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Outrage is the word that describes the international reaction to Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.  Nations, international organizations, corporations, and civil society groups condemned the murder and demanded justice for Jamal. Reactions included press releases and reports, visa bans and sanctions, conference boycotts and cancelled business deals, investigations and resolutions, arms embargos and lawsuits.

Part of the outrage stemmed from the brazenness and savagery of the murder and from the astounding incompetence of the Saudis as they tried to cover up the act.  The aggrieved denials of Saudi officials fell apart hour by the hour as the Turkish government time-released pieces of evidence for maximal damage to Saudi Arabia’s reputation.  Indeed, for several weeks, it was not clear whether the mastermind of the murder Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman would weather the storm and maintain his hold on power in Saudi Arabia.

Outrage dissipates, though, and the United States, Saudi’s chief patron, in the person of President Trump, threw MBS a lifeline, accepting his implausible claim of plausible deniability. If that wasn’t enough, the Saudis are the number one exporter of oil in the world, the number one purchaser of weapons in the world,  and they have extraordinary wealth.  They used their oil and wealth to successfully smooth over the rough edges of their egregious behavior. Within months of Khashoggi’s murder, many countries and businesses began making their way back to business as usual with Saudi Arabia. 

And yet, the stain remains. Certain governments and corporations, albeit a minority, have refused to go back to business as usual. At the same time, civil society organizations have kept up a steady drumbeat of demands for accountability on the part of Khashoggi’s killers. As a result, regardless of MBS’ grand visions for the future and many business deals, there’s still an asterix beside his name. Murderer.

Countries 

Countries and their leaders had a range of reactions to the murder of Khashoggi.  Many countries had no public response.  Others, including all of the Gulf countries and most other Arab countries, jumped to the defense of Crown Prince MBS and the Saudi regime. 

Western governments as a rule condemned Khashoggi’s murder and called for investigations and accountability.  One after another they expressed their judgment by withdrawing from the Future Investment Initiative Conference, scheduled for October 23-25 in Riyadh.  Dubbed “Davos in the desert,” the Riyadh conference was Crown Prince MBS’ first appearance on the world stage following Khashoggi’s murder, and it offered an opportunity to gauge the extent of his isolation. The event was a disaster for the Crown Prince as far as the West was concerned, as Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, and others withdrew from the Conference. 

Western countries also imposed travel bans on the 18 suspected of involvement in the murders.  Germany, France and the United Kingdom coordinated on the issuance of travel bans that applied across all 26 countries in the European border-free Schengen area. Many Western countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, also imposed economic sanctions, freezing assets of the 18 suspected perpetrators. Notably absent from all the travel ban and sanctions lists was the mastermind behind the murder: Crown Prince MBS. 

There was, though, a significant difference in responses amongst Western countries that exported military equipment to Saudi Arabia. In the wake of the Khashoggi killing and amidst evidence of war crimes committed by the Saudis in Yemen, all Western arms suppliers expressed serious reservations about continuing to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia. But only a handful made the difficult decision to halt arms exports.

This section reviews the reactions of 21 countries and divides them into four categories depending on the nature of their response to the Khashoggi murder.  The first category, with the smallest number of countries, consists of countries that halted arms exports to Saudi Arabia after the Khashoggi killing.  It’s the smallest category, because only about a dozen countries were actively exporting arms to Saudi Arabia at the time of the Khashoggi murder, and because it’s one thing to issue a condemnation and a visa ban, it’s more difficult and costly to lose a paying customer, in many cases, paying a lot. 

To be clear, there were sometimes shades of gray to the arm export bans, some leakage amongst category 1 countries, for example, of deliveries of spare parts for previous orders. Arms dealers don’t necessarily lend themselves to black and white categorizations. However, all category 1 countries incurred a significant cost in reducing their arms exports to Saudi Arabia in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder. 

The second category includes countries that provided weapons to Saudi Arabia at the time of Khashoggi’s murder and continued supplying them afterwards. The third category is for those countries who did nothing or jumped to the defense of Crown Prince MBS and the Saudi regime in the wake of the murder. The fourth category consists of outliers, countries that acted in unexpected ways that don’t fit into one of the other three categories. 

The four categories are not all-inclusive. They don’t, for example, capture New Zealand, which condemned Khashoggi’s murder and issued a travel ban on the suspected perpetrators, but didn’t supply weapons to Saudi Arabia and, accordingly, didn’t have to decide whether to continue doing so. The four categories do, though, provide a broad picture of the choices, some easy, some difficult, that each country had to make in the wake of the Khashoggi killing. 

Category 1: Countries that suspended arms sales and exports to Saudi Arabia  

Denmark

On October 20, 2018, Denmark’s Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen criticized the lack of transparency of the Saudi government in regards to Jamal Khashoggi’s death. He said, “the fact the Saudis last night confirmed that he died, after previously admitting he left the Consulate alive, shows that we haven’t been told the full truth, and we must insist on getting that.” On November 22, 2018, Denmark announced the suspension of all arms and military equipment sales to Saudi Arabia in response to the killing.  As of September 1, 2020, Denmark has maintained its suspension of arms sales and exports to Saudi Arabia.  

Finland

On October 20, 2018, the Finnish Foreign Ministry tweeted in connection with Khashoggi’s murder that, a “transparent investigation is needed and those responsible must be brought to justice.” The tweet added that “defending freedom of the press is a key priority for Finland.”

On November 22, 2018, Finland imposed a ban on the issue of new licenses to export arms to Saudi Arabia. The Finnish Foreign Ministry stated that the government had “decided that in the current situation there are no foundations for new arms export authorizations to Saudi Arabia.” As of September 1, 2020, Finland has maintained its suspension of arms sales and exports on Saudi Arabia. 

Germany

Germany distinguished itself as sacrificing more than any other country in halting the vast majority of its arms shipments to Saudi Arabia.  In 2018, Germany sold roughly $500 million worth of German arms to Saudi Arabia. In 2019, that number was reduced to roughly $1 million.

On October 21, Germany announced a suspension of arms exports to Saudi Arabia. Economy Minister Peter Altmaier stated, “the government is in agreement that we will not approve further arms exports for the moment because we want to know what happened.” Altmaier further urged other European countries to follow suit, stating, “Only when all European countries agree does that make an impression on the government in Riyadh.” 

On a telephone call with King Salman on October 25, 2018, Chancellor Angela Merkel condemned the killing in the “strongest possible terms,” and demanded a “swift, transparent and credible investigation.”

