Long before the apparent murder of a journalist inside a Saudi Arabian consulate, the impulsive and ruthless nature of the nation’s young Crown Prince was on display to the world.
Last November Lebanon’s Prime Minister was called to Riyadh, prevented from leaving and forced to resign — as an apparent attempt to spark an overreaction from Saudi Arabia’s arch-enemy, Iran, and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah.
It was a rash move that could easily have unleashed a new bout of fighting in war-scarred Beirut.
Then, the political and royal rivals of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were placed under house arrest in a five-star hotel until they bowed to his authority and handed over vast amounts of cash.
And then there is the ongoing crackdown on dissent in Saudi Arabia, culminating in the jailing of reformers, and prosecutors calling for the execution of a group of feminists who had dared to demand that they be allowed to drive.
These extraordinary actions are at odds with the image projected by Mohammed bin Salman, and so desperately wanted by the West: a young and thoughtful reformer determined to bring Saudi Arabia out of the dark ages, and who is willing to take a stand against Iran.
He is making changes to a nation that has spent four decades spreading its brand of puritanical Islam.
Under the Crown Prince, colloquially known as MBS, women have finally been allowed to drive.
He has declared that the real enemy of the Arab world is extremism, not Israel.
He appeared on the cover of Time magazine and even won over influential commentators like Thomas Friedman of the New York Times.
“MBS is on a mission to bring Saudi Islam back to the centre,” wrote Friedman.
But the change has to be on MBS’s terms. Anything else is a threat to his power.
As one columnist put it, the “arrests were simply about controlling the narrative”.
That columnist was Jamal Khashoggi.
As payback for columns like this, it now appears likely that the veteran journalist and editor was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, after he went to collect some documents needed for his marriage.
A Saudi hit team was waiting for him. He had dared to criticise some of the policies of the impulsive Mohammed bin Salman.
The Washington Post has reported that Turkey has audio recordings that capture Mr Khashoggi’s torture and murder.
CCTV footage and passenger manifests purport to show the arrival of a hit squad in Istanbul the morning that the journalist was due at the consulate, and the movement of their vehicles between the consulate and the nearby consul-general’s home.
Having done their work, the team left later that night.
It was an extraordinary act: Mr Khashoggi is a US resident and an influential commentator.
His disappearance was bound to become major news.
In a nation where dissent and independence is not tolerated, the only person who could have authorised such an act is Mohammed bin Salman.
Last November, Jamal Khashoggi wrote: “The impulsivity of MBS has been a consistent theme — from the war in Yemen to the wave of arrests of constructive critics, royals and senior officials accused of corruption.”
By his own suspected death, Jamal Khashoggi has been proved right: the crown prince does what he wants, regardless of consequences.Brexit backstop must be finite, says Dominic Raab ahead of crunch summit