LONDON — It was a gut-punch of an evening. Speakers at a memorial service here on Monday night for the slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi included lifelong friends, human rights activists, fellow journalists, academics and his fiancee Hatice Cengiz, who told the audience “the disappearance of my beloved Jamal has left a hole in my heart and my soul.”
Cengiz begged the Saudi regime and Prince Mohammed bin Salman to return Khashