Reporting from Washington DC by Namo Abdulla
WASHINGTON DC – Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, was a patriot who would not like to be called a dissident, according to friends and those who worked with him.
Claims in Turkish state media that Khashoggi – a Washington Post columnist – was murdered inside the consulate by a team of 15 Saudi officials have sparked a global diplomatic spat. The Saudi government denies killing the journalist, but says it will cooperate with the investigation.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is currently shuttling between Riyadh and Ankara trying to find answers. Turkish forensic officers meanwhile have been granted access to the consulate and consul’s residence.
“He is not exactly Saudi opposition,” Joyce Karam, a journalist for The National and a longtime friend of Khashoggi, told Rudaw.
“Jamal never wanted to be called a dissident. He always walked a fine line, you know, sometimes agreeing with Saudi policies and sometimes disagreeing with it. So I see sometimes in the press calling him dissident or defector – no, that’s not the Jamal I knew.”
Barbara Slavin, director of the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council, also highlighted Khashoggi’s patriotism and spoke highly of his independence.
“I met Jamal several times over the past 20 years. I met him in Saudi Arabia, I met him in Washington. He was – because I am afraid he is dead – he was a very intelligent, pleasant, thoughtful individual,” said Slavin.
“Someone who had independence of mind, and he was, you know, hired and fired repeatedly to be editor of important publications in Saudi Arabia because nobody could really tell him what to do or what to think.
“But he was a patriot. He worked very closely with Turki al-Faisal when he was ambassador in London, when he was ambassador in the United States, he was his media advisor,” she added.
Despite his patriotism, Khashoggi was also openly critical of aspects of Saudi policy.
“Jamal was trying to convince Mohammed bin Salman to allow a little more freedom of speech in the country in conjunction with the very important economic reforms and social reforms that he is implementing and he was telling him that if you keep putting people in prison for even modest criticism you will defeat the whole purpose of these reforms,” said Slavin.
Khashoggi’s frequent calls for greater civil liberties in Saudi Arabia made it difficult for him to return home.
“He loves his country so much,” said Nihad Awad, president of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and a friend of 25 years.
Awad recalled his final meeting with Khashoggi in Washington.
“We met at Panera Bread, we had breakfast together, and we have a big project we were working on together – DAWN – which is Democracy for the Arab World Now. And we were just working on details and he said I’m going to Istanbul for a visit.”
“We shook hands as many times we did hoping that we would meet again and just carry on with our work.”
Awad said the US government has a responsibility to get to the bottom of what happened.
“He admired America and that’s why he’s here because he believes that this is the biggest and most important democracy in the world,” Awad told Rudaw.
“The United States government has a huge responsibility of providing protection for Jamal Khashoggi because he sought an asylum and was granted an asylum. He is a resident of Virginia in the United States. He is a journalist for one of the biggest newspapers in the world.”