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Jamal Khashoggi: From royal insider to open critic

Updated October 21, 2018

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Jamal Khashoggi

DUBAI: A complex man of contradictions, journalist Jamal Khashoggi went from being a Saudi royal family insider to an outspoken critic of the government.

In his final column for Washington Post, Khashoggi perhaps presciently pleaded for greater freedom of expression in the Middle East.

“The Arab world is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vying for power,” he wrote.

“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,” Khashoggi wrote.

Now his voice has been permanently silenced.

The Saudi journalist — who disappeared after entering his country’s consulate in Istanbul on Oct 2 to obtain marriage papers — went into self-imposed exile in the United States last year after falling out with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

His disappearance has been shrouded in mystery, and triggered an international crisis for both Riyadh and Washington as Turkish officials accused Saudi Arabia of a state-sponsored killing.

Khashoggi came from a prominent Saudi family with Turkish origins.

His grandfather, Mohammed Khashoggi, was the personal doctor of Saudi Arabia’s founder, King Abdul Aziz al Saud. Famed arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi was his uncle.

A friend of a young Osama bin Laden, a Muslim Brotherhood sympathiser, an aide to the Saudi royal family, a critic of the Saudi government and a liberal -- such conflicting descriptions were all ascribed to Khashoggi.

After graduating from Indiana State University in 1982, he began working for Saudi dailies.

He was known to have been drawn to Muslim Brotherhood’s policies seeking to erase the remnants of Western colonialism from the Arab world.

It was this shared vision that brought him closer to a young Osama bin Laden, who went on to found Al Qaeda.

As a young journalist, Khashoggi interviewed Osama several times, garnering international attention. But later in the 1990s, he distanced himself from the man who called for violence against the West.

‘Too progressive’

Born in Madina on Oct 13, 1958, Khashoggi spent his youth studying Islamic ideology and embraced liberal ideas. But Saudi authorities came to see Khashoggi as too progressive and he was forced to resign as editor-in-chief of Al Watan in 2003 after serving for just 54 days.

Over the years, he maintained ambiguous ties with Saudi authorities, having held advisory positions in Riyadh and Washington, including to Prince Turki al Faisal, who ran Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency for more than 20 years.

In 2007, Khashoggi returned to Al Watan newspaper, lasting almost three years before being fired for “his editorial style, pushing boundaries of discussion and debate within Saudi society”, according to Khashoggi’s website.

‘Fear, intimidation’

Khashoggi fled Saudi Arabia in September last year, just months after Prince Mohammed was appointed heir to the region’s most powerful throne.

Two months later, Prince Al Waleed and hundreds of officials and businessmen were arrested in what the Saudis called an anti-corruption campaign.

In an article published in the Post last year, Khashoggi, whose 60th birthday was last Saturday (Oct 13), said that under Prince Mohammed Saudi Arabia was entering a new era of “fear, intimidation, arrests and public shaming”.

He said he had been banned from writing in the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat for defending Muslim Brotherhood, which Riyadh has blacklisted as a terrorist organisation.

And he said Saudi authorities had barred him from using his verified Twitter account after he said the country should be “rightfully nervous about a Trump presidency”.

“For his domestic reform programme, the crown prince deserves praise. But at the same time, the brash and abrasive young innovator has not encouraged or permitted any popular debate in Saudi Arabia about the nature of his many changes,” Khashoggi wrote in The Guardian.

“He appears to be moving the country from old-time religious extremism to his own `You-must-accept-my-reform’ extremism.”

Published in Dawn, October 21st , 2018