DUBAI, UAE - Arab media have been largely ignoring the frenzied coverage of the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen who is, or was, a U.S. resident, and reporter for The Washington Post.
On Sunday however at least two of the largest circulating dailies in the United Arab Emirates, pushed the story to their No. 1 lead on their front page, pitching Saudi Arabia’s side of the story.
The biggest selling, daily, and most-read English newspaper in the UAE, Gulf News, ran their front page story with the headline, "Riyadh slams 'baseless lies' over Khashoggi." Another of the UAE majors, Khaleej Times headlined their front page lead story with "Saudi rejects Turkey claims over journo." Both stories quoted statements by Saudi Arabian Interior Minister Prince Abdel Azin bin Saud bin Nayef. The other principal UAE newspaper, The National, did not include a story in their Sunday edition, but on Saturday ran an article titled, "Saudi rejects 'baseless' murder claims," again quoting the Saudi interior minister.
As a Saudi delegation went to work in the Turkish capital Ankara on Saturday, Arab leaders too began ratcheting up their support for the besieged Saudi government.
With accusations flying around at a fierce rate, Saudi Arabia has found itself on the back foot, accused of sending a team of 15 agents to their consulate in Istanbul on October 2, the apprehension and murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen, and the dismemberment and disposal of his body. Reports that American intelligence agencies had advance knowledge of a plot to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia where it was intended to detain him have surfaced, and in the past 48 hours, news has leaked from a Turkish newspaper that authorities had video and audio recordings of what they describe as "torture" of Mr Khashoggi, and his 'murder,'
At this point there is no proof, no evidence provided, with most reports being from unofficial sources. U.S. President Donald Trump has meandered through the week, remaining cautious and pressing for the results of current investigations. On Saturday however he said there would be "severe punishment" if the stories he was hearing were true.
"We're going to get to the bottom of it and there will be severe punishment," he told CBS News in an interview on Saturday.
"As of this moment, they deny it vehemently. Could it be them? Yes," he added.
When asked if this meant cancelling arms sales to Russia, he said no, as that would hurt American jobs, and see the orders diverted to countries such as Russia and China.
He said there were "other ways of punishing."
"I don't want to hurt jobs, I don't want to lose an order like that," the president said.
Gulf countries which see Saudi Arabia as the most powerful, and most financial country in the region, and their natural leader, have thrown their backing behind the Saudi government and Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman.
Turkey too, despite what has been emerging unofficially, has been displaying a civil and diplomatic tone to its discussions with Saudi Arabia over the affair, even agreeing, at Saudi's request, to form a bilateral joint-team to investigate Khashoggi's disappearance.
“Within the framework of a close cooperation between Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and upon the suggestion of the Kingdom, a joint working team between Turkey and Saudi Arabia will be formed to investigate the case of Jamal in all its aspects,” Turkish presidential aide Ebrahim KalÄ±n told the Turkish news agency.
U.S. State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said the United States welcomed the formation of the joint team, saying that the U.S. is “content with the Turkey-Saudi agreement to form joint working group to investigate Khashoggi case.”
Gulf countries meantime have solidified their support for Saudi Arabia, saying the issue is politically-charged, and in some quarters there have been suggestions that Qatar may be behind the stories circulating.
“We stand with Saudi Arabia always because it is a stand with honor, glory, stability and hope,” Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of the UAE, said in a tweet he posted on Friday morning.
On Thursday, UAE State Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Anwar Gargash said the repercussions of politically targeting Saudi Arabia would be dire for all those who fuel it.
“The vicious campaign against Riyadh and the coordination between those inciting it is expected," he tweeted.
"Since there is an urgent need to clarify the humanitarian aspect of the situation, the repercussions for politically targeting Saudi Arabia will be grave for those behind it."
"The bottom-line is that Saudi Arabia’s success is the best choice for both the region and its citizens,” Gargash tweeted.
Bahrain's Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa said the international campaign ostensibly supporting Khashoggi was in fact politically targeting Saudi Arabia.
“The real objective is Saudi Arabia, and not looking for any truth,” he tweeted on Friday. “Drop your masks, we support Saudi Arabia with our lives,” he said.