On November 19, 2018, Germany issued travel bans against 18 Saudis involved in the murder of Khashoggi. The restrictions, issued in coordination with France and the United Kingdom, applied across all 26 countries in the European border-free Schengen Area.  Citing its privacy laws, Germany didn’t publicly release the identities of the sanctioned individuals. 

On November 19, 2018, the German Economic Ministry announced that the halting of arms sales applied not only to future arms deals, but also those previously approved.  On March 24, 2020, the German government extended the ban on arms sales to Saudi Arabia for six months until December 31, 2020. It was Germany’s third extension of the arms embargo since the murder of Khashoggi.

One early complication in the German arms ban involved France’s use of German components in armaments exported to Saudi Arabia. Friction between the two countries surrounding the issue was resolved in October 2019, when Germany agreed not to block French arms exports if the French arms contained less than 20% of German components.

Norway

On October 21, 2018, the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ine Eriksen Søreide, described Khashoggi’s killing as “unacceptable, deeply tragic and regrettable.” She called for a “prompt, open and credible investigation of the circumstances of the death,” and for those involved to be “held responsible for this atrocity.” Foreign Minister Søreide summoned the Saudi ambassador to Oslo to lodge a formal protest against the killing.

On November 10, 2018, the Norwegian Foreign Ministry suspended the issuance of licenses for arms exports to Saudi Arabia.  As of September 1, 2020, Norway has maintained its suspension on arms sales and exports to Saudi Arabia.

Sweden

On October 23, 2018, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven called Khashoggi’s killing “something awful, something horrible.”  However, he refused to support an explicit and separate ban on arms sales to the Kingdom, pointing to recent legislation aiming to prevent the sale of weapons to dictatorships as sufficient. That recent legislation and concerns over the war in Yemen already had caused the Swedish government not to enter into any new arms deals with the Saudis. The Khashoggi killing reinforced the government’s policy. Sweden did, though, continue  to sell spare military parts and components to the Saudi government under pre-existing contracts. 

Category 2: Countries that continued to sell arms to Saudi Arabia 

Australia

On October 20, 2018, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated: “Australia will stand with all other like-minded countries in condemning this death, this killing, and we expect there to be full cooperation.”  On October 24, 2018, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne stated “all options are on the table,” in response to questions about halting arms exports to Saudi Arabia.  Despite some handwringing, though, Australia didn’t halt the export of arms to Saudi Arabia following Khashoggi’s murder.

Australia authorized 23 weapons export permits to Saudi Arabia between June 2018 and July 2019. 

Canada

On October 20, Foreign Minister Freeland released a statement condemning the murder of Khashoggi and stating that the Saudi “explanations offered to date lack consistency and credibility.”  On November 29, 2018, Canada imposed sanctions on 17 Saudi officials suspected of involvement in Khashoggi’s murder. The sanctions froze the officials’ assets in Canada and rendered them inadmissible under Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. In imposing the sanctions, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland stated, “the murder of Jamal Khashoggi is abhorrent and represents an unconscionable attack on the freedom of expression of all individuals. Canada continues to call for a credible and independent investigation. Those responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder must be held to account and must face justice.”

On December 17, 2018, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that the Canadian government was looking to end the $13 billion arms agreement with Saudi Arabia, negotiated in 2014, for the shipment of armored vehicles.  “We are engaged with the export permits to try and see if there is a way of no longer exporting these vehicles to Saudi Arabia,” Trudeau said. 

However, Canadian leaders were reluctant to give up on their largest arms export market.  Despite Trudeau’s expressions of concern, Canada continued to ship arms to Saudi Arabia in 2019.  On April 9, 2020, Canada officially ended its vague, unofficial and unenforced “moratorium” on arms exports to Saudi Arabia, issuing new arms export permits for the shipment of armored vehicles. 

Recent events in Canada indicate that MBS has not been cowed by the international response to the Khashoggi murder. Thirteen days after the murder of Khashoggi, MBS and the Saudi government, according to a complaint filed with the District Court in Washington, DC on August 6, 2020, sent a hit team to kill former Saudi intelligence officer Saad al-Jabri, a former top Saudi intelligence officer, who has been living in Toronto. Al-Jabri’s suit alleges that MBS imprisoned two of al-Jabri’s children since March and has arrested and tortured other relatives in an effort to force Al-Jabri to return to Saudi Arabia. In June 2020, Canadian police warned Saudi exile and political activist Omar Abdulaziz that they had credible information that he was a “potential target” of the Saudis and that he should take precautions to protect himself. The Saudi threats against a Canadian resident have not caused the Canadian government to reassess its position on continuing arms exports to Saudi Arabia.

On August 7, 2020, the day after al-Jabri filed his lawsuit, the presiding US District Court issued a summons to the Crown Prince, notifying MBS of the lawsuit. The summons states: “If you fail to respond, judgment by default will be entered against you for the relief demanded in the complaint.” Al-Jabri is reportedly under the protection of police and private security guards. 

In 2019, Canada sold nearly $2.7 billion worth of military equipment to Saudi Arabia.

France

On October 20, 2018, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian condemned Khashoggi’s murder “in the strongest terms.”  On November 22, France imposed sanctions and travel bans on 18 Saudi citizens linked to the murder. The French Foreign Ministry stated that “the murder of Mr. Khashoggi is a crime of extreme gravity, which moreover goes against freedom of the press and the most fundamental rights.” The restrictions, issued in coordination with Germany and the United Kingdom, applied to all 26 countries in the European Schengen Area.  

However, France didn’t ban the sale and shipment of arms to Saudi Arabia. On October 26, 2018, President Macron stated: “What’s the link between arms sales and Mr Khashoggi’s murder? …  there is no link with Mister Khashoggi.” On March 25, 2019, the French Ambassador to Germany, Anne-Marie Descotes warned the German government against the “politicization” of arms sales that might jeopardize joint ventures for jets, drones, and tanks. During the 2014-18 period, France was the third largest supplier of arms to Saudi Arabia, behind the United States and the United Kingdom. 

In 2019, France transferred $1.7 billion worth of arms exports to Saudi Arabia.  

Italy

On October 22, 2018, the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte stated that he was waiting for the Saudis to provide “credible answers” concerning the killing of Khashoggi.

On December 28, 2018, Prime Minister Conte stated that in light of the Khashoggi killing and the Saudi war with Yemen, the Italian government was not in favor of selling arms to Saudi Arabia. Prime Minister’s Conte’s statement did not, though, lead to a halt of arms exports from Italy to Saudi Arabia. 

