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What in the world? No seriously, what the…? When it comes to Saudi Arabia these days, things could not get weirder or uglier. Last November, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman forced Lebanon’s Prime Minister to resign—from Riyadh in a television appearance that had all the characteristics of a hostage video. At the same time, Saudi authorities detained almost 400 people in the Ritz-Carlton over corruption charges, only to release them after they handed over significant sums of cash and assets in what appeared to be little more than a shakedown. This past spring and summer, the government began arresting women activists, some of whom had been at the forefront of the decades long fight to drive that ended with a lift on the ban in June, and declared them traitors. Then, in August, Saudi leaders lashed out at Canada over a tweet criticizing their treatment of oppositionists—canceling flights, preventing Saudi students on government scholarship from studying at Canadian universities, and transferring sick Saudis from Canada’s hospitals. All of this was going on against the backdrop of the ill-conceived war in Yemen.
And now, a Saudi journalist named Jamal Khashoggi—a onetime confidant of senior Saudi officials and princes—has vanished. He disappeared into Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate on Oct. 2 and has not been heard from since. The Turks say he is dead, killed in the consulate by a hit team, with his body removed in boxes. The Saudis have declared this grisly tale nonsense and insist Khashoggi left the consulate not long after he arrived.