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Rivalry between Turkey and Saudi Arabia is nothing new. Relations between Turks and Saudis have been strained since the Ottoman Sultan publicly executed Saudi ruler Abdullah Bin Saud in İstanbul in 1920. Saud’s head was displayed on the city walls for three days before his body was thrown into the Sea of Marmara.
Simply, the two states are continuing to compete for the moral leadership of the Sunni Muslim world.
In the month since 59-year-old Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, horrific stories have spread far and wide about how a hit squad conducted their business.
Apparently the whole process has been well documented by Turkish authorities, with dark details of the event being leaked though official and unofficial channels for weeks.
Turkey says that 18 Saudis were dispatched to Istanbul in the lead up to the killing. The team even included a body-double for Khashoggi, Mustafa el Medeni, who left consulate by the back door wearing Khashoggi’s clothes. Khashoggi’s shoes apparently didn’t fit so, according to Hürriyet columnist Abdülkadir Selvi, he left the consulate in sports shoes.
Khashoggi’s body was reportedly cut into pieces. A top Saudi doctor, accompanying the team of killers, allegedly advised them to listen to music on headphones while executing the job.
Turkish authorities have leaked these details, and other evidence, especially to Western media sources. Ahmet Hakan, Hürriyet columnist and CNN Türk commentator, wrote in an October 19 column: “Photos came through to my mobile with the caption: ‘here are the body parts of journalist Jamal Khashoggi who was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul’. I opened them. Body parts… hands… legs… head… It’s impossible to look at them.”
The alleged executioners were reportedly detained for some time when they returned home to Saudi Arabia. But according to Turkish government-backed newspaperYeni Şafak, one of them was involved in a road accident and died in suspicious circumstances.
Top Saudi public prosecutor, Attorney General Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb, traveled to Turkey and met twice with Istanbul-based prosecutor İrfan Fidan. The meeting apparently did not go well, and was characterised by an unwillingness to share information on both sides.
Mojeb asked Fidan for the evidence the Turks had collected thus far. Fidan refused to provide the full brief. Fidan asked Mojeb where Khashoggi’s body was - considering that Mojeb had statements from the team detained in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi prosecutor refused to answer.
Abdülkar Selvi, a prominent newspaper columnist and supporter of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s, says that the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been caught “red handed” in the Khashoggi killing. He has gone as far as to describe Salman, UAE Crown Prince bin Zayed Al Nahyan and Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner as a regional “devil’s triangle” whose primary aim is to destroy Erdoğan.
According to Selvi, Al Nahyan was “very active” in the failed coup attempt against Erdoğan on July 15, 2016. “Turkey cannot live with Salman for the next 50 years as Saudi King,” wrote Selvi on October 22. “We cannot close this chapter until Prince Salman is sacked and made accountable for his actions.”
Crown Prince Salman is also known to have pushed for regime change in Qatar in collaboration with Saudi Arabian allies UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. Qatar remains one of the Turkish president’s closest international allies.
Deakin University PhD candidate and lecturer in Middle Eastern politics Tezcan Gümüş says Erdoğan’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is seen as a hostile strategy by the Saudi regime.
“Crown Prince Muhammed Bin Salman has taken a much more aggressive foreign policy stance since last year when he was given sole authority by his father King Salman. Erdoğan wants to extend his authority in the region. Erdoğan’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood was considered hostile by the Saudi regime and its allies UAE and of course Egypt,” he tells SBS Turkish.
Gümüş says that Erdoğan was seen internationally as a troublemaker until the Khashoggi killing and that the Turkish president is now using the incident to “rebrand” and place himself at the heart of international politics in the region.
University of Tasmania Associate Lecturer Wayne McLean also thinks the Khashoggi killing is being used in the battle of influence in the Sunni Muslim world and Sunni politics.
“In the bigger picture I think Khashoggi himself has very little to do with what’s going on," says McLean. "It’s really an avenue for a lot of other unresolved issues caused by nervousness around this emerging, destabilised global world order under US President Donald Trump.”
Exiled Turkish journalist Ergün Babahan noted in a recent column that Khashoggi was not the only journalist killed in Turkey. Seven other journalists have been killed in Turkey apart from Jamal Khashoggi. “Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have not taken as much responsibility for investigating the deaths of Turkish citizens as they have for the murder of Khashoggi,” he wrote.
Despite many revelations about Jamal Khashoggi's death, mostly hailing from Turkish authorities, McLean thinks Erdoğan has not yet released all of the information.
“By releasing this information and doing it strategically, he hasn’t done what you might call a ‘document dump’ on the Saudis," he says. "He has been quite strategic in streaming out these issues, trying to get a response or get some value or potentially using it as a security currency."