On May 20, 2019, dockworkers in Genoa refused to load supplies onto a Saudi Arabian ship that had weapons onboard.  They were protesting against the war on Yemen. The next month, on June, 26, 2019 the Italian Parliament passed legislation banning the export of aircraft bombs, missiles and their component parts to the Kingdom.  

In 2019, Italy shipped more than $113 million in armaments and military ammunition to Saudi Arabia. It is unclear whether these were issued before or after the ban instituted by the Italian Parliament. 

Spain

On October 20, 2018, the Spanish government stated that it was “dismayed by early reports from the Saudi prosecutor about the death of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi,” and called for those responsible to be brought to justice. However, Spain refused to cease arms exports to Saudi Arabia. In September 2018, before the murder of Khashoggi, Spain’s Defense Minister Margarita Robles canceled the sale of 400 laser-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia based on concerns that the bombs would be used against civilians in Yemen. In response, the Saudis reportedly threatened to cancel the much larger $2 billion contract for the purchase of five ships from the Spanish company Navantia. Spanish shipyard workers protested the potential cancellation of the shipbuilding contract. In the face of domestic political pressure, Spain’s Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, on October 24, 2018, overruled his Defense Minister and approved the sale of the laser-guided missiles. In justifying his position, Prime Minister Sánchez told the Spanish Parliament: “If you ask me where I stand today, it is in the defense of the interests of Spain, of jobs in strategic sectors in areas badly affected by the drama that is unemployment.”

In the first six months of 2019, Spain sold $27.8 million in defense exports to Saudi Arabia. The government has not published data on arm exports for the second half of 2019. 

United Kingdom

On October 21, 2018, the UK released a joint statement with France and Germany, in which the nations stated that “nothing can justify this killing and we condemn it in the strongest possible terms.”  On November 28, 2018, the UK, in coordination with France and Germany, issued a travel ban against 18 Saudis suspected of involvement in Khashoggi’s murder.  The travel ban also applied across the 26 countries in the Schengen Area, of which the UK is not a part.  The UK, however, declined to halt arms sales to the Kingdom,  On October 31, 2018, the UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt stated: “there are jobs in the UK … at stake so when it comes to the issue of arms sales, we have our procedures.”  From 2014-18, Saudi Arabia was the UK’s largest arms export market. On November 12, 2018, speaking prior to an official visit to Saudi Arabia, UK Foreign Secretary Hunt stated in reference to Khashoggi that, “it is clearly unacceptable that the full circumstances behind his murder remain unclear.”  

On June 20, 2019, the Court of Appeal in London, in response to a lawsuit filed by Campaign Against Arms Trade, and subsequently joined by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Rights and Security International, and Oxfam International, ruled that it was unlawful for the UK government to issue arms export licenses without first assessing the risk that the weapons will be used in violations of the laws of war. According to Human Rights Watch, the ruling didn’t cause a complete end to UK sales of weapons to Saudi Arabia or the issuance of licenses by the UK government for that purpose, but it reduced them. On July 7, 2020 UK Secretary of State for International Trade Elizabeth Truss MP issued a written statement, that the UK had assessed the risk as required by the Court of Appeal and found that “there is not a clear risk that the export of arms and military equipment to Saudi Arabia might be used in the commission of a serious violation of international humanitarian law.” Based on Secretary Truss’s “analysis,” the UK government declared that it would resume approving arms export licenses and arms sales by British companies to Saudi Arabia.

On July 6, 2020, the UK imposed economic sanctions on 20 Saudis suspected of involvement in the murder of Khashoggi, including Ahmed al-Asiri, former deputy head of Saudi Intelligence, and Saud al-Qahtani, an adviser, supposedly former, to the Saudi Crown Prince.

Britain sold $855 million worth of arms to Saudi Arabia in 2019. 

United States 

In the United States, different branches and bodies of government, including agencies within the Executive seemed to hold very different views on the Khashoggi murder, which led to a mixed, sometimes incoherent response by the country. The one constant has been President Trump’s unwavering support for Crown Prince MBS.  In the wake of the murder, President Trump resisted pinning the blame on MBS, and he seemed at pains to assure the Crown Prince that he would not pay a price for the murder. Despite President Trump’s clear intent, in mid-November 2018, the CIA leaked its conclusion that MBS had ordered the assassination of Khashoggi. In the weeks and months following the CIA assessment, Congress weighed into the controversy, holding hearings on the murder, passing resolutions condemning it, and passing legislation to try and force the Administration to declassify its findings regarding the Crown Prince’s responsibility for the murder. Thus far, the Trump Administration has been successful in fending off Congress and protecting the Crown Prince from any serious repercussions for the murder within the United States. But that might change. In response to a couple of lawsuits, US Courts, independent of the executive, have been called upon to make decisions concerning the Crown Prince’s role in Khashoggi’s murder and other human rights abuses, including an alleged plot to kill a Saudi dissident in Canada. Time will tell whether US Courts defer to the Administration’s position on the matter or carve out their own path toward MBS, and, if the latter, whether they are able to enforce their decisions.

On October 13, 2018 during an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes, President Donald Trump vowed “severe punishment” for Saudi Arabia should it be proved responsible for the death of Jamal Khashoggi. On October 18, 2018, Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin pulled out of the Future Investment Initiative Conference, scheduled for October 23-25 in Riyadh.  However, the US boycott message was muddled by two high-profile visits to Riyadh before the Conference.  On October 16, 2018, US Secretary of State Pompeo traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with King Salman and Crown Prince MBS and consult on the Khashoggi murder. Reporting on the meeting, Secretary Pompeo stated: “My assessment from these meetings is that there is serious commitment to determine all the facts and ensure accountability.”  Secretary Mnuchin visited MBS on October 22 in Riyadh the day before the Conference began. 

On October 23, 2018, the Trump administration revoked and banned visas for 21 Saudis suspected of involvement in Khashoggi’s murder. On November 15, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned Saud al-Qahtani, Maher Mutreb, Mohammed Alotaibi and 14 other Saudi officials implicated in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The 17 individuals were designated pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, as augmented by Executive Order (E.O.) 13818. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin stated that, “the Saudi officials we are sanctioning were involved in the abhorrent killing of Jamal Khashoggi. These individuals who targeted and brutally killed a journalist who resided and worked in the United States must face consequences for their actions.” The Treasury Department didn’t release any information with respect to its decision not to sanction the mastermind of the murder Crown Prince MBS.

On October 22, 2018, CIA Director Gina Haspel took a secret trip to Turkey, where she reportedly listened to audio from Turkish recordings of the Saudi Consulate during the murder. In mid-November, the CIA concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. On December 4, 2018, Director  Haspel briefed top Republican and Democratic Senators on the Armed Services, Foreign Relations, Appropriations and Intelligence Committees, as well as other Senate leaders, on the Khashoggi killing. After the briefing, Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said that there was “no question in my mind” that MBS had ordered the murder.

On November 20, 2018, President Trump issued a statement that the “crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone.” The statement continued: “it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t. That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.”  President Trump declared that whatever the outcome or findings of an investigation, the United States relationship with Saudi Arabia would not change: “The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia.”

On December 13, 2018, the US Senate unanimously approved a Resolution blaming the Kingdom’s Crown Prince for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The Resolution stated that the Senate, “believes Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi,” and called on the Saudi government “to ensure appropriate accountability for all those responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder.”

On February 13, 2019, the US House of Representatives voted to end American military assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. The lead sponsor of the bill, Representative Ro Khanna, Democrat of California, explained the purpose of the bill: “This is their opportunity to send a message to the Saudis that their behavior on Khashoggi and their flagrant disregard of human rights is not consistent with the American way of doing business and not in line with American values.” On March 13, 2019, the US Senate affirmed the February 13th House bill, voting to end military assistance for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen. 

On April 16, 2019, President Trump vetoed the legislation passed by both Houses of Congress that would have forced an end to American military assistance to Saudi Arabia in its war in Yemen. Trump stated:  “We cannot end the conflict in Yemen through political documents.”  During the 2014-18 period, the United States was the largest supplier of arms to Saudi Arabia by far, providing 68% of total arms imported by Saudi Arabia. In May 2019, Secretary of State Pompeo fast-tracked arms shipments to Saudi Arabia, worth $8 billion, to avoid traditional Congressional reporting requirements. Both Houses of Congress passed resolutions to prevent this sale on July 17, 2019; however, President Trump vetoed the resolutions on July 24, 2019, ensuring the sale went ahead. The State Department’s Inspector General later found that the State Department had failed to fully assess the humanitarian risks of selling the weapons. 

On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed into law the annual military spending bill, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020, which included a provision requiring the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to provide within 30 days an unclassified report identifying those who carried out, participated in or were otherwise responsible for the death of Khashoggi. In passing this provision, Congress intended to force the Administration to make public the names of those the CIA had found responsible for the murder of Khashoggi, in particular MBS.  A separate provision of the legislation allowed for a classified annex.

One month after the deadline, on February 20, 2020, the DNI issued a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee rejecting the legislation’s requirement for the issuance of an unclassified report identifying those responsible for the murder of Khashoggi. The DNI indicated that issuing such an unclassified report would jeopardize sources and methods of intelligence. The letter stated:  “Consistent with the protection of sources and methods, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence cannot provide additional information … at the unclassified level … Nonetheless, we are transmitting under separate cover a classified annex that supplements this letter with additional information.”  The classified annex reportedly revealed what Congress had tried to get the Administration to put in the public record — that Crown Prince MBS had played a direct role in Khashoggi’s killing.

On March 2, 2020, Senator Richard Burr, Republican Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Senator Mark Warner, Democratic Vice Chairman of the Committee, sent a letter to Richard Grenell at the Office of the DNI, urging the acting Director to reconsider his agency’s decision not to declassify information related to the murder of Khashoggi. Commenting on the letter, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden, a member of the Intelligence Committee, stated:  “It has been more than a year since agents of the Saudi government murdered Jamal Khashoggi … and yet the Trump administration refuses to publicly acknowledge who ordered that assassination. It is choosing to protect an authoritarian government.” 

On April 2, 2020, President Trump tweeted that he had spoken to his “friend MBS (Crown Prince) of Saudi Arabia”, regarding curtailing their oil output. The tweet was posted 18 months to the day of Khashoggi’s murder. 

On 30 April, 2020, Representative Adam Schiff, Democratic Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, indicated that the Committee would look at measures to compel the Office of the DNI to declassify the document. Speaking to Buzzfeed, he stated, “since ODNI has failed to comply with the law, Congress will need to take further legislative and budgetary steps to ensure declassification.” 

Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, wrote on 27 May, 2020, that he had received draft State Department documentation indicating the Administration was trying to sell thousands of more precision-guided bombs to Saudi Arabia. 

On August 6, 2020, Senators raised concerns about President Trump’s nominee for Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (SOLIC). Intelligence officials have said that Louis Bremer, a former Navy Seal, had links to a firm which may have trained the Saudi team which assassinated Khashoggi. Senator Tim Kaine asked, “so until today, you had not been aware that an allegation had been made that a company on which you sit as a director, with a small board of directors, had potentially been involved in training Saudis who were participants in the assassination of Jamal Khashoggi?” Bremer responded that he had no recollection of the allegation, but stated, “there is a possibility that we did have a discussion about it. It’s a number of years ago.”

On 20 August 2020, the Open Society Justice Initiative sued for the release of the Khashoggi report under the Freedom of Information Act. The group filed a FOIA request for the documents in July, but the Office of the Director of National Intelligence failed to respond by the deadline. 

The U.S. sold $8 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia in 2019. 

Category 3: Countries that came to the defense of Saudi Arabia or said nothing

Bahrain

Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry rallied behind the Saudi government following Khashoggi’s death. On October 14, 2018, the Foreign Ministry released a statement calling Saudi Arabia, “the essential foundation for the security and stability of the Arab and Islamic worlds and the solid foundation and strong pillar of stability in the region.” The statement added that Bahrain rejected attempts to infringe on the “sovereignty, policies and prestige” of the Kingdom in the aftermath of the killing. 

China

On October 25, 2018, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying described Khashoggi’s death as a “tragic incident” and expressed support for the Saudi investigation of the incident. The Chinese spokesperson stated: “We have noted that the Saudi Arabian side has announced the initial result of the investigation and taken steps to find out the truth.” 

Following criminal sentences handed down by the Riyadh Criminal Court on December 23, 2019, on Saudi defendants, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs supported the Saudi Court’s decision, which it described as being “according to law.” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang stated that the “case should not be politicized and internationalized.”

Egypt

The Egyptian government affirmed its support for Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s murder. Speaking on October 14 2018, Ahmed Hafez, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, warned “against trying to exploit this issue politically towards the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia based on the accusations,” and stated that Egypt supported the Saudi government in its “efforts and positions in dealing with this event.”

On October 20, 2018, following King Salman’s decision to restructure the Saudi intelligence services, as reported by Saudi state media, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry praised the Saudi King: “Egypt sees that the brave and decisive decisions and actions taken by the Saudi King over this matter align with his majesty’s approach that respects the principles of law and applications of effective justice.”

