One could say that it was foolhardy for any known Saudi dissident to visit his country’s offices abroad for whatever reason.
We may never know what happened to Jamal Kashoggi, the Saudi journalist who has gone missing since he was last seen entering his country’s consulate in Istanbul more than a week ago.
Reportedly, he had gone to the consulate in connection with paperwork he needed to complete to enable him to wed his Turkish fiancée.
Speculation has been rife about what befell the journalist once the door closed behind him, some sources even suggesting he had been killed and then dismembered and his body parts disposed of one way or the other.
I use the word “foolhardy” in my opening sentence because the Saudi kingdom is not famous for its humane treatment of those who disagree with its brutality or those who are deemed to offend the ridiculous prudishness it imposes on its subjects.
Saudi Arabia is one of the remaining handful of absolute monarchies in the world, and its rulers have been able to manipulate the mix of religion and oil money to sugar-coat a miserably medieval form of government.
The presence of the two holiest mosques for the world’s Muslim faithful (the haraamain of Mecca and Madina) has made the kingdom one of the most visited countries in the world, which naturally beefs up its dollar coffers apart from what accrues from the rivers of oil atop which it sits.
Every devout Muslim who strictly observes the prayer schedule must face Mecca at least five times a day as he or she prostrates himself/herself at the feet of Allah, and the Sunni branch of Islam holds sway among the majority Muslims in the world.
All this has afforded the kingdom immense prestige and it has not been slow to cash in on these special attributes.
The kingdom has had to contend with another power in the region since the advent of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the end of the 1970s and the installation of a full-fledged Ayatollahdom in the ancient country boasting millennia of Persian civilisation.
The Sunni versus Shia conflict in that neighbourhood has no parallel anywhere in the world where the two branches of Islam have adherents living side by side.
This has made for a string of proxy wars in which both countries have spent fortunes to try to ensure ascendancy over the other.
It is clear that the region has suffered, rather than benefited, from the presence of these giant proponents of the Islamic faith.
The ongoing war in Yemen, with its horrific civilian casualties, including children, is a case in point.
However, it would be unfair to blame Saudi Arabia alone for the deadly animosity in that corner of the Gulf: Iran has never hidden its desire to have the corrupt monarchy overthrown.
In such a volatile situation, Kashoggi played a dangerous game as one who was too close to the ruling clique before he turned against it and embarked on a career of showing it in the worst possible light.
In a way, he was a traitor who deserved the harshest punishment available. In Saudi justice, that is death by beheading.
Despite the hypocritical smiles of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (yclept MBS), and in spite of his phony war on corruption, the Saudi government is rotten to the core, and it will not tolerate anyone who has been on the inside and must know too much to turn rogue on it and spill the beans from the pot that once fed him.
Nobody will do a thing against the monarchy on account of a journalist “disappeared.” Donald Trump doesn’t even know how to lie about this one.
His son-in-law is in bed with bin Salman, and the money coming from the kingdom to pay for American arms and services is just too good to throw away because a silly man was blind to the dangers inherent in stepping inside that building in Istanbul.
Trump may even privately think the whole thing is fake news invented by the Clintons.
For the scribes that we are, this is another reminder of the perils of the métier, and what we need to do is to raise our voices in condemnation of the Saudi government, not only over Kashoggi, but over all the denials of basic human rights in the country, as we should be doing with all human-rights violators across the world.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]