Jamal Khashoggi: This Story is Not Finished

“The Arab world 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.”

This was Jamal Khashoggi’s message in his last column for The Washington Post before he  disappeared on October 2nd. The media is still searching for answers about Khashoggi’s alleged assassination after he entered the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

Khashoggi, exiled from his home country in 2017 due to his criticism of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, visited the consulate in Istanbul to obtain a document related to his upcoming wedding. After waiting outside for four hours with Khashoggi nowhere in sight, his fiancée Hatice Cengiz called Turkish officials.

According to Reuters, Prince Khaled al-Faisal traveled to Turkey last Thursday and engaged in talks which resulted in an agreement to “form a joint working group” under the initiative of Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, to investigate Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Turkish investigators later concluded that Khashoggi never left the consulate and said they believe the journalist was killed by a 15-member Saudi team sent “specifically for the murder.”

After two weeks of negotiations, the Saudi Arabian government had finally given Turkish investigators access to the consulate in Istanbul.

Saudi Arabia has strongly denied these claims, with bin Salman saying that Khashoggi left the consulate shortly after arriving. Saudi Arabia then claimed that Khashoggi died in a fist fight that he initiated. The story changed again when the attorney general of Saudi Arabia said it was “premeditated murder.”

Saudi Arabia’s interior minister, Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif, took a step further from denying these claims by condemning the investigation’s findings as “lies and baseless allegations.” Conversely, he then praised the joint investigation with Turkey.

Despite these conflicting reports, U.S. intelligence sources told The Washington Post that bin Salman sought to lure Khashoggi back to Saudi Arabia in order to detain him, with several of Khashoggi’s friends saying that in the months leading up to his disappearance, senior Saudi officials had called Khashoggi to offer him protection and a high-level government job if he returned to Saudi Arabia.

With 1.69 million followers on Twitter, Khashoggi has gained prominence in the Middle East as a critic of bin Salman’s policies, claiming that bin Salman has failed to fulfill his promise of social and economic reform.

Khashoggi wrote a column in September of 2017 saying that in Saudi Arabia, there exists a “fear, intimidation, arrests and public shaming of intellectuals and religious leaders who dare to speak their minds.”

Even with his strict devotion to covering actions of the Saudi government, Khashoggi was known to many of his friends as “soft and humble.”

“I got to know him shortly after he had moved to D.C., and what struck me with Jamal was his availability to everybody,” said Sigurd Neubauer, a Middle East analyst based in Washington, in an Atlantic interview Wednesday with former MediaFile founder and Editor-In-Chief Scott Nover.

“Everybody who was interested in Saudi Arabia or in the region, he would make himself available to them. It didn’t matter whether you were the top of your field or whether you were somebody like myself who is a mid-level analyst.”

Outrage over Khashoggi’s alleged murder has spread from social media to the journalism community to world leaders.

President Donald Trump, famous for calling the media in his own country “the enemy of the American people” and “fake news,”  has started to pressure the Saudi government for answers a week after the incident.

“We cannot let this happen to reporters, to anybody,” said Trump. “And we’re going to get to the bottom of it.”

He also claimed, “This is a very serious thing and we’re looking at it in a very serious manner” and promised that the first lady’s office was making arrangements to bring Khashoggi’s fiancée to the White House.  

The rest of Trump’s administration has gotten involved in communicating with Saudi Arabia. National Security Adviser John Bolton, Jared Kushner and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to bin Salman “to reiterate the United States’ request for information.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has also begun pressuring Saudi Arabia for the truth. He, like Trump, serves as another unlikely advocate of Khashoggi since Turkey is described as “the world’s biggest prison for professional journalists” by Reporters Without Borders.

Despite Turkey’s reputation for imprisoning journalists for more than a year before trial and sentencing reporters for life without hope for a pardon, Erdogan has urged Saudi officials to prove that Khashoggi left the consulate by releasing security footage.

In response to heightened international condemnation, the Saudi government has promised retaliation if economic deals with the U.S. fall through.

“The Kingdom also affirms that if it receives any action, it will respond with greater action,” published Saudi Arabia’s state-run news agency.

The Trump administration has made Saudi Arabia a powerful ally in the Middle East by “supporting the Saudi-led airstrike campaign in Yemen and brokering an arms deal that could be worth $110 billion over the next decade.”

“Please, President Trump, shed light on my fiance’s disappearance” is the title of Khashoggi’s fiancee’s op-ed but America’s dependence on Saudi Arabian trade deals may hold back the Trump administration from holding the Gulf nation truly accountable.

While it is vital that Khashoggi’s story has dominated the newscycle, coverage has been more focused on the Trump-Saudi drama than on Khashoggi’s message of increased press freedom in the Middle East.

“I don’t want to get into his mind,” said Trump. “But it sounded to me like maybe these could have been rogue killers. Who knows?”

Since then, Khashoggi’s fiancee has turned down the invitation to the White House, saying, “The statements Trump made in the first days around his invite and the statements he made afterward opposed each other. They were simply statements to gain public sympathy.”  

Many journalists and politicians in the international community have begun to question Trump’s conviction to hold Saudi Arabia accountable.

Vanity Fair published an article entitled, “This Administration Is Hoping This Will Blow Over: The Foreign-policy Community Loses Any Remaining Faith In Trump.” CNN published, “Why Trump Doesn’t Want to Punish Saudi Arabia.”

According to Fox News, even conservative politician Senator Rand Paul has critiqued the president for continuing strong economic ties with Saudi Arabia after Khashoggi’s disappearance.

“I think sanctions are a way of pretending to do something. If you sanction the 15 thugs that the crown prince sent to [the consulate in Istanbul], you’re sanctioning 15 thugs and they’ll just get 15 more thugs,” he said.

Despite the problematic use of the word ‘thug’ to describe men of color from Saudi Arabia, Paul echoes the frustration that Trump has prioritized trade over justice.

As events continue to unfold, Khashoggi’s friends and loved ones will not stop demanding answers and telling his story.

 

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