House of shame: Khashoggi killing puts Saudis on the spot
The family needs to answer tough questions, such as why did 15 thugs bring a saw to the table?
Jamal Khashoggi would not kick a cat.
The suggestion in the long-delayed Saudi admission of his death that the shy and avuncular Jamal would throw a punch at anyone, let alone 15 thugs flown from Riyadh to detain him, is ludicrous, and an insult to the memory of a cherished friend.
Jamal Khashoggi’s ideas could be fiery. But his mien and manner were peaceable, diffident, even.
Did those Saudis fly to Istanbul merely to question Jamal, then take him back to the kingdom (in itself, a matter of illegal abduction)? In which case, why bring a blade saw and a forensic scientist skilled in body dissection, as Turkish sources claimed? And where is the corpse?
Correctly or otherwise, the world's media has concluded that the short-tempered Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) was the man who inspired this whole attack. In which case, why has his father, King Salman, entrusted the murder inquiry to him?
Shame is always in short supply in Saudi - it's rare that the royal family will admit mistakes. But insiders were reporting hints of change. King Salman selected one of the clan's elder statesmen, Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, the governor of Mecca, to fly to Turkey to start the investigation into what happened - taking the investigation dossier away from MBS.
Khalid Al-Faisal is exactly the type of man who would make a respected new Crown Prince and future king.
In a similar category is Prince Khalid bin Salman (KBS), 30, the king's personable younger son, who has made a favourable impression as Saudi ambassador to Washington. Among his admirers was Jamal himself. The week after Jamal's disappearance, the king invited KBS home for consultations, prompting talk of some dynastic readjustment.
One of these two Prince Khalids, it was suggested, might be in line for promotion - or even the creation of some double act that might diminish the stifling powers of MBS. This would be a return to the traditional style in which the House of Saud has always operated - a collective that shared decision-making.
Since coming to power in June 2017, MBS, 33, has overturned these collegiate mechanisms, concentrating power into his own hands. And it would seem there will be no return to the old ways in the short term.
King Salman has taken back the Khashoggi dossier from Khalid Al-Faisal, placing it firmly in the hands of MBS - so he is investigator, judge and jury in his own case. But how long can this young man's power endure? As the House of Saud contemplates who will succeed King Salman, they must consider the question marks Istanbul has raised. Who do they want to represent their Kingdom in the decades ahead, for what democratic western country will ever receive MBS again with fanfares?
Will any British prime minister, for example, invite him to shake hands with them and stand on the steps of Downing Street, with the memory of Jamal Khashoggi and his fate?
• Robert Lacey is the author ofInside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited