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Hanan Elatr, Egyptian woman who married Jamal Khashoggi, obtains signed Islamic marriage certificate

Hanan Elatr, the Egyptian woman who married columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Virginia in 2018, has obtained an Islamic marriage certificate from the cleric who presided over the ceremony but had long refused to sign the document. (Jon Gerberg/The Washington Post)

The Egyptian woman who married columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Virginia in 2018 has obtained an Islamic marriage certificate from the cleric who presided over the ceremony but had long refused to sign the document, according to the woman and her attorney.

Hanan Elatr, 52, said the cleric this month agreed to sign the certificate in exchange for her dropping a lawsuit filed in circuit court in Alexandria, Va., seeking to compel him to certify the marriage under Islamic law.

Elatr said the marriage certificate “gives me back my dignity” after some derided her as an interloper and bestows on her the credibility of being Khashoggi’s spouse when she speaks about his life, murder and the ongoing quest for justice.

The Post reported first reported in November 2018 on the religious marriage ceremony and what Elatr described as her wish then that “as a Muslim wife, I want my full right and to be recognized.”

Elatr said in an interview that she has been in hiding in the Washington area for a year while she awaits the outcome of her political asylum application. She said she left the United Arab Emirates last year after she was harassed and threatened by the authorities there over her relationship with Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post who wrote critically about the leadership of his native Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the UAE.

Elatr said she met the Saudi journalist at a media conference in Dubai in 2009. They began a romantic relationship in March 2018 and on June 2, 2018, Anwar Hajjaj, an imam in Northern Virginia, married the couple in a religious ceremony. They did not seek a civil marriage license, Elatr said, because it was not important to them and they simply wanted an Islamic ceremony.

Hajjaj did not immediately sign the marriage certificate because it was a Saturday during Ramadan, and no one was in the office to print out the document. Hajjaj promised to finalize the matter the following week, according to Elatr and her attorney, Randa Fahmy.

Elatr said she and her husband neglected to retrieve the document. After Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, she said she remembered that the imam had never given them a signed copy and sought one, according to her court filings.

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Hajjaj refused, and Elatr sued.

In response to questions about whether he had signed the certificate in response to the lawsuit, Hajjaj said in a statement that he and Elatr were “able to amicably resolve the dispute” and that he would have no further comment.

As Khashoggi’s fourth wife — he was divorced from the previous three — Elatr may be eligible for a portion of his assets, Fahmy said. Elatr now calls herself Hanan Elatr Khashoggi and will legally change her name once she is granted political asylum, the lawyer said.

Jamal Khashoggi lived a compartmentalized life that surfaced after his death. At the time of his killing, he was romantically involved with two women, neither of whom was aware of the other.

The journalist had gone to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get a document declaring he was divorced as required by Turkish law since he planned to marry a Turkish citizen, scholar Hatice Cengiz.

Cengiz, 38, has been a prominent and effective spokeswoman for the murdered journalist. She is well-known on Capitol Hill, where she has urged lawmakers to pressure Saudi Arabia to free its political prisoners and respect human rights.

Cengiz declined to comment.

While Cengiz was invited to the 2020 State of the Union address by Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) and thanked publicly in televised meetings with the leaders of The Washington Post and others, Elatr has been forced to keep a low profile both for her own safety and because her claims of marriage are viewed skeptically by some of Khashoggi’s associates, who had never heard of her.

Read Jamal Khashoggi’s columns for The Washington Post

Elatr said her life was upended even before Khashoggi’s death because of their relationship. According to court documents and witness statements in her political asylum case, in April 2018, she said, when she was a flight attendant for Emirates airline, she was detained after returning to the UAE on a flight from Canada. At the airport, she said she was surrounded by seven state security agents, then blindfolded, handcuffed and interrogated for 17 hours. They took her passport, searched her home and confiscated family photos, computers and books.

During her initial interrogations, security officials asked her about Khashoggi’s political aims and associates and forced her to sign a document promising not to disclose her detention and treatment. The UAE officials, she said, threatened her, saying they could have her family in Egypt killed by the authorities there if she went public, according to her asylum papers.

Over the next two years she said she was put under house arrest twice — once for 10 days and once for two months — and her family members in Egypt were also interrogated about her relationship with Khashoggi.

The UAE Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.

The UAE interrogators, she said, were convinced that the columnist was putting together a secret network of activists for a new media outlet that would highlight the lack of freedoms in the Middle East and threaten the stability of the region’s royal families.

They also were convinced, she said, that Khashoggi was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a transnational Sunni Islamist movement that seeks to implement sharia law. Mohamed Morsi, a member of the movement, became Egypt’s first democratically elected president in 2012 but was deposed in a coup a year later. The group is outlawed in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Elatr said Khashoggi “was not Muslim Brotherhood, but he was not opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood.”

She said the journalist was assembling a team of like-minded reformers, many of them Egyptian, to launch a media outlet that would report on the region’s authoritarian governments and debate necessary political changes.

Elatr said Khashoggi was nonetheless depressed by his life as an exile and considered returning to Saudi Arabia even if it meant going to jail. She said he would have taken a job in the Saudi government had the right one been offered to him to get home.

“He wanted to go back, I assure you,” she said. “He loved his country.” His aim, she said, was not to overthrow Saudi Arabia but to advocate reform, including the freeing of political prisoners who promoted free speech and democratization over time.

But Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates appear to have viewed Khashoggi as an existential threat, even in death.

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Elatr said the UAE security agent assigned to her insisted she stop criticizing those three governments on social media and echoing Khashoggi’s critical views of them. The agent, she said, tried to pressure her into appearing on Saudi state-run television to denounce her Khashoggi’s ideas and to say positive things about Saudi Arabia and Egypt. She said she refused.

The agent last called her in May 2020. He asked if she was planning to continue to speak out about Khashoggi’s murder and if Qatar, Turkey or the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera network had contacted her. He asked if “I was looking for his body,” she said.

“They won’t leave me in peace. They want to find his network,” she said. “And they think I’m looking for the body.”

Khashoggi’s body was dismembered by the team of Saudi assassins who killed him in the Istanbul consulate, according to Turkish and U.N. investigations. His remains have never been located.

Elatr said her troubles came to a head in July 2020, when Emirates airline, which was aware that she was being questioned by UAE security officials, did not renew her contract.

Emirates airline did not respond to a request for comment.

Without a job and work permit, she could not stay in the UAE, where she had lived since 1997. She flew to the United States to consult her lawyer on next steps. Fahmy recommended she remain in the country and apply for political asylum.