AS CONGRESS considers its reaction to the state-sponsored murder of Jamal Khashoggi, it’s important to take into account that it was not an isolated act. The strangling and dismemberment of the journalist by a 15-member Saudi team form part of a pattern of brutal repression by the regime of King Salman and his highest-ranking son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that far exceeds that of previous rulers. Saudi Arabia, in turn, forms part of a quartet of Sunni Arab dictatorships, all allied with the United States, that have sought to eliminate all forms of dissent, including free media, independent civil society groups and anyone advocating liberal reforms.
The regimes, which include Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, as well as Saudi Arabia, don’t hesitate to employ the most extreme methods to accomplish their aims, including mass arrests, torture, forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. In doing so, they are repeating the mistakes of previous Arab dictators and storing up trouble for the future, in the form of alienated citizens and stagnant economies. In offering the regimes unqualified support, the Trump administration in turn is putting vital U.S. interests at risk.
One probable reason for the CIA’s conclusion that Mohammed bin Salman was involved in the Khashoggi murder is the operation’s resemblance to numerous others launched from the crown prince’s court over the past 18 months. As The Post’s David Ignatius reported, a team of Saudi intelligence operatives working with close advisers to the crown prince have kidnapped a number of dissidents domestically and abroad. The detainees have been held in secret prisons and tortured. Among the victims are women’s rights activists who advocated the right to drive and who remain imprisoned.
Mohammed bin Salman has taken cues from UAE ruler Mohammed bin Zayed, and the two dictators in turn have sponsored Egypt’s Abdel Fatah al-Sissi and the ruling al-Khalifa family of Bahrain. The four countries joined in an ill-considered boycott of Qatar, and support the same factions in the civil wars of Yemen and Libya, helping to perpetuate the conflicts and, in Yemen, the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
While attention has been focused on the Khashoggi case, the Sissi regime has been stepping up its assault on what remains of civil society in Cairo. Since late October, dozens of human rights activists and lawyers have been arrested, including 19 on Nov. 1, according to reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Many are being held incommunicado by security forces. Authorities are meanwhile demanding that all news websites register with the government or close down.
Bahrain staged a sham election last week from which opposition parties were excluded. The country’s most prominent human rights activists are serving prison terms, as is the main opposition leader, who on Nov. 4 was sentenced to life in prison.
Just as it has abetted Mohammed bin Salman’s effort to escape responsibility for Khashoggi’s murder, the White House has tacitly backed the repression in Egypt and Bahrain, lifting restrictions on U.S. military aid and arms sales. The administration’s policy supposes that the dictators can indefinitely maintain control over their restless populations by denying basic freedoms and assaulting anyone who advocates them. It’s a strategy that ignores history, as well as fundamental U.S. values; unless checked by Congress, it’s likely to produce more trouble in the Middle East.