“What the Arab world needs most is free expression”: Jamal Khashoggi murdered by Saudis

“What the Arab world needs most is free expression”, wrote Jamal Khashoggi in his last column for the Washington Post. Considering the fate of the Saudi journalist, his words seem sadly appropriate.

Khashoggi was murdered on October 2, 2018 in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. International outcry and economic isolation were met by cover-up attempts by the Saudi Arabian government. The CIA has determined , with “high certainty”, that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) ordered Khashoggi’s assassination.

Timeline of Events

Khashoggi’s murder kept the international community in suspense for weeks. A columnist for the Washington Post and critic of MbS, he first went missing when he visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018 to pick up paperwork for his planned marriage. More than two weeks after Khashoggi’s disappearance, Turkish investigators finally got access to the Saudi consulate, and then searched for his body without success. As more details of Khashoggi’s murder came to light, international businesses distanced themselves from the Saudi government by pulling out of an international investment conference in Riyadh. Referring to audio and video recordings obtained by the Turkish intelligence service, Istanbul’s chief prosecutor announced on October 31, 2018 that Khashoggi was strangled to death in the Saudi consulate. The investigation revealed  that Khashoggi’s killers had dismembered his body and allegedly dissolved his body in acid. The CIA concluded the Saudi crown prince sent a 15-person hit team of Saudi special forces officers, intelligence officials, national guard and a forensic expert. The Saudi government has announced plans to “punish” the men they are now claiming are independently responsible for carrying out Khashoggi’s murder.

What might sound like a dark movie plot marks yet another assassination of a journalist allegedly ordered by heads of government — another attack on freedom of the press. Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancé were murdered in February 2018 while he was reporting on corruption within the Slovak government and their ties to the Italian mafia. Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed by a car bomb in October 2017 after her longstanding investigative journalism into corruption within her nation’s state. 

Western Powers Put Business Interests Above Human Rights

As the International Federation of Journalists has pointed out: “the impunity with which the Saudis are acting is grotesque, but it is in many ways matched by the sight of leading governments around the world displaying their willingness to aid and abet this gross cover-up to protect their own financial and political interests.”

Despite compelling evidence, the Trump administration has been reluctant to publicly acknowledge MbS’s involvement in Khashoggi’s murder. Saudi Arabia is considered a key ally of the US in the Middle Eastern region against Iran. Trump told reporters: “You know, we also have a great ally in Saudi Arabia. They give us a lot of jobs and a lot of business and economic development. They have been a truly spectacular ally in terms of jobs and economic development.”

The Saudi crown prince reportedly has a close relationship with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser. In a phone call to Kushner and national security adviser John Bolton, days after Khashoggi disappeared, MbS portrayed Khashoggi as a dangerous terrorist, sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood. This claim was picked up by the CIA and welcomed by the Trump administration, sparking outrage by Democratic as well as Republican senators pushing for legislation to sanction Saudi Arabia.

Aside from their public condemnation of Khashoggi’s murder, the UK government is another example of a Western country prioritising business interests over human rights. In the aftermath of Khashoggi’s assassination, Britain continues to sell weapons to the Saudi government.

Israel’s Lifeline to Saudi Arabia

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to support MbS following the Khashoggi scandal, and experts have speculated about his possible intentions. According to the Washington Post, Netanyahu aims to forge an alliance with the US “and the Middle East’s new generation of Sunni dictators” against Iran. Until Khashoggi’s murder Netanyahu’s plan was moving along fine: Trump restored economic sanctions on Iran while withdrawing from the nuclear arms deal, he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem and stopped US aid for Palestinian refugees in Gaza. Meanwhile, Netanyahu was invited to meet with Saudi allies.

Human rights advocates all over the world have spoken out to demand justice for Khashoggi. However, with (economic) endorsement by international powers such as the US, UK and Israel it is unlikely there will be consequences for the Saudi crown prince.

Petition to Rename Street in front of Saudi Embassy in D.C. 

Speaking at a memorial service in London on October 30, 2018 Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, presented an idea to “honour his old friend and shame his murderers.” He suggested to rename the section of New Hampshire Avenue in front of the Saudi embassy in Washington “Jamal Khashoggi Way.” “I want you to start a petition, that in every street and every city where there is a Saudi embassy or a Saudi mission, demand that it will be renamed after him”, Awad stated. 

The online petition in Washington was launched by Michael Werz, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, and Gary Schmitt, a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. It has already gathered more than 1,500 signatures. According to Schmitt the idea behind it is to cast a spotlight on the Saudi’s “unconscionable behaviour” and to remember Khashoggi who paid with his life, advocating for freedom of expression.

Khashoggi Called for Independent Platform for Arab Voices

Jamal Khashoggi was a firm believer of a free press. His last column outlines his hopes for the future: “The Arab world is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vying for power […] [It] needs a modern version of the old transnational media so citizens can be informed about global events. More important, we need to provide a platform for Arab voices. We suffer from poverty, mismanagement and poor education. Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face.”

Image Credit: Hasan Jamali/AP

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