Abdullah Alaoudh is a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and a Saudi writer.
Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. The Saudis must have really wanted to silence Khashoggi and to hide any trace of him. But his words are now louder and clearer than ever. We, his Saudi friends, will never be silent.
Khashoggi was a friend with whom I consulted and sought advice. It was upon his suggestion that I wrote this article, but I never thought it would be at the event of his death. Khashoggi once told me that we should bring attention to the work and activism of Abdullah al-Hamid and his friends, who are serving long sentences in Saudi Arabia because they called for a constitutional monarchy that would stabilize the system and establish democracy while respecting the royal family.
When Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia in 2017, he decided to defend those who were arrested because they have different views and to especially defend those who had, like he did, aspirations during the Arab Spring for liberties and human rights. In his first piece for The Post, in September 2017, Khashoggi wrote, “I have made a different choice now. I have left my home, my family and my job, and I am raising my voice. To do otherwise would betray those who languish in prison. I can speak when so many cannot.”
I left home about the same time as Khashoggi in July 2017. My father, Salman Alodah, was arrested because of his tweets and activism, and the Saudi attorney general is seeking the death penalty against him on 37 charges related to alleged political affiliation and public support of imprisoned “dissidents.” In the same way that 17 members of my family were banned from traveling, Khashoggi told me once that his family was banned from traveling, too. A few months later, the Saudi Embassy refused to renew my passport because my “services are stopped in the Kingdom.” Later, officials asked me to go back to Saudi Arabia, offering me a temporary pass.
Khashoggi was disturbed by the crackdown on public figures in September 2017. Many of them were not even seen to be dissenters, and Khashoggi was especially disturbed by the arrest of Essam al-Zamil, an economist who criticized the plan for a Saudi Aramco initial public offering and was with a government delegation in the United States just before his arrest. Essam was referred to court this month on charges of “meeting with foreign diplomats” and “joining a terrorist organization,” Reuters reports. By this the Saudis mean the Muslim Brotherhood — a charge they tend to use against a lot of critics and independent public figures.
Those who arrested Essam and the other public figures and intellectuals inside the kingdom back in September 2017 and after, and targeted prominent voices outside, such as Khashoggi’s, chose to silence the moderates who call for democracy, human rights and freedom of speech. It was these voices that exposed the reality of the “reforms” that were being peddled and put the basic elements of any free society to the test.
When Khashoggi was asked about when he might ever return to Saudi Arabia, he replied, “When I see Salman Alodah return to his platform, when I see Essam al-Zamil return to his activism on Twitter, when I see Abdullah al-Malki return to his writing on the accountability of the rulers to the nation.” Khashoggi was referring to the book of al-Malki on the “Sovereignty of the People” in which the latter criticized the “application of Sharia” that the Saudi state uses in order to abridge basic human rights and liberties in the kingdom.
Al-Malki argues that the sovereignty and free choice of the people are paramount and should be used as a framework for any alleged application of sharia. Justice and free choice must come first. This discourse has been silenced inside Saudi Arabia because it questions absolute power and dictatorship and disputes the intent of partial and superficial reforms. Al-Malki was also referred to court this month on charges similar to those faced by others, including his relations to the people who called for constitutional reforms in Saudi Arabia, according to some people close to him.
When Khashoggi left Saudi Arabia, he foresaw the dangerous elements of authoritarianism, but he never felt that his struggle against tyranny would cost him his life.
Jamal is in the hearts and minds of so many, and we will keep him alive forever. We, as voices calling for democratic values in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, will never be silent or intimidated by fear or threats. If the perpetrators of the murder wanted to intimidate and threaten those who speak, disagree, or demand liberties and basic human rights in Saudi Arabia, they only made Jamal a martyr for the struggle for a better Saudi Arabia and a better Arab world.