India

On November 29, 2018, during the G20 meeting in Argentina, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was one of two heads of state, the other was Russian President Putin, who publicly greeted MBS warmly, not shying away from the cameras either. Prime Minister Modi went above and beyond, meeting with the Crown Prince in MBS’ Buenos Aires residence reportedly to discuss Aramco’s investments in India and the company’s project to build a large refinery on the western coast of India. On February 29, 2019, in another show of support for the Saudi Crown Prince, Prime Minister Modi broke with official government protocol by welcoming the Crown Prince on the airport runway in New Delhi during a state visit.

Lebanon

On October 14, 2018, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri released a statement expressing solidarity with Saudi Arabia.  “The campaigns against … [Saudi Arabia],” Prime Minister Hariri stated, “constitute… an unacceptable call to drag the region towards further negative developments.”

Prime Minister Hariri’s support for Crown Prince MBS was particularly notable in light of the abusive treatment he had endured during a trip to Saudi Arabia just months earlier.  In December 2017, Prime Minister Hariri had been detained during a visit to Saudi Arabia. Saudi security officers shoved the Prime Minister, confiscated his cell phones, and forced him to read a pre-prepared speech criticizing Iran and announcing his resignation. After efforts by President Macron to secure Hariri’s release, the Prime Minister rescinded his resignation upon his return to Lebanon. 

Pakistan

On October 23, 2018, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, after attending “Davos in the desert” meetings in Riyadh, announced that the Saudis had agreed to loan Pakistan $3 billion, and pledged an additional loan of up to $3 billion in deferred payments for oil imports.  On February 18, 2019, the Pakistan government gave MBS, who was traveling to Islamabad for a state visit, a painting of himself, a gold-plated submachine gun, a 21-gun salute, and a fly-past by the Pakistani air force.  The next month, Pakistan launched an investigation into Pakistani journalists and political parties who had allegedly replaced their social media profile photos with photos of Khashoggi during MBS’ February state visit. 

Russia

President Vladimir Putin stated on October 18, 2018, that Khashoggi’s killing would not “start deteriorating relations” between Russia and Saudi Arabia, because, according to President Putin, there was no evidence of official involvement in the killing. 

After the announced withdrawal of many Western political and business leaders from the Saudi Future Investment Initiative Conference held in Riyadh on October 23-25, Russia increased the number of its delegates attending the event.  During the Conference, the Chief Executive of the Russian Direct Investment Fund hailed the “historic” modernization and transformation of Saudi Arabia, and stated that the Kingdom was “a great partner for us.” One month later, on November 30, 2018, at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Russian President greeted MBS with a high five and a big grin. 

Tunisia

Despite some protests by Tunisian activists, the Tunisan government rallied to the defense of Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince MBS. A week after Khashoggi’s killing, Tunisia carried out joint military exercises with the Saudi Royal Air Force. On November 26, 2018, on the eve of a state visit by Crown Prince MBS, Tunisian activists and journalists staged a protest against the visit, and the Tunisian Journalists Syndicate filed an official complaint against MBS. On November 27, 2018, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi warmly welcomed the Crown Prince at the Tunis airport. 

United Arab Emirates

Well before the Khashoggi killing, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan or MBZ, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, had forged a bond with Crown Prince MBS based on their shared outlook on a number of issues, including the importance of confronting the threat from political Islam, domestically and overseas. Twenty years older than MBS, MBZ has been portrayed as a mentor to MBS. Not surprisingly given the close connection of the two Crown Princes and their shared outlook on a range of issues, the UAE jumped to the defense of MBS in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder. On October 11, 2018, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, tweeted “… the repercussions of the political targeting of Saudi Arabia will be dire for those who fuel it.”

In December 2019, the Foreign Ministry of the UAE praised the sentences issued by the Saudi government in relation to Khashoggi’s murder, stating that they reaffirmed “the Kingdom’s commitment to implementing the law in transparency and fairness.” 

Category 4: the Outliers 

Argentina

On November 26, 2018, in anticipation of MBS attendance at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires for the G20 Summit scheduled for November 30-December 1, Human Rights Watch (HRW) filed a submission with an Argentine federal prosecutor formally requesting that Argentine prosecutors examine MBS’s role in alleged war crimes and torture. HRW’s submission referred to the principle of universal jurisdiction, which empowers courts to investigate and prosecute certain egregious crimes no matter where they occur, and no matter the nationality of the suspects or victims. Article 118 of the Argentine Constitution empowers Argentine courts to hear cases that have no physical connection to Argentina based on the principle of universal jurisdiction. 

On November 28, Argentine federal prosecutor Ramiro González affirmed Argentina’s duty to investigate the alleged crimes and formally asked an Argentine investigative judge to request information from the Saudi and Yemeni governments about their own investigations.  In response, Judge Lijo sent information requests to the Turkish and Yemeni authorities, as well as to the International Criminal Court. The Argentine investigation stalled after the departure of MBS from Argentina, and no new steps or findings have been announced. 

Morocco

Morocco broke ranks with most of the other countries in the Arab League, declining to issue a statement of support for Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of Khashoggi’s murder.  In November 2018, King Mohammed VI declined to grant Crown Prince MBS an audience for a planned visit to Morocco, which precipitated the cancellation of the trip. In addition, in the same month, Morocco reportedly postponed a planned meeting between the two countries’ foreign ministers. 

Turkey

Turkey’s unique position in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder informed its response.  President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and other Turkish leaders were embarrassed and angered by Saudi’s decision to commit the murder in Istanbul and brazenly violate Turkish laws.  Indeed, it’s doubtful that the Crown Prince and the Saudis would have similarly embarrassed and challenged US authorities by carrying out such a murder on US soil. They had over a year declined to do so when Khashoggi was living in the US. In addition, at the time of the murder, Turkey and Saudi Arabia were in competition, a proxy war on several political fronts, and vying for position of leadership in the Muslim world. Finally, some of the strength of Turkey’s response might have stemmed from the personal feelings of President Erdoğan, who had reportedly been friends with Khashoggi.

On October 23, 2018, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addressed the Turkish Parliament on the murder of Khashoggi, calling the act a “ferocious murder,” and stated that the subsequent cover-up was “against the conscience of humanity.”

On November 10, 2018, President Erdogan stated that Turkish authorities had shared audio recordings of Jamal Khashoggi’s death with Saudi Arabia, the United States, Britain, France, Germany and other Western nations.

On March 1, 2020, at the request of Turkey’s Ministry of Justice, Interpol issued red notices for the arrest of 20 Saudis.  

On March 25, 2020, Turkish officials announced the indictment of 20 Saudi nationals in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi. The Turkish indictment accused Ahmed al-Asiri and Saud al-Qahtani, former aides to Crown Prince MBS, of incitement to deliberate killing through torture, and 18 other Saudi officials of torture and deliberate murder. On July 3, 2020, Turkey commenced a trial in absentia of the 20 indicted Saudi officials. The Turkish prosecutors were seeking life imprisonment for all 20 defendants. For more detail and updates on the Turkish legal proceedings, click here.

International Organizations

International organizations faithfully represented their members in responding to the Khashoggi murder.  The Arab League rallied behind Saudi Arabia. The European Union called for an independent and impartial investigation.

Not surprisingly, neither the United Nations General Assembly nor the Security Council could muster so much as a condemnation resolution. Such is the clout of the number one exporter of oil in the world, and the politics of the great powers. More significantly, Agnes Callamard, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, issued in June 2019 a Report on the murder that contained a detailed and searing indictment of the Crown Prince and the Saudi regime for the murder of Khashoggi. The Special Rapporteur’s Report has since become a critical reference point in the struggle for accountability and justice for Jamal Khashoggi.          

The Arab League

The Arab League rejected the threat of sanctions against Saudi Arabia, stating on October 14, 2018, that “it is totally unacceptable in the context of relations between countries to hint at the use of economic sanctions as a policy or tool to achieve political or unilateral goals.”

On December 24, 2019, the President of the Arab Parliament Mishaall bin Fahm Al-Salami said, in reference to Saudi Arabia’s “trial” for the suspected perpetrators of Khashoggi’s murder, that the “rulings confirm the Kingdom’s commitment to the issue, which requires that all those involved be held accountable, and be brought to a fair trial.”

Group of Seven (G7)

On October 23, 2018, the Foreign Ministers of the Group of 7 ” condemn[ed] in the strongest possible terms the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi” and called for a thorough, credible, transparent, and prompt investigation by Saudi Arabia of the circumstances surrounding Khashoggi’s death.

European Union (EU)

On October 24, 2018, the European Parliament adopted a resolution condemning the murder of Khashoggi and urging the Saudi authorities to disclose the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s body. The resolution stated that the “systematic practice of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings constitute a crime against humanity, and it called for an independent and impartial international investigation. It also called on European Member States to “stand ready to impose targeted sanctions, including visa bans and asset freezes against Saudi individuals, as well as human rights sanctions against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” on both the perpetrators of and the masterminds behind the killing.

The United Nations (UN)

Saudi Arabia has many clients and customers in the United Nations, which, not surprisingly, has been reluctant to address the Khashoggi murder. The UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly have both remained silent regarding the murder. Neither body has introduced a resolution in connection with the murder or requested a criminal probe into Saudi Arabia’s actions. Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres has mentioned the murder, but he has refused to take action that might cause serious consequences for Saudi Arabia or Crown Prince MBS. On October 19, 2018, he released a statement: “the Secretary-General is deeply troubled by the confirmation of the death of Jamal Khashoggi… the Secretary-General stresses the need for a prompt, thorough and transparent investigation into the circumstances of Mr. Khashoggi’s death and full accountability for those responsible.”  Despite calls from UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard and other parties, though, the UN Secretary General has not initiated a criminal investigation into the Khashoggi murder or assigned another UN body to carry one out. On January 18, 2019, during a press conference, the Secretary General claimed that he didn’t have the power to carry out such an investigation unless he received legal authority from the Security Council or the General Assembly and a formal request from a member state. Secretary General Guterres maintained his stance concerning his lack of authority despite the historical record of previous Secretary Generals launching criminal investigations into the actions of member nations. For more information on the Secretary General’s response to the UN Special Rapporteur’s recommendations, click here.

One UN body has addressed the Khashoggi murder head on, though. UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard led an extensive investigation into the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. Her Report, published on June 19, 2019, concluded that Khashoggi was the victim of a “deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible under international human rights law.” The Report also concluded that the investigations mounted by Turkey and Saudi Arabia did not satisfy the requisite international standards in cases of unlawful deaths.

The Special Rapporteur’s Report also issued a number of recommendations addressed to UN institutions, UN member states, the United States, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. In regards to Saudi Arabia, the Special Rapporteur called upon the government to conduct an independent and impartial investigation in collaboration with the UN authorities, and to issue an apology and financial reparations to the Khashoggi family. For a more detailed list of the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations along with descriptions of relevant actions taken by designated parties, click here.  

International Business

In the short term, the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the incompetent coverup was bad for business for Crown Prince MBS and the Saudi regime. In the wake of Khashoggi’s killing, many North America and European companies and individuals shunned MBS and Saudi Arabia.  A slew of businesses and CEO’s pulled out of Saudi Arabia’s Future Investment Initiative Conference, held from Oct. 23-25 in Riyadh.  The list of cancellations included: Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford, MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga, Viacom CEO Bob Bakish, General David Petraeus, Chairman of the KKR Global Institute, and Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene. For a more complete list of Conference cancellations, click here.

In addition, important deals and contracts were cancelled as certain businesses refused to do business with the Kingdom after Khashoggis’ murder.  Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, ended talks with the Saudis over potential investments in his space-travel businesses. The talent agency Endeavor returned a $400 million investment by the Saudi sovereign investment fund. Three major Washington, DC lobbying firms, the Glover Park Group, the BGR Group, and the Harbour Group, terminated their contracts with the Saudis, in the process giving up paychecks of as much as $150,000 per month.  Former US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and former vice president of the European Commission Neelie Kroes suspended their positions on the board of NEOM, the MBS smart city of the future, and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos suspended a one billion dollar deal to build data centers in Saudi Arabia.

Outrage at the murder of Khashoggi faded quickly, though.  In April 2019, roughly six months after Khashoggi’s killing, a flurry of deals were signed between the Saudis and Western corporations. On April 4, 2018, Six Flags Entertainment Corporation, the world’s largest regional theme park, announced a collaboration with the Saudi sovereign wealth fund to build a theme park in Riyadh. David McKillips, President of Six Flags International Development Company, stated:  “We see great potential in the Saudi Arabian market and look forward to collaborating with the PIF to create a world-class entertainment destination for Saudi’s young and dynamic population.” 

Also on April 4, 2019, AMC Theatres, the world’s largest cinema operator, announced plans to build up to 100 movie theaters in Saudi Arabia by 2030. Five days later, on April 9, 2019, international investors put in orders of more than $100 billion in the bond sale of the Saudi state-run oil company Aramco. JP Morgan, which had pulled out of the October 2018 “Davos in the desert” Conference was back in force in Saudi Arabia, helping to run the bond sale.  Other Corporate partners in Saudi deals in the months following Khashoggi’s murder included Halliburton, Total, Hyundai Heavy Industries, Blackstone, and Baker Hughes.

