The Soapbox: Saudi Arabian royalty, a planned German coup, Peru’s new president

The Soapbox is a weekly column by WSN’s news desk analyzing major developments in world news and rounding up the stories we think are worth the read this week. Global consciousness for a global university.

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Susan Behrends Valenzuela

The Soapbox is a weekly news column rounding up stories worth reading for a global university. (Staff Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Tori Morales, Deputy News Editor

In a U.S. court, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia gets away with murder

A district court judge in the United States found on Dec. 6 that Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Arabian crown prince, has legal immunity in a case concerning the 2018 killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist. Khashoggi was killed and dismembered in a Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul.

Salman was appointed prime minister of Saudi Arabia in September, days before a State Department deadline — which was later extended — for a decision on his potential immunity. Typically, the position is held by the current king. Many believe that the decision to make Salman prime minister was an attempt to shield him.

The Biden administration released a legal analysis on Nov. 17 which found that Salman, as the head of state of a foreign government, is immune to U.S. jurisdiction. The decision forced the court to drop the case against him despite “uneasiness” over the circumstances of Khashoggi’s death. Twenty-six other defendants were named in the case, none of whom made an appearance in court before the case was tossed.

On the day he was killed, Khashoggi had gone to the consulate in Istanbul to pick up necessary documents to marry his fiancee. Mohammed bin Salman’s brother, Prince Khalid bin Salman, assured Khashoggi that he would be safe there. Despite the Saudi crown’s continued denial of involvement, a 2021 CIA report found that the crown prince “approved an operation” to capture or kill Khashoggi. A key advisor to the crown and several bodyguards were involved in the murder, and, a year before the killing, Mohammed bin Salman said he would use “a bullet” on Khashoggi if he continued to criticize the Saudi government.

For decades, Khashoggi had been an advisor to the Saudi crown, but fell out of favor and fled to the United States in 2017. In the first edition of his monthly Washington Post column published that September, he said he feared being arrested due to his dissent. His other articles went on to call for free expression, criticizing Saudi action in Yemen and accusing Salman of historical revisionism. Khashoggi’s comments about Saudi Arabia and the crown prince in particular likely served as the impetus for his murder.

Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, a Turkish activist, has been fighting for the international condemnation of Saudi Arabia since his death, and has criticized Biden’s State Department’s findings.

“Biden betrayed his own word,” Cengiz told the Middle Eastern Eye. “I still believe in justice, that it will happen one day … The days to come will show where and how we will find justice.” 

In Germany, a right-wing insurrection attempt sabotaged 

Over 20 people associated with a militant, far-right organization have been arrested in Germany for plotting to overthrow the elected government and install a minor noble. Police conducted one of the largest raids in German history on the group — the Reichsbürger — on Dec. 7. 

Leaders of the movement claim that the current German government is illegitimate and that the previous Reich government still exists. Their name, Reichsbürger, translates to “citizens of the Reich.” Members believe that 1937 borders of the German empire — including parts of Poland and Austria — are still valid. They print their own passports and driver’s licenses, as they do not recognize the state’s authority. Many believe in Nazi ideologies. During the pandemic, the Reichsbürger gained traction due to the similar Querdenker, or lateral thinkers, movement. The Querdenker movement similarly claimed it was not subject to the government’s lockdown policies.

Reichsbürger members planned an armed attack on Germany’s legislature and leaders, which included kidnapping Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, a leading figure of the nation’s COVID-19 response. A member of a minor noble family — Heinrich XIII, Prince Reuss of Greiz — allegedly contacted Russian officials through his Russian partner to coordinate plans once the constitutional government was overthrown.

Amid rising right-wing populism in Europe — most recently the election of the far-right Giorgia Meloni as Italy’s prime minister — the planned coup serves as a warning to Germany of the effects of popular discontent; almost two-thirds of Germans are unhappy with the current government, likely due to ongoing economic struggles partially caused by the war in Russia.

“The accused are united by a deep rejection of state institutions and the free democratic basic order of the Federal Republic of Germany, which over time has led to their decision to participate in their violent elimination, and to engage in concrete preparatory actions for this purpose,” reads a statement from the German prosecutor’s office, according to CNN.

In Peru, a failed coup leads to first female president

Peru’s congress voted to impeach President Pedro Castillo on Dec. 7 after he attempted to dissolve the legislature the morning before discussion on his impeachment for corruption began. Dina Boluarte, Castillo’s vice president, has now ascended to the office — the first female president in Peru’s history. 

During his time in office, Castillo’s administration was rocked by credible accusations of corruption that led to the detainment of five of his allies. Castillo, the first Peruvian president to face a criminal probe while in office, was accused by the attorney general of leading “a criminal organization” in the government to enrich himself and his family. Corruption is endemic in Peru’s political system, with nearly every ex-president in the last 40 years having faced corruption charges. The country is also struggling with political stability — Boluarte is Peru’s fifth president in two years.

Despite initially saying he would respect the legislature’s decision, Castillo made a televised address on Wednesday morning announcing that he would dissolve Congress and hold new elections within nine months. He imposed a curfew and called for a new constitution. The military, however, refused to comply with his requests and said they would only follow the constitutional order. He was arrested on Dec. 7 on charges of corruption and rebellion, and is currently imprisoned.

Castillo took office in 2021 after running as the candidate for the ideologically Marxist-Leninist Free Peru party, and has failed to deliver on campaign promises to help Peru’s poorest. In response to widespread hunger — exacerbated by a lack of fertilizer caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine — Castillo said in an interview that the Incas didn’t need fertilizer and that only those who didn’t work would go hungry. According to the United Nations, Peru is the most food-insecure country in South America, with more than half of the population lacking access to nutritious food. 

Despite Castillo’s ouster, Peru’s political system is far from stable, and the new president, Boluarte, must now contend with the aftershocks of her predecessor’s crimes.

“There has been an attempted coup … that has not found an echo in the institutions, nor in the street,” she said in her inaugural address, according to NPR. “What I ask for is a space, a time to rescue the country.”

Contact Tori Morales at [email protected]