The Return of Dhari
This holiday week saw the effective return, or at least rehabilitation, of Saud al-Qahtani, once deemed “the loudest and most visible Saudi official” online or off. This came as part of a round of verdicts announced in the trial of those accused of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
The Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs made the (initial) verdicts quite clear on its official Twitter page (also in Arabic). 5 others were (initially) sentenced to death, and others to jail – though no charges were filed against 10, while 3 were found “not guilty.”
#STATEMENT by the Public Prosecutor regarding the murder of citizen Jamal bin Ahmed bin Hamza Khashoggi (may his soul Rest In Peace). pic.twitter.com/745x7OABkx — Foreign Ministry 🇸🇦 (@KSAmofaEN) December 23, 2019
Those who ultimately received no punishment included Saud al-Qahtani (advisor to the royal court), Ahmed al-Asiri (former general), and Muhammad al-Utaibi (consular official) . Per Sh’alan al- Sh’alan, spokesperson for the Public Prosecutor “Saud Al-Qahtani was investigated by the Public Prosecution, and no charges were brought against him. as there was no evidence against him. Ahmed Asiri was investigated by the Public Prosecution and while charges were brought against him, he was referred to the court and was sentenced to be released because his conviction was not proven.” (Aawsat, 12.24.2019)
Salah Khashoggi, Jamal Khashoggi’s son (and reportedly the only immediate family member who continues to reside in Saudi Arabia), posted his thanks to the Saudi judiciary on Twitter without reference to particular individuals.
” Fairness of the judiciary is based on two principles, justice and speedy litigation, so there is neither injustice nor procrastination. Today, it was fair to the children of the deceased, God willing, Jamal Khashoggi. We affirm our confidence in the Saudi judiciary at all levels, that treated us fairly and achieved justice. Thank God and thanks to [the judiciary].”
إنصاف القضاء يقوم على مبدأين، العدالة وسرعة التقاضي، فلا ظلم ولا مماطلة. اليوم القضاء أنصفنا نحن ابناء المرحوم، بإذن الله جمال خاشقجي. ونؤكد ثقتنا في القضاء السعودي بكافة مستوياته وقيامه بإنصافنا وتحقيق العدالة. الحمد لله والشكر له. — salah khashoggi (@salahkhashoggi) December 23, 2019
Popular social-media news sites were more forthright, directly (rather than circumspectly) announcing the innocence of Qahtani, Asiri, and Utaibi (compared with the more qualified statements by the public prosecutor).
النيابة العامة تكشف تفاصيل التحقيقات في حادثة جمال خاشقجي. .#السعودية #النيابة_العامة . pic.twitter.com/MtlV1n0prX — أخبار السعودية (@SaudiNews50) December 23, 2019
One major trend among patriotic commentators was to denounce the accusations against Qahtani and Asiri as efforts to cast blame on any number of officials in the Saudi state (Reuters reported on Qahtani’s involvement at the time citing “several sources with links to the royal court“).
“Those who tried throughout the past period to abuse these two men and hold them responsible for this heinous crime were not concerned with justice. Rather, what mattered most to them was implicating the largest number of officials in the state. ”
من حاولوا طيلة الفترة الماضية الإساءة لهذين الرجلين وتحميلهما المسؤولية عن هذه الجريمة البشعة لم يكن همهم العدالة بل كان أكثر مايهمهم هو توريط أكبر عدد من المسؤولين في الدولة .#سعود_القحطاني #أحمد_عسيري#براءة_سعود_القحطاني#براءة_القحطاني_والعسيريhttps://t.co/tvFYhG6AcH https://t.co/6u3hTioKwA — منصور الخميس 🇸🇦 (@MansourAlkhamis) December 23, 2019
Many were pleased that the Saudi government had not seemingly caved to international pressure in charging the two, or assigning any penalty.