In a follow-up tweet, Shaikh Khalid said: “The continuing hostility, abuses and lies by Al Jazeera Television towards Saudi Arabia reflect Qatar’s policy with which we cannot reconcile.”
Earlier in the week, reports were emerging in the Middle East calling into question the narrative on the Khashoggi disappearance, and hinting that Qatar was involved in the 'unfounded rumours,' and the 'campaign against Saudi Arabia.'
"Three key figures with links to Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood are behind an orchestrated and malicious media campaign blaming Saudi authorities for the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi," the Saudi Gazette wrote on Thursday, quoting as it's source the Saudi-owned, Dubai-headquartered Arab channel Al Arabiya.
The channel and the newspaper claimed Khaskoggi's fiance Hatice Cengiz was unkown to the journalist's family until he went missing - and that she has connections with Qatar
"Cengiz’s Twitter feed reveals that she follows and endorses people who are critics of Saudi Arabia, organizations known to enjoy Qatari funding, Muslim Brotherhood members and Turkey’s ruling party," Al Arayiya and the Saudi Gazette said.
"She claims that she is Khashoggi’s fiancée, but the journalist’s family has denied ever hearing or knowing about her."
"The second person is Turan KÄ±ÅŸlakçÄ±, a former employee of Turkey’s Anadolu News Agency. He has been constantly feeding false reports to the media," claimed Al Arabiya and the Saudi Gazette.
"KÄ±ÅŸlakçÄ± also serves as an official at the Youth Thought Forum in Istanbul, which is against Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE."
"Another figure who played a key role in the misreporting of Khashoggi’s disappearance was Al Jazeera correspondent Jamal Elshayyal," said the media outlets.
"Elshayyal appeared in images making the Brotherhood’s ‘rabiaa’ hand sign."
"His brother is the director of a Qatari-funded news website Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, which is supervised by the Muslim Brotherhood in Doha and London and is run by Palestinian politician Azmi Bishara, the adviser to the Emir of Qatar," said Al Arabiya, and repeated by the Saudi Gazette.
"Their father is a leading Brotherhood figure who works for the emir."
Rather than being shocked at the revelations coming out of Turkey, some Arab citizens, and journalists are too questioning the reporting. As early as Monday, the Saudi Gazette was taking issue with news commentary, quoting Qataris and Turks as being 'astonished' at the ‘false stories.’
On Monday, the Saudi Gazette published an article under the headline, "khashoggi disappearance: Astonishment at false stories."
"Many Turkish journalists and Qatari citizens criticized false stories being spread about the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi," the article began.
"Qatari citizens openly criticized the false and fabricated media stories by the regime’s mouthpieces in Doha since the disappearance of Khashoggi in Istanbul."
"The Muslim Brotherhood, which was also drumbeating falsehood related to Khashoggi’s disappearance, was exposed when the Saudi journalist’s family reaffirmed their confidence in the measures being taken by the Saudi government," said the Saudi Gazette story.
"The Muslim Brotherhood’s lies were refuted when Khashoggi’s family rejected any move to exploit the case for any dubious political agenda."
"Qatari national Yusuf Al-Khileifi tweeted that there was a crisis of confidence in the Qatari regime’s mouthpiece Al-Jazeera. The longer the crisis continues, the more biased Al-Jazeera gets, he said," the Saudi Gazette story wrote.
"Another Qatari national Muhammad Al-Kawari expressed his anger, saying that reckless individual opinions have affected the credibility of the Qatari media."
"A Qatari academic in Qatar University said some media persons who give lectures about journalistic ethics have been exposed to be the most reckless," the Saudi Gazette story said.
"Turkish journalist Muhammad Kanabkali expressed astonishment at the claim by some media persons that Khashoggi has died. “Where did they get this information?,” he asked, adding, “We Turkish journalists know how hard it is to get information on simple issues. I am astonished that everyone is talking about having high-placed sources in Turkey.”'
"He said that everyone in the Turkish media knows that no high-placed sources are available to speak on this issue," said the Saudi Gazette article.