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.”
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].”
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).
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. ”
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]”
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)
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)
“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)
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.
Al-Ekhbariyya television, state-owned since late 2017, ran brief biography clips on Twitter for Qahtani and Asiri.
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)
Monther al-Mubarak (online commentator) simply posted a screenshot of Qahtani’s (suspended) account with an hour glass – ticktock.
ٍ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”