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Turkey prepared the charges while internally grappling with the coronavirus, accusing Saudi Arabia of hiding the spread of COVID-19 after finding new cases in returning Turkish citizens.

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This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.

Mark Steiner: Welcome to Real News, I’m Mark Steiner. Great to have you all with us. Turkey announced that it’s ready to press charges against 20 Saudi Nationals, including a former Deputy Head of Intelligence, with their involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi a year and a half ago. Turkish President Erdogan made no secret of his opposition to Saudi politics. In addition to opposing their war in Yemen, its involvement in Libyan Civil War, Erdogan also accused Saudi Arabia of not telling the truth about how widespread COVID-19 is in Saudi Arabia. He made the accusation after tests confirmed that Turkish citizens returning from Hajj, the City of Mecca in Saudi Arabia obviously, were infected with COVID-19 despite claims by Saudi officials that the virus is under control.
So within all that, we have to take into account also the crisis of refugees and the war raging between Turkey and Syria and the millions of refugees, as I said earlier, that are stuck in the middle. I mean, some of them literally stuck in the middle on the borders between Turkey and Greece.
So Europe has now closed its borders to all refugees fleeing no matter where they’re from. Especially the overcrowded camps in Turkey. And despair is looming all around COVID and their status being stuck. So let’s hear from two refugees from Aleppo currently in refugee camps in Syria, Ali Hallock Mahasan.

Speaker 2: As you have seen the situation in the camps, we are afraid of Corona. These tents are not able to protect us from the virus. We are not able to sanitize the tents.

Speaker 3: It is a disease that came for the whole world and I am not afraid. I actually want to be infected with Corona and die because one can then rest from all of this life.

Mark Steiner: All these stories are deeply intertwined and once again we turn to Doctor Baris Karaagac to parse them out with his analysis and welcome Boris. Good to have you back with us.

Dr Baris Karaag…: Great to see you again Mark.

Mark Steiner: Always good to see you. Baris Karaagac is a lecturer in international development studies at Trent university, Ontario, Canada. He’s also the editor of a book Accumulations, Crisis and Struggles: Capital and Labor in Contemporary Capitalism. So Baris, this is already confusing, but let me just start with this indictment. So the indicted 20 Saudis because of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. The murder was a year and a half ago. So talk a bit about the complexities here. I mean, what’s the significance that it took a year and a half to make this indictment? It comes on the heels of all the COVID crisis going on between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Did they have a reason to delay it? While everything is focused on Corona viruses. What is, what’s happening at the moment? What’s the politics and what do you think the reasoning is?

Dr Baris Karaag…: Again, it’s a very complicated issue as you said that the assassination took place about one and a half year ago in October 2018. Right after the assassination, which took place at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. When the Khashoggi entered the premises together, papers, official papers from the Saudi officials so that he could marry his Turkish fiance. But then he was kept there and according to the audio recordings and the many leaks from security and the police officials in Turkey and elsewhere, his body was dismembered. He basically disappeared.
But we are almost certain that this was done by a team that was sent by the Saudi regime to basically, eliminate Khashoggi. He was being very loud, vocal, critical of the Saudi regime for some time. When we look at his earlier life, actually, he’s been very close to the Saudi family and the regime.
But then in the last 10 years, especially in the aftermath of the so-called Arab Spring, he’s become a very vocal critic. And also the crown Prince who basically became the ruler of Saudi Arabia in 2017, he was feeling that discomfort of Khashoggi actions. Both in Europe and also in the United States where he sought in a way refuge. But the issue is that it has taken a one and a half year for this indictment to come. And this should be analyzed within the context of this tug of war that has been going on between Saudi Arabia and Turkey for almost 10 years. This is geopolitics at work. Saudi Arabia and Turkey have found themselves on opposite sides from Libya to Syria to Qatar in the past, the seven or eight years. But at the same time Turkey, Turkey’s President Erdogen has been treading a very fine line and he’s been very careful when it comes to not confronting the Saudi family, the Royal family and the regime directly.
In this case, his a target was mostly an inside man, but not the entire regime. So he’s been against bulk, but because of a particular, the economic relations between the two countries, he’s been very, very careful.

Mark Steiner: Why do you think it came out? Did they take a year and a half because they just got the evidence? Or is there more politics involved around many other issues in why it’s just being announced now? A year and a half after it happened? It’s off people’s radar. COVID-19 is taking over everybody’s, the news everywhere. I mean, are there connections here? Why now?

Dr Baris Karaag…: It is very difficult to, to give a certain answer to this question, but this may be again related to some the challenges that Erdogan one has been facing at home. You know, that relates to what is happening in Syria’s Northern parts, Province of Libya, what’s happening in their Libya. Then the recent economic challenges within the country and now the Corona pandemic. So again Erdogan is looking for enemies. Is looking to maybe to distract the public but also get some international support in many of the adventures that he’s been involved in.

Mark Steiner: So do you think that anything going on with COVID-19 has to do with this? I mean Turkey said that has gotten this new vaccine or this medicine I should say from Chloroquine from China. The pandemic is rising in Turkey. One of the fast growing places in the world. Twenty five hundred people, as last thing I read, have been infected. At least 15 to 20 people have died from COVID-19. All these people who took part in our Haaj, going to Mecca coming back from Mecca and Saudi Arabia to Turkey have been quarantined because they’ve been tested positive.
And the Turkish government’s accusing Saudi Arabia of not being honest about how widespread COVID is in Saudi Arabia itself. So I mean that also plays into this cause COVID is taking over everything. Does that play a part in all this?

