Jamal and I used to call Saudi Arabia and Iran, respectively, home, and then their regimes made clear – in word and deed – that we were no longer welcome to return.
What struck me most at the time was how much we appreciated and cared about Iran and Saudi Arabia. We both wanted better for those societies but could not overlook the abuses, repression and mistakes of their governments.
Both countries are young and dynamic. Most people there want what most people want everywhere: more opportunities, more transparency, more stability.
“Saudi Arabia is a country with 20 million people population. Two-thirds of them are young, less than 30 years old,” Jamal told us. “Mohammed bin Salman is putting all issues — economic, religion — in Saudi Arabia on fast-forward.”
Jamal and I wrote to elevate the desires of everyday Saudis and Iranians and to perhaps encourage the leadership to change course.
“Even some people who do not disagree with me writing, they will say to me, ‘But it is not the right time to say it,’ ” Jamal said during our conversation. “We are far away from democracy. Democracy in America and Finland and Denmark, it humbles the leaders. It make the leader accountable to the smallest person in the street. Our leaders? No. Our leaders see themselves as leaders who know best, and people like me and Jason are just hindering the process for their reform.”
Jamal and I didn’t agree on everything, but our exchange is what is needed most right now: open, fact-based discussion about important geopolitical issues.
I’m glad we are able to share Jamal’s thoughtful comments. What a great shame that his voice has been silenced.