“What pleased me most in the innocence of Mr. Saud Al-Qahtani and Ahmed Asiri was the indifference of the judiciary to political and media pressures. Neither the politicized media nor the US foreign sanctions are proof for condemnation [here] – the Kingdom is not a banana republic like those that handed over Preacher Brunson [Turkey] or the assassins of Chechen president Yandarbiyev [Qatar]”
اكثر ما اسعدني في براءة الاستاذ سعود القحطاني واحمد عسيري هو عدم اكتراث القضاء بالضغوط السياسية والإعلامية فلا سعار الإعلام المسيس ولا عقوبات الخارجية الامريكية دليل ادانة عندنا فليست المملكة جمهورية موز كالتي أسلمت القسيس برانسون او التي اسلمت قتلة الرئيس الشيشاني يندرباييف. — مشعل الخالدي (@meshaluk) December 23, 2019
To emphasize the point:
“[President of the National Society for Human Rights Dr. Muflih Bin Rabian Al-Qahtani] stressed that this ruling closes the door In the face of everyone who tried to use the issue to smear the kingdom’s reputation and its leadership… “The time has come to stop this organized campaign that targeted Saudi Arabia as an entity with the aim of undermining its reputation in terms of its politics, its economy, and human rights.” (Okaz, 12.23.2019)
Even commentators not typically associated with very-online Saudi patriots remarked on the release. One felt the need to address the issue directly, albeit in Arabic, stating that he was responding to “external critics”:
“The external media… focused on only two people, Saud Al-Qahtani and Ahmed Asiri, for an understandable reason. First, they are two senior officials in important and sensitive locations, but more specifically, they are in the circle of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the main target in the fierce campaigns since the incident.” Abu Taleb, Okaz, 12.26.2019
“Saudi joy on Twitter at the innocence of two national symbols – Saud Al-Qahtani and Ahmed Asiri. The first chapter of the international campaign ended, though chapters remain. Politicizing Saudi issues internationally, small or big, usually has not and will not stop. The latest of this is the politicization of sports championships hosted by Saudi Arabia.” (Adhwan al-Ahmari, Indy Arabia editor)
فرحة سعودية في تويتر ببراءة رمزين وطنيين سعود القحطاني وأحمد عسيري. الفصل الأول من الحملة الدولية انتهى وتبقت فصول. تسييس القضايا السعودية دولياً، صغيرة كانت أو كبيرة، عادة لم ولن تتوقف. وآخرها تسييس البطولات الرياضية التي استضافتها السعودية. https://t.co/daGyRfBVun — عضوان الأحمري (@Adhwan) December 23, 2019
As Ahmari’s tweet notes, the main reaction within Saudi patriotic Twitter has been one of unbridled joy that one of the most strident voices of Saudi nationalism on Twitter had been exonerated.
“Congratulations to the two lions – Ahmad Asiri and Saud al-Qahtani. A beautiful day.” (Souad al-Shammari, online commentator, 12.23.2019)
مبروك براءة الأسدين أحمد عسيري و #سعود_القحطاني احد الأيام الجميلة والمجيدة — سعاد الشمري (@SouadALshammary) December 23, 2019
“He raised the banner of the banner of defending his country with honor… and fought for it with honor… He disappeared from the battlefield with honor… Today, the truth emerged and he returned again with honor… Blessed is the one who defended his homeland through piece, war, and honor.” (Salman al-Dosary, former Aawsat editor, 12.23.2019)
#سعود_القحطاني رفع راية لواء الدفاع عن بلاده بشرف.. وقاتل من أجلها بشرف.. وتوارى عن ساحة المعركة بشرف.. و اليوم ظهرت الحقيقة وعاد مجدداً بشرف.. طوبى لمن كان الذود عن وطنه سلمه وحربه وشرفه🇸🇦🇸🇦🇸🇦 pic.twitter.com/E6biD65bU5 — سلمان الدوسري (@SalmanAldosary) December 23, 2019
One popular trend was “Trusting you, Saud al-Qahtani,” often accompanied by “greatest hits” montages of the sickest burns and threats issued by Qahtani on Twitter.
#واثقين_بك_سعود_القحطاني pic.twitter.com/3UCt5OQtEv — خالد المطرفي (@Almatrafi) December 23, 2019
Al-Ekhbariyya television, state-owned since late 2017, ran brief biography clips on Twitter for Qahtani and Asiri.
فيديو | سيرة سعود القحطاني #الإخبارية pic.twitter.com/dSIv0NgfRV — قناة الإخبارية (@alekhbariyatv) December 23, 2019
Several commentators are waiting for (and calling for) the return of Saud al-Qahtani to Twitter.
“We are waiting for your tweets, like arrows striking at the heart of the enemies. #Tweet_Saud and warm the hearts of your fans, Abu Khalid!” (Mansour al-Khamis, online commentator, 12.23.2019)
@saudq1978 ننتظر تغريداتك التي كالسهام في نحور الأعداء#غرد_ياسعود وأسعد قلوب محبيك يابو خالد#سعود_القحطاني#براءة_سعود_القحطاني 🇸🇦🇸🇦🇸🇦🇸🇦🇸🇦🇸🇦🇸🇦🇸🇦🇸🇦🇸🇦🇸🇦🇸🇦 pic.twitter.com/mHGhSYAIE0 — منصور الخميس 🇸🇦 (@MansourAlkhamis) December 23, 2019
Monther al-Mubarak (online commentator) simply posted a screenshot of Qahtani’s (suspended) account with an hour glass – ticktock.
⏳ pic.twitter.com/FZwUA8uG9K — منذر آل الشيخ مبارك (@monther72) December 23, 2019
ٍSupporters also began circulating a poem, supposed written by Qahtani regarding his release.
The key line, that serves as the poem’s title: “I was declared innocent by He in who judges us all”
📌| قصيدة المستشار #سعود_القحطاني بعد صدور بيان #النائب_العام ( براني اللي كلنا باحتكامه ) …#واثقين_بك_سعود_القحطاني pic.twitter.com/eiutXXJ4sj — عناد العتيبي 🇸🇦 (@ENAD_Alotaibi) December 23, 2019