Dr Baris Karaag…: Yeah. Well one piece of information that may be relevant is that, and then you mentioned this in your introduction, that the people who the pilgrims, we went to a Haaj in Saudi Arabia, some of them brought this virus with them and they’ve been under quarantine. But what has a characterize this process in Turkey is lack of transparency. For a long time there was no data, there was no information coming from officials regarding the scale of the epidemic in Turkey. And the officials argue that it did not exist. And then the numbers start to come in. Now the minister of health is being hailed as a very competent expert who’s been able to address this issue and then take the necessary measures. But we still do not know the scale. And then we also, we do not know how well the existing healthcare system in Turkey will be able to deal with this pandemic. Recent years under the eight years, the healthcare system has been restructured with the private healthcare becoming much more common. And, but we do not know how well that system will be able to address this pandemic in Turkey.

Mark Steiner: So Turkey is facing a couple of things here. You have this indictment and some people have argued this indictment is very political at the moment. Why it came now? You have the refugee crisis. If there is a wild outbreak of COVID-19 in Turkey, you know it’s going to affect the refugee camps and it’s going to affect the Turkish economy severely. And Turkey needs European union and it’s money to get through this. So I mean, all these things to me are connected. These are not separate issues. They all interplay with one another and what I might call just some kind of dialectical dance. I mean, you know, I mean, so how am I making so much of these connections? I mean, it seems to me that these things are a real, given what you’ve heard the refugees say in our opening and the fact that this plays into it as well.

Dr Baris Karaag…: To be honest, I’m not sure. There may be a relationship, a connection between all of these seemingly separate issues. But what Turkey needs now is significant help from the outside world. And there have been many calls beginning with the so late Khashoggi. For the European countries for the United States to take certain measures against the Saudi, Royal family and the regime with regards to the Khashoggi assassination. So this may be an attempt on the part of the Arab government received some sympathy and maybe help from particularly Western countries. But, and also it again is that, as I said, it’s a distraction but also a part of this tug of war between Saudi Arabia and Turkey that has been going on for some time, particularly in the last three years.

Mark Steiner: Internally there’s some battles being set up as well. I mean the mayor of Istanbul Ekrem Imamoglu. Did I say his name right?

Dr Baris Karaag…: Imamoglu. Yes.

Mark Steiner: Cause I mean 16 million people live in that city and he’s pushing Erdogan, saying “you’re not doing enough to deal with the COVID crisis or the refugee crisis or anything we’re facing. So there’s also internal political dynamic that involves COVID and evolves the opposition politically trying to get the European Union in, refugees at the border. I mean Erdogan is in a very difficult spot.

Dr Baris Karaag…: Erdogan is in a very difficult spot. There have been some measures taken by the Turkish government. But these measures are not sufficient. Also implementation is a problem. Implementation has been a sever, significant problem. But some of it stems from the material conditions within the country. The government has been telling people to stay home on the quarantine, but many people cannot survive. Yes. Unlike Western societies, the institutions of family plays a very, very important role, particularly with regards to solidarity in times of crisis in the countries like Turkey. But it is not enough. Turkey has been going through a very difficult time economically. People have to, people live from paycheck to paycheck and they cannot survive. And I read the similar news coming from India now, there’s a lockdown in India, more than a billion people are being told to stay at home.
But people have been telling the government that if they stayed at home, they’ll die from starvation.

Mark Steiner: Right.

Dr Baris Karaag…: Rather than the virus. And in Turkey, the Turkish society is facing a similar dilemma. On top of that, the budget is empty. There are years of plundering, mismanagement, so-and-so, corrupt regime has nothing to spend on it society. The package that was announced by the AKP recently, in a country of more than 80 million, close to 85 million means nothing. So there are significant challenges that the Erdogan government regime is facing in Turkey. And not only domestically, but also internationally.

Mark Steiner: So Baris, let’s conclude with where we began in terms of Khashoggi and the complexities of what’s happening with Khashoggi right now in Turkey. And why you think it’s happening? And things that some of the major Western press maybe missed in all of this.

Dr Baris Karaag…: Well, again, as I said that this should be seen and studied within the context of this tug of war between Saudi Arabia and Turkey in the region. On the one hand you see a Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates etc, and on the other hand you see this, a coalition that has emerged between the Qatar and Turkey in the recent years. And significant part of it stems from Erdogan’s initially support. And also Qatar’s initial support for Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East. And Muslim Brotherhood right now is, although it has been or it used to be a finance that supported by the Saudi regime for decades and now in Saudi Arabia it’s considered a terrorist organization. And it is seen as a significant threat to the Saudi regime. And this sprained relations between Saudi Arabia and Turkey significantly. And later when there was the embargo on Qatar, Turkey decided to support this tiny country, which actually disproportional between size has significant influence over the region through the economic connections, but also sending in Turkish troops.
Now Turkey has more than 3000 military personnel in this tiny country in the Middle East. So I think that tug of war is significant. It’s still continuing. But Ergodan a very pragmatic and politician in many ways has also refrained from attacking the Saudi Regime upfront. So now he’s talking about basically a few bad apples within the Royal family or within the regime that committed this atrocious act at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018. Rather than taking on the entire Saudi establishment. So that’s important as well.

Mark Steiner: Well Baris Karaagac, thank you once again for joining us and for always kind of being able to unpack with your analysis of what’s really going on. I appreciate your taking time with The Real News.

Dr Baris Karaag…: It’s always a pleasure. Thanks for having me, Mark.

Mark Steiner: Thank you for joining us. And I’m Mark Stein out here for the Real News network. Thank you for joining us. Let us know what you think and take care.

Production: Genevieve Montinar, Taylor Hebden, Andrew Corkery
Studio: Taylor Hebden

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Baris Karaagac is a lecturer in International Development Studies at Trent University, in Ontario. He is also the editor of the book Accumulations, Crises and Struggles: Capital and Labour in Contemporary Capitalism.