On October 2, Jamal Khashoggi was seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The Saudi journalist and dissident hasn’t been seen since then. But the grisly details of what happened to the columnist for The Washington Post have come mostly from unnamed Turkish security officials, leaving few doubts about Khashoggi’s fate.
The story of Khashoggi’s disappearance has gripped Western capitals and the media, not to mention Saudi Arabia’s many allies and adversaries in these places. One note of irony in this story is that details about the missing journalist have come from Turkey, which under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has crushed dissent and dismantled the free press, jailing no fewer than 27 journalists, a number matched only by Egypt.
Ankara’s response to Khashoggi’s disappearance can be broadly understood in two ways: as a manifestation of its fraught relationship with the Arab world over Erdoğan’s support of the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, and as a sign of the Turkish president’s deference to the Saudi royal family, the custodians of Islam’s holiest sites.
To understand Erdoğan’s relationship with the Arab world, you must first understand his Justice and Development Party (AKP), a movement that combines elements of the social conservatism of Islam with conservative politics. It believes that only those parties in Muslim countries that also subscribe to such views are authentic, Soner Cagaptay, the director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me. Other political ideologies are seen as foreign. This explains Erdoğan’s vocal support of the Muslim Brotherhood and its allied parties across the region when the Arab Spring began in 2010. “He sees only them as authentic, native, and everything else as imported,” said Cagaptay, who is also the author of The New Sultan: Erdoğan and the Crisis of Modern Turkey. “So Turkey played its hand wrong in the Arab uprising, and when the Muslim Brotherhood parties lost, it lost.”