Accidental Death of a Spoonmaker
With audiences stretching from Poland to Kazakhstan and throughout the Middle East, Turkey has in recent times become a large exporter of soap opera. There is more than a touch of TV melodrama to the way the Erdoğan government has unfolded the story of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, engineering a rare deceleration in the pace of the world media, hooking global audiences on a drip feed of slow news.
Nothing in the timing has been left to chance. Word that Khashoggi's remains had been found, and evidence of the act itself – three weeks ago now – was released to coincide with the opening day of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Future Investment Initiative, a.k.a. ‘Davos in the Desert’. Rows of chairs were left unoccupied, each a quiet marker of the corporate names – J.P. Morgan, Credit Suisse, Ford Motor Company, Siemens – that followed media companies in withdrawing from the event.
A few months ago, the London Stock Exchange changed its rules to allow Saudi Aramco, the Kingdom’s state oil company, to list shares in London. This week, the LSE joined the list of absentees in Riyadh. Saudi’s new(ish) enemy, Qatar, is one of the Stock Exchange’s main shareholders, but the sense is that the private sector is beginning to look at the Kingdom with trepidation. Saudi's plans for a future without oil depend on its being seen as a safe place to do business.
Reuters reported that the CIA director, Gina Haspel, flew to Turkey on Monday. Donald Trump, who will endure much and question little where the Saudis’ human rights record is concerned, seems frustrated that the story won’t go away. That the Saudis have overstepped the mark with Khashoggi is plain. To complicate matters further, in killing a columnist for the Washington Post they may also have antagonised the paper’s owner, Jeff Bezos, the Amazon chief and richest man in the world, who has his own fractious relationship with Trump.
In Turkey, Khashoggi is known as Cemal Kaşıkçı, the original, Turkish version of his name; his Ottoman ancestors adopted an Arabic form of it when they left Anatolia to begin new lives in the Arabian peninsular. Given the state of the Turkish economy, there were early suspicions that Ankara might cut a deal with the Saudis over the killing. It’s possible that his Turkish ancestry is among the reasons Khashoggi’s death has in the end carried more clout than all the Saudi-inflicted deaths that came before it. The word ‘kaşıkçı’ itself refers to the old profession of spoonmaker, a modest trade for a man who has so unsettled both a prince and a kingdom.