UPDATE 19 June 2019: A U.N. investigation into the brutal slaying of Jamal Khashoggi provides the clearest picture yet of the journalist’s final moments inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, refocusing attention on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and his crackdown on dissidents.
With heavy hearts, we fondly remember our past collaboration with Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and Common Action Forum (CAF) expresses its profound condolences to his friends, family and loved ones, as well as its indignation and great concern for the circumstances and international inaction surrounding his death.
Khashoggi joined us in 2015 at our Annual Forum to speak to us about entrenched governments and leadership that fear and resist change, and enjoined us to not simply react to events as is so often the pattern, but to instead proactively reform and seek new systems that offer a better vision for the future. This appeal could not be more pertinent to how global powers, institutions and civil society must confront this horrible tragedy. We can no longer remain passive regarding the leadership of Saudi ruler Crown Price Mohammed bin Salman and the various national and international interests that support his rule for their own interests and financial gain.
While abuses continue in Saudi Arabia, allies like the United States unflinchingly conduct business as usual with no regard for supposed commitments to liberal democratic principles. There have been half-hearted condemnations and calls for further explanation from Western countries throughout Europe, but still no real action in sanctioning the regime of Bin Salman, who is clearly systematically silencing critique in his country. Instead, there is ongoing capitulation to a ruler who simultaneously enacts social and economic reform to distract from strongarm policies and authoritarian behaviour that includes a widespread crackdown on freedom of expression.
In fact, in a grim foreshadowing of the current situation, Jamal spoke directly to this lack of international responsibility in 2015 and the subsequent toll it takes on our global society: “Great powers like the United States, like Europe, are not affecting matters that are important in regions like Ukraine or Syria, for example. Rather, non-state players and countries that defy international norms and regulations, they are the ones who are running politics. As a result, politics is not dying, but it’s surely deteriorating.”
While Khashoggi has been critical of Bin Salman’s policies, he was a Saudi Arabian journalist, author and activist who loved his country and spoke about how he and his compatriots treasured their country in our 2015 Forum. For a little over a year he has been in self-imposed exile in the United States, given the arrest and oppression of women’s rights activists, critics of the regime and rival royal family members that he saw progressively worsen under Bin Salman. From the United States, Khashoggi wrote for the Washington Post in order to give voice to those imprisoned back home, and lamented that he had been forced to leave, although he persistently leveraged his undesired exile as an opportunity to fight for freedom. Khashoggi is not the first Saudi expatriate that bin Salman has crossed borders for in order to return them to his clutches, though it is the first time we have seen it done so bald-facedly, brutally and horrifically on a very visible international stage.
Instead of focusing on the grisly and evil nature of what has happened, as his fiancée and our President and Co-Founder, Wadah Khanfar, have eloquently written, it is important to channel the integrity and force of Khashoggi for good. We must allow this tragic event to act as a vehicle for the change that he so adamantly and bravely fought for. Khashoggi eloquently called for reform and challenged the world to become a more progressive space. Over the course of his career, he was manager and editor-in-chief of Al-Arab News Channel and editor for the Saudi Arabian newspaper Al-Watan daily, as well as had written for Arabic newspaper Okaz and prominent London-based Arabic dailies Al-Sharq al-Awsat and Al-Hayat. In his final months, he provided invaluable insight to the rest of the world’s journalists and decision-makers as to what is currently going on in Saudi Arabia. His life’s work has been dedicated to seeking light and hope for the Arab world, and it would be an injustice to him to let these final acts of a tyrannical regime cast a pall on all his efforts.
Instead, while we remain unspeakable sad and concerned, we must allow Khashoggi to be the catalyst for change he has always embodied. True action and reform, rather than passive reaction to unchallenged events and processes, is more imperative than ever. His words and work must carry us forward, beyond repression and antiquated systems of power to an order that represents true freedom for our world citizenry. While his absence leaves a hollow space, his legacy invites us to fill that space and much more by continuing his unflagging, courageous and ever-worthy crusade for change.