By Bassem Ajami
Every now and then, Arab politics reminds us of its brutality in the most appalling way. The potential murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is the most recent such reminder.
In October 1965, the Moroccan journalist, politician, and opposition leader, Al Mahdi Bin Baraka, disappeared in Paris. It turned out that he was kidnapped on the streets of the French capital.
His body was never found. The investigation revealed that Moroccan, Israeli and French intelligence were involved. President Charles de Gaulle ordered a thorough review of the operation of the French secret service.
Even though he was a leftist who embraced some ground-breaking political ideas, Bin Baraka was hardly a revolutionary. He never posed a serious threat to the monarchy in his country.
Another case that made headlines is that of the Libyan dissident, Mansur El Kikhia. El Kikhia had served in several key posts in the regime of Ghaddafi, including foreign minister and permanent representative to the UN, before turning against the Libyan tyrant.
In December 1993, while in Cairo to attend a conference on human rights, he mysteriously vanished.
Investigations revealed that he was kidnapped by the Egyptian and Libyan intelligence. After a brief interrogation in Cairo, he was spirited to Libya. His body was discovered in 2012 in a Tripoli prison after the fall of Ghaddafi.
These are two examples, out of literally dozens of stories, about the kidnapping and killing of Arab dissidents over the past decades.
The difference between such cases and the Khashoggi case is that the Gulf states never resorted to such practices, even though they hardly tolerated dissent or even a mildly critical opinion of their regimes.
When Mohammad Bin Salman was appointed as the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, he announced his Vision 2030, and it was believed that he had a plan that would bring badly needed reforms and modernization to the kingdom. And indeed some Important measures were introduced.
But the case of Khashoggi, if reports of his killing are confirmed, is no Saudi Arabia 2030.
It is Syria under Hafez Assad and his son and successor.
It is Iraq under Saddam Hussein.
It is Libya under Ghaddafi.
It is the worst nightmare for the ordinary Arab yearning for political and social reform.