14:55 GMT29 January 2020
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    On Monday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced he would the next day “make a detailed statement” about the fate of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, following the Saudi admission Friday that Khashoggi was dead. The Turkish response is conditioned by the rivalry between the two countries, an historian told Sputnik Monday.

    "Turkey, right now, is number one jailer of journalists, and Erdogan has now become the savior of journalists," Kani Xulam, a commentator on the history and politics of Kurdistan, told Radio Sputnik's Fault Lines Monday. "It's a hypocrisy unheard of."

    [Interview begins at 36:40]

    ​Xulam told Sputnik about "two other Khashoggis of the Middle East" who spoke truth to power and, like Khashoggi, were killed or live in exile: Turkish journalist Can Dundar, who was driven out of the country, and Kurdish lawyer Tahir Elci, who was killed. "Erdogan basically would've done the same thing to Khashoggi if Khashoggi has risen up to him," Xulam noted.

    "There's a rift in the Islamic world right now, in the Sunni world," Xulam explained. "You have Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Egypt on one side, and you have Turkey and Qatar who have, basically, disposable income on the other side. There are other Muslims countries, but they're too busy with their own problems. So these five countries have been basically divided into two factions."

    "Saudi Arabia would have easily gotten away with" Khashoggi's murder, "let's say 10 years ago," Xulam observed. "Turkey wouldn't have even mentioned it, wouldn't have even said, ‘I have a recording,' wouldn't have even said, ‘We know about this killing.' They would have hushed it." But because of this schism in the Sunni world, "Turkey has now become ‘the champion of the freedom of expression' and wants to extort Saudi Arabia. I'm glad they are doing it, but they are doing it for the wrong reasons," he said, noting that some in the media have speculated the Turkish government is looking for blackmail money or ways to convince the Saudis to aid the flagging Turkish economy, "to the tune of billions of dollars. It doesn't look like the Saudis want to do that, so far at least. And so, Erdogan has said tomorrow that he's going to spill the beans and reveal his side of the story as to what happened inside of the consulate."

    Xulam told hosts Garland Nixon and Lee Stranahan that this divide really goes back to the origins of Islam, which began in the Arabian peninsula in the seventh century AD. The prophet Muhammad was an Arab, and nearly all of the his early followers were Arabs; only later did other peoples convert to Islam. After Turkic peoples migrated to the Middle East in the 11th century, they slowly established control over the Muslim centers of power and religion, finally becoming leaders of the Sunni Muslim world in the 14th century, when the Ottoman Turkish Sultan Murad I adopted the title of caliph, a claim to right of succession to the prophet Muhammad as leader of the Muslim community.

    However, the position of caliph was abolished in 1924 when the modern Turkish state was founded and Mustafa Kemal moved to secularize the government. Shortly thereafter, with the discovery of oil in the Arabian peninsula in the 1930s, Xulam said, the new Saudi monarchy "didn't install [the caliphate] and didn't declare it… but they became the de facto Sunni leaders" based on the kingdom's economic power.

    However, "with the advent of the Arab Spring, that became questioned," as the regional order was thrown into chaos, particularly by the rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in 2009.

    "Turkey doesn't really like to be playing second fiddle, so they now want to challenge Saudi Arabia, because Erdogan is an Islamist politician. So ideally from Erdogan's perspective, he would love to topple or bring down the Saudis or their role in the international Sunni Muslim politics. They would love to take over that. The conflict comes from there, and Khashoggi has become the ‘football' between the two factions."

    Xulam said he didn't think the rivalry between Saudi Arabs and Turks would get as bad as that between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which is Shiite and for which the Saudis have established quotas for Hajj pilgrimages to Mecca, which all Muslims regardless of sect are expected to make once during their lives if possible. However, "Saudi-Turkish relations don't look good," so more turmoil may result from whatever saber-rattling Erdogan might engage in.

    Major saber-rattling such as Erdogan's anticipated "beans spilling" Tuesday, perhaps.

    Xulam said that the Turkish media was making a great deal out of the racial implications in Khashoggi's murder, fanning the "he killed one of us" mentality, even though Khashoggi's family, though ethnically Turkish, decided to "stay put" in Arabia as the Ottoman Turkish empire collapsed and Arab nationalist states broke away from it.

    "I believe [the Turks] are going to milk Saudi Arabia for all it's worth," Xulam said, but he also thinks they will get what they can from the United States, too. US President Donald Trump has said he has not ruled out the possibility of sanctions against Riyadh for the killing of Khashoggi. On Monday, Trump told reporters outside the White House he was "not satisfied" with the explanation given him by Mohammed bin Salman, Sputnik reported.

    "Unfortunately, journalists disappear in the Middle East. They end up spending decades in jails. Turkey, right now, is number one jailer of journalists, and Erdogan has now become the savior of journalists. It's hypocrisy unheard of, and yet it's unfolding in front of us."

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.


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    arrested journalists, leadership, rivalry, Sunnis, Fault Lines, Jamal Khashoggi, Mohammed bin Salman, Erdogan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey
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