Turkey’s government sees the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as an opportunity to alter the power dynamic in the Middle East by strengthening Turkey’s influence at Saudi Arabia’s expense as they compete for leadership of the Islamic world, analysts say.
This certainly appears to be the goal of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the main regional supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Saudi Arabia and its allies Egypt and the United Arab Emirates consider a terrorist group.
The killing inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul by a team sent from Riyadh on October 2 has already severely tarnished Saudi Arabia’s global reputation.
But it is the potential involvement of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the Gulf nation’s de facto leader known by his initials MBS, that has put unprecedented pressure on Riyadh’s standing with the West.
After initially insisting Khashoggi left the consulate unharmed, then saying he died in a brawl, the Saudi regime finally stated he was killed by a “rogue operation” and arrested 18 suspects, some with links to the crown prince.
Analysts say Erdogan likely seeks to use the ensuing crisis to weaken the 33-year-old prince, even potentially hoping that the royal family will remove him from power — though that seems unlikely.
“The killing of Khashoggi has proven to be a golden opportunity for President Erdogan to pressure Saudi Arabia and work towards presenting Turkey as the new leader of the Muslim world,” said Lina Khatib, director of Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House.
“The Khashoggi crisis is a big geo-political gamble for Turkey and so far it looks like it is playing the game masterfully. But Turkey alone will not be able to push for the removal of MBS. The ball lies in the American court,” she added.