The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The future of the Middle East depends on justice for Jamal Khashoggi

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, left, and President Trump in the Oval Office of the White House on March 20. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

THE MOST important question in the case of Jamal Khashoggi is whether Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, will be held accountable for what his regime acknowledges was a premeditated act of murder. Much of the available evidence points to the prince. We cannot find a Middle East expert who believes the official story that the 15-member assassination team sent to Istanbul, including five probable members of the prince’s security detail, was a rogue operation.

Yet the regime is engaged in a determined stonewalling operation to protect the 33-year-old crown prince, who stands to inherit the throne from his father and become the absolute ruler of one of the world’s largest oil producers, potentially for decades. He has the support of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi — another dictator who has killed peaceful opponents — and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to Post reporting, Mr. Sissi and Mr. Netanyahu have lobbied the White House not to punish Mohammed bin Salman.

On the other side of the discussion is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is understandably outraged that Saudi Arabia would have used its consulate in Istanbul to slaughter a Post contributing columnist who was engaged to marry a Turkish citizen. In a Post op-ed posted online Friday , Mr. Erdogan rightly says that had the murder happened in Washington, U.S. officials would insist on getting “to the bottom” of what happened.

Yet the Trump administration appears to be cooperating with Riyadh in protecting Mohammed bin Salman. It has not announced its conclusions about the murder, even though Turkish authorities shared their evidence — including an audio recording of Mr. Khashoggi’s final moments — with CIA Director Gina Haspel. It has taken no punitive action, other than suspending travel privileges for the low-level suspects the Saudis have rounded up. Like the Saudi regime, the White House and State Department have gone silent about the Khashoggi case — in the evident hope that demands for justice will fade.

Like his Israeli and Egyptian counterparts, Mr. Erdogan may have political reasons for his strong stance. His government is competing with that of Saudi Arabia for regional leadership. He is a supporter of Islamist political movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, that the Saudi and Egyptian regimes are trying to annihilate. The Post reported that Mohammed bin Salman falsely smeared Mr. Khashoggi as a Muslim Brotherhood militant in a call to the White House. In fact, the journalist’s allegiances were to democracy and free expression: He argued that neither was possible in the Middle East without tolerance of peaceful Islamic political parties.

Mohammed bin Salman’s advocates argue that holding him accountable would risk turmoil. There is a fundamental illogic to this. The crown prince has already done much to destabilize the region, by leading a military intervention in Yemen, launching a boycott of Qatar and kidnapping the Lebanese prime minister. If he is allowed by the United States to get away with murdering a journalist inside a diplomatic facility in a NATO country, what will he be emboldened to do next — and what license will other dictators take, both in the Middle East and elsewhere?

Those who seek genuine stability in the Middle East should be insisting that the truth about Jamal Khashoggi be disclosed — and that all who played a role in his murder be punished.

Read more:

Recep Tayyip Erdogan: Saudi Arabia still has many questions to answer about Jamal Khashoggi’s killing

The Post’s View: Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered four weeks ago. We’re still waiting for answers.

Jamal Khashoggi: What the Arab world needs most is free expression

Hatice Cengiz: The international community must bring my fiance’s killers to justice

The Post’s View: The Trump administration backs a cease-fire in Yemen. Will it persuade Saudi Arabia?