prime minister, visited Riyadh in March and met with MBS to discuss energy security. “In spite of the news that you’ve referred to,” Johnson said when asked about the Saudi human rights record, “things are changing in Saudi Arabia. … That’s why we see value in the partnership.”

Press Enter to skip to end of carousel
Opinions coverage of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder
Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Post contributing columnist since 2017, was killed in Istanbul at the consulate of Saudi Arabia in 2018. According to a U.S. intelligence assessment, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved an operation to capture or kill him.
Fred Hiatt, The Post’s editorial page editor at the time, called it “a monstrous and unfathomable act.” He wrote a column titled “Why bring a bonesaw to a kidnapping, Your Highness?
Khashoggi’s columns for The Post described Saudi Arabia under Mohammed bin Salman, calling it “unbearable” and comparing him to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
President Biden, after vowing on the campaign trail to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah,” visited the country in July 2022. Biden defended the trip in a guest opinion for The Post. Washington Post Publisher Fred Ryan wrote that Biden’s trip showed American values are negotiable.
Biden greeted Mohammed bin Salman with a fist bump, which columnist Karen Attiah called “a crass betrayal.” Attiah edited Khashoggi’s columns for The Post.

1/5

End of carousel

Johnson’s successor as prime minister, Liz Truss, was foreign secretary at the time. In June, she told a parliamentary committee: “What I would say is that Saudi Arabia is an important partner of the United Kingdom.”

Germany

Then: In October 2018, Germany halted arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Then-Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas condemned Khashoggi’s murder “in the strongest possible terms.” “The available information on the events in the Istanbul consulate is insufficient,” they wrote in a statement. Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, then finance minister, agreed, calling the killing “cruel” and saying those responsible should be held “accountable.”

Now: Scholz, Merkel’s successor as chancellor, visited Saudi Arabia last weekend and met with MBS. Although he told reporters that he discussed human rights issues with the crown prince, he also said he wanted to expand Germany’s energy partnership with the kingdom.

As MBS is once again courted by world leaders, Saudi efforts to sanitize the kingdom’s image through multibillion-dollar investments in high-profile art, sports and culture events also carry on. All the while, repression continues at home: Saudi Arabia has handed down decades-long sentences for tweets, sentenced teenagers to death for protests, and launched intimidation campaigns against dissidents and critics abroad.

So much for justice and accountability.

Loading...
Loading...