The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion In a previously unheard interview, Jamal Khashoggi talks Saudi Arabia and freedom

Months before his disappearance, Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi sat down for a conversation with Global Opinions writer Jason Rezaian and editor Karen Attiah. (Video: Gillian Brockell, Jason Rezaian/The Washington Post)

Jamal Khashoggi and I wrote about opposite, but equally troubled, shores of the Persian Gulf for The Washington Post’s Global Opinions section: Jamal focused on Saudi Arabia, and me on Iran.

This past summer, Jamal and I sat down with Global Opinions editor Karen Attiah for a wide-ranging conversation about the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

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.

Read more:

Jamal Khashoggi’s final column for The Post: What the Arab world needs most is free expression

Read Jamal Khashoggi’s columns for The Post

Hatice Cengiz: Please, President Trump, shed light on my fiance’s disappearance

David Ignatius: Jamal Khashoggi’s long road to the doors of the Saudi Consulate

Editorial Board: How the current crown prince changed Saudi Arabia — for the worse