Indeed, according to the Saudi Gazette, from 2018 to 2019, there was a 54% increase in the number of international businesses that set up operations in Saudi Arabia, including 100 United Kingdom companies and 84 from the United States. One year after the murder of Khashoggi, the October 2019 “Davos in the Desert” Conference confirmed that the murder of Khashoggi was more a speed bump than a stop sign for Saudi Arabia and MBS’ business ties with the international community, as most of the business leaders who had pulled out of the October 2018 event quietly returned to the Kingdom’s business Conference. 

Nevertheless, there is no tally of the businesses that stayed away from Saudi Arabia and MBS, or the deals that were never done because of the Khashoggi murder. According to the World Bank, Saudi Arabia underwent a record number of business reforms in 2019, becoming one of the top ten “global business climate improvers.” It’s very possible that the steady growth of Saudi-international business in this significantly improved business environment would have been explosive but for the Khashoggi murder and the level of unpredictability it revealed about MBS. 

Even amidst that steady growth, there have been some high-profile deals between the Saudis and international businesses that fell through or were cancelled at the last minute due to concerns about human rights abuses. In January 2020, an investment group led by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince MBS entered into talks to buy the Premier League soccer team Newcastle United, offering roughly $445 million.  It was a bold move by the Crown Prince.  As the Wall Street Journal reported: “The acquisition would be a major coup for Saudi Arabia as it focuses on sports and entertainment as part of Prince Mohammed’s economic reform plans for the kingdom.”

Human rights groups rallied against the deal.  In April 2020, FairSquare Projects and Amnesty International wrote separate letters to the Premier League CEO Richard Masters urging him to consider the dismal record of human rights abuses before approving the deal. FairSquare’s letter stated that Crown Prince MBS “presents a demonstrable threat to the vitality, integrity and reputation of the English game and to the future of Newcastle United.” Human Rights Watch joined the chorus of human rights groups, releasing a press release on July 21, 2018, urging the Premier League to consider the human rights record of Saudi Arabia in evaluating whether to approve the deal. Indeed, in the case of Newcastle United, civil society managed successfully to rally opposition to the deal. On July 30, 2020, Saudi Arabia withdrew its bid to buy the soccer team.

At the same time as Saudi’s bid for Newcastle United was unraveling, another high-profile deal was cancelled over human rights concerns. On July 30, 2020, one day after announcing a partnership with the Saudis, League of Legends developer Riot Games cancelled a sponsorship agreement with NEOM, MBS’s smart city of the future, following a backlash from employees, player participants, and community members concerned about Saudi’s human rights record.

The dissolution of the Newcastle United and Riot Games deals do not necessarily represent a trend in future Saudi business deals, but they do represent a clear warning to the Crown Prince and the Saudi regime that they might well have to improve Saudi’s human rights record if they are to achieve their most ambitious business goals. MBS Vision 2030 and NEOM, MBS smart “city of the future” might well be incompatible with carrying out extrajudicial killings of Saudi exile dissidents abroad, jailing peaceful activists within the country, and dropping bombs indiscriminately on Yemeni population centers. The Newcastle United and Riot Games deals also represent potential templates for human rights groups to collaborate in the future with the employees, shareholders and management of private sector companies in trying to drive home to Crown Prince MBS and the Saudi regime the high cost of an atrocious human rights record. 

Civil Society Organizations

Civil society non-governmental organizations mobilized immediately following the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi. They demanded answers from the Saudis concerning Khashoggi’s whereabouts. They issued press releases, joint statements and reports in pursuit of accountability for the murderers. They held panel discussions and commemorations for Khashoggi. They filed lawsuits seeking information and documents pertaining to the murder, and they advocated and urged governments and corporations to sanction the perpetrators. The efforts of civil society in seeking justice for Jamal have been focused, steady, and relentless. Indeed, a description of civil society activities and advocacy concerning Jamal Khashoggi could easily fill volume one and two of a series of books that will continue to grow. The actions described below provide just a sliver of civil society’s activities that have taken place worldwide. These efforts continue.  

Human rights organizations raised the alarm immediately following Khashoggi’s disappearance. On October 4, 2018, two days after his disappearance, Human Rights Watch issued a press release, demanding that Saudi Arabia produce proof that Khashoggi had left the Saudi Consulate. Amnesty International followed next day, on October 5, demanding that the Saudi government provide an explanation of Khashoggi’s “fate and whereabouts.”

On October 12, 2018, the Brookings Institution condemned Khashoggi’s murderers by rejecting Saudi funding, announcing that their one Saudi grant was terminated effective immediately. Brookings stated that it had “no plans to accept any potential funding from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or any of its known affiliates.”

On October 29, 2018, Amnesty International released a video in which leading journalists from around the world read out Khashoggi’s last column, published posthumously by the Washington Post. Readers included: Jake Tapper of CNN, Nick Kristof of the New York Times, Indian journalist Barkha Dutt, Mehdi Hasan of Al-Jazeera English, Naomi Klein of The Intercept, Jason Rezaian of the Washington Post, Egyptian journalist Kareem Shaheen, Lebanese-Australian author and journalist Rania Abouzeid, Hamid Mir of Pakistan’s Geo News, and Lebanese editor Rami Khouri.

On November 20, 2018, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Knight Institute for the First Amendment filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit in the US District Court for the District of Columbia against five federal agencies – the Central Intelligence Agency, Department of State, Department of Justice, National Security Agency, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence – seeking to force the release of information and documents concerning whether US intelligence agencies fulfilled their “duty to warn” Khashoggi of threats to his life and liberty. All of the federal agencies, except the State Department, responded to the request by invoking the “Glomar” doctrine, claiming that even acknowledging the existence of such documents would undermine national security. On January 7, 2020, the US District Court for the District of Columbia granted summary judgment for the government. On July 7, 2020, CPJ appealed the decision. The case is still pending.

On February 7, 2019, in a joint letter, multiple NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights First, Open Society Justice Initiative, PEN America, and Reporters Without Borders, called upon Congress and the Trump Administration to support the public disclosure of the presidential determination concerning those responsible for the Khashoggi murder and to release all CIA documents related to the murder. 

