Turkish officials have been leaking lurid details for weeks about the assassination and reported dismemberment of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul. But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, keen to maintain good relations with Saudi Arabia, has until now mostly held his tongue. On Sunday, Erdogan broke his silence, promising that within 48 hours he would remove the lid completely from what his spokesmen are now calling a Saudi cover-up.
“We will reveal it,” he said in a televised speech. “It will be revealed in full nakedness.”
With international outrage at Khashoggis killing increasingly focused on the potential culpability of Saudi Arabias de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Erdogan appears to sense an opportunity.
Khashoggis status as a US resident and a Washington Post columnist, along with the Saudis clumsy handling of the scandal, have presented Erdogan with an unexpected chance to inflict damage on the crown prince — a cordial ally in public but a fierce rival in private.
The Turkish president may now risk antagonizing a country that is among the richest and most influential in the region. But he may have concluded that risk is worth the chance to strike a blow in a broader regional conflict.
Crown Prince Mohammed is the linchpin of a coalition of Middle Eastern states hostile to Erdogan and his Islamist allies.
Erdogan has cast himself as a champion of the Arab Spring revolts and the election-minded Islamists who hoped to ride them to power.
By hinting that he might reveal details of Khashoggis killing that could implicate the crown prince, Erdogan is sending tremors of anxiety through much of the far-flung coalition that has lined up with Saudi Arabia to crush the Islamists. The coalition ranges from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in the Persian Gulf to the strongmen in Egypt and eastern Libya.
The backlash over the Khashoggi killing “is the biggest event in the region since the Arab Spring,” said Michael Stephens, a researcher at the Royal United Services Institute, a London think tank.
Some noted that, for all his bluster, Erdogan was still giving a 48-hour warning to the Saudis.