Rabat - While the Saudi royal family tries to convince the international community that Crown Prince MBS was unaware of Khashoggi’s murder, the uncovering of a reported network of online crusaders has revealed “the darker side” of the Saudi prince.
Rabat – While the Saudi royal family tries to convince the international community that Crown Prince MBS was unaware of Khashoggi’s murder, the uncovering of a reported network of online crusaders has revealed “the darker side” of the Saudi prince.
“Each morning, Jamal Khashoggi would check his phone to discover what hell had been unleashed while he was sleeping,” said a New York Times report on October 20.
Documenting an online army set up and commanded Saud-al-Qahtani, a senior media advisor to Crown Prince, the Times reported that the MBS-affiliated online “crusaders” received direct orders and a “black list” to harass, intimidate, and humiliate all critics to the Riyadh regime.
Jamal Khashoggi, the dissident journalist who is believed to have been killed by a 15-pperson Saudi hit team at the country’s consulate in Istanbul on October 2, was among the top targets of the Saudi crown prince’s twitter brigade, the Times found.
“The mornings were worst for him because he would wake up to the equivalent of sustained gunfire,” Mitchet Salem, a friend of Khashoggi’s 15 years, told the Times.
So toxic and destructive was the twitter warfare impact on Khashoggi that his inner circle would check on him every early morning to know how he was doing mentally, and whether the repeated harassment bullying and sustained twitter harassment had not have any major effects on his mental state.
The troll farm, as the crown prince’s twitter army called themselves, were daily given names of dissidents and influential Saudis—both residing in the kingdom and abroad—to routinely harass and attack. The central aim was to feed and nurture “intimidation campaigns against influential voices raising questions about the darker side of the crown prince.
Image-management and perception-manufacturing
In addition to twitter bullying and attacks of all sorts to discredit and humiliate MBS critics, the farm’s goals include an “image-revamping” campaign and an “image-management crusaded.” This was done heavy-handed censorship and manipulation to “create reality” that showed the crown prince in a positive light.
Since MBS’s ascent to prominence, the Gulf country has been obsessed with managing its image, seven people interviewed by the Times, including former farm operatives, university researchers, and activists who have been trying to uncover the Saudi online army said.
They explained how MBS’s inner circle heavily invested online platforms to drive the conversations and shape perceptions and attitude towards the kingdom and its then emerging charismatic and progressive-portrayed prince.
The goal, according to interviewees, was to charm the international community, especially the global business world and investors by presenting the Saudi kingdom as “a vibrant and more socially progressive country than it was once.”
But how does the uncovering of a Twitter army undermine the narrative recently put out by the Saudi family on the circumstances that led to Khasshoggi’s murder?
The report answered: “Before his death, Mr. Khashoggi was launching projects to combat online abuse and try to reveal that Crown Prince Mohammed was mismanaging the country.”
With his project of launching a counteroffensive at the Saudi government’s troll farm, Khashoggi contacted Omar Abdulaziz, a Saudi dissident residing in Canada.
In September, Khashoggi wired $5,000 to Abdulaziz, whom he had put in charge of assembling a group of other Saudi dissidents who had volunteered to strike back at the government’s online attacks and expose the myth that lurked beneath the flamboyant and progressive MBS.
“The volunteers called themselves the ‘Electronic Bees’,” the report explained. It added, perhaps most critically, “Eleven days before Mr. Khashoggi died in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he wrote on twitter that the bees were coming.”
Saudi Arabia accepted on Friday that Khashoggi had been killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, after two weeks of unapologetically firmly the kill-and-dispose narrative and unapologetically telling the world that the dissident journalist had left the consulate.
On Saturday, a host of senior Saudi officials, including Saud-al-Qahtani, MBS’ media advisor who masterminded and led prince’s the online crusade against dissidents, were dismissed from their posts as the kingdom’s tries to clear to wash the crown prince’s hands of Khashoggi’s murder.
The Saudi minister called the murder “a rogue operation,” adding that MBS had “not been aware,” and that those who killed the dissident journalist “made a mistake and tried to cover up for it.”
Turkey has however made it abundantly clear that it has “a totally different version of the facts” that appear to criminalize the crown prince.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip President Erdogan, who has been atypically silent since the Khashoggi murder incident erupted, preferring to watch from the sidelines as Turkish media outlets leaked news that belied successive Saudi claims, said he would speak on the Khashoggi case at weekly party meeting on Tuesday this week.