On February 20, 2019, CPJ held a press conference in front of the White House, calling upon the US government to release all relevant information concerning the murder. The event was the culmination of CPJ’s #JusticeforJamal campaign. On the same day, CPJ sent a joint statement with Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, Open Society Justice Initiative, PEN America, and Reporters Without Borders to the White House and the Congress, declaring concern about the lack of  accountability for the perpetrators of Khashoggi’s murder and about ongoing human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.

On September 26, 2019, thirteen human rights groups gathered at the Senate Office Building in Washington, DC to commemorate Jamal’s life.  The event, entitled, “Justice for Jamal: The United States and Saudi Arabia One Year After the Khashoggi Murder,” featured speakers from the Senate and Congress, Democrats and Republicans.  

On January 13, 2020, Berlin-based Transparency International, Amnesty International, and the Johannesburg-based CIVICUS, announced that they would boycott the civil society group meetings organized by the Saudi government in the lead-up to the Group 20 summit, which Saudi Arabia is scheduled to host on November 21-22, 2020 in Riyadh. In March 2020, Amnesty International announced that it would join the boycott, along with 220 other civil society organizations. Amnesty International stated, “that dozens of human rights defenders and women’s rights activists behind bars, such as Waleed Abulkhair and Loujain Al-Hathloul, Raif Badawi, Samar Badawi and Nassima Al-Sadah, will draw strength from this solidarity action by many organizations around the world with the aim of not allowing the cover up of the Kingdom’s appalling human rights record.”

In January 2020, an investment group led by Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince MBS entered talks to buy the Premier League soccer team Newcastle United, offering roughly $445 million. Human rights groups collaborated with business leaders and managed to scuttle the deal.  Recognizing defeat, the Crown Prince and Saudi Arabia withdrew its bid on July 30, 2020. For a more detailed account of the dissolution of the deal, see the International Business section.  

On September 29, 2020, almost two years to the day Jamal Khashoggi was killed, Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), the organization that he created, relaunched. DAWN has picked up the mantle of Jamal Khashoggi’s vision of a robust organization to expose human rights abuses and promote democracy in the Middle East and North Africa, giving voice to the tens of thousands of political exiles who want change.

Educational Institutions

Educational institutions should normally be included as a part of civil society.  However, the reaction of US colleges and schools to the Khashoggi’s murder was so different than other parts of civil society that they earned their own separate section. At the time of Khashoggi’s murder, many US colleges and universities had significant financial connections with the Saudi government. From 2011 to October 2018, the Saudi government and Saudi institutions gave $354 million to 37 American colleges and universities.  Most of the schools that received Saudi donations, including Tufts, University of California Berkeley, and University of Michigan, didn’t publicly reassess or consider changing their financial arrangements with their Saudi funders in the wake of the Khashoggi murder There was some handwringing but little concrete action amongst the college recipients of Saudi largesse. In October 2018 soon after the murder, Babson College, which had received $2.5 million through a contract with SABIC, a Saudi-owned petrochemical company, indicated that they were “monitoring events closely and gathering input from our community regarding potential paths forward.”  Northwestern, which had received $13.9 million in grants from the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, a Saudi-government science and technology agency, asked faculty in the weeks following the Khashoggi murder to “reconsider” its relationship with Saudi Arabia. The “monitoring” and “reconsidering” didn’t lead either school to return Saudi funding or make changes in financial arrangements with Saudi donors. 

MIT’s decision-making on Saudi government funding was the most systemic and transparent of any educational institution, due to vocal demands from faculty, staff and alumni. On October 22, 2018, MIT announced that it would undergo a “swift, thorough reassessment” of its relations with Saudi Arabia and Saudi funding in the wake of Khashoggi’s murder.  On January 31, 2019, MIT released the Lester Report, which reviewed all sources of Saudi funding, but ultimately came to a similar conclusion as other college recipients of Saudi funding. The 21-page Report didn’t recommend that MIT return any Saudi funds or discontinue the relationship with Saudi Arabia, noting that “economic and social progress in Saudi Arabia will be enabled through [MIT] engagement.” The Report did provide permission to faculty members who wanted to disengage from Saudi projects in light of recent events to do so, and indicated that the School would help smooth the transition away from Saudi funding.  On February 9, 2019, the MIT President accepted all of the Lester Report recommendations, preserving the financial status quo with the college’s Saudi donors. 

Columbia and Harvard took the most significant steps of any US colleges or universities in the wake of the Khashoggi murder. In late October 2018, Columbia University, which had received a $1.1 million grant from the Saudi Agricultural Ministry in 2016, cancelled a planned lecture by Saudi artist Ahmed Mater.  Mater was at the time also head of Crown Prince MBS’ Misk Art Institute. In November 2018, Harvard’s Kennedy School disinvited Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal, for whom Jamal Khashoggi had worked for many years but who had defended the Saudi government for the crime, from a scheduled lecture at the School. 

Harvard took another more tangible action that might have involved some sacrifice of Saudi funding.  In July 2019, the Harvard University spokesman stated that Harvard Extension School for remote learning would no longer reserve 100 spots in its summer program for students sponsored by the Crown Prince’s MiSK Foundation. Harvard declined to explain the reasoning behind the decision, but the Harvard Crimson interpreted the action as the University registering its disapproval of the Saudi regime’s murder of Khashoggi. 

In the wake of Khashoggi’s murder, non-profit US colleges and universities seemed focused first and foremost on their bottom line with respect to their relationship with the Saudi regime, perhaps more so than for-profit US businesses, some of which did cancel potentially lucrative deals. Educational institutions with financial ties to the Saudis appear to be more focused on the size of their endowments than the source of their funds.

Harvard took another more tangible action that might have involved some sacrifice of Saudi funding.  In July 2019, the Harvard University spokesman stated that Harvard Extension School for remote learning would no longer reserve 100 spots in its summer program for students sponsored by the Crown Prince’s MiSK Foundation. Harvard declined to explain the reasoning behind the decision, but the Harvard Crimson interpreted the action as the University registering its disapproval of the Saudi regime’s murder of Khashoggi. 

In the wake of Khashoggi’s murder, non-profit US colleges and universities seemed focused first and foremost on their bottom line with respect to their relationship with the Saudi regime, perhaps more so than for-profit US businesses, some of which did cancel potentially lucrative deals. Educational institutions with financial ties to the Saudis appear to be more focused on the size of their endowments than the source of their funds.

"We are being asked to abandon any hope of political freedom, and to keep quiet about arrests and travel bans that impact not only the critics but also their families. We are expected to vigorously applaud social reforms and heap praise on the crown prince while avoiding any reference to the pioneering Saudis who dared to address these issues decades ago."

- JAMAL KHASHOGGI, Washington Post, May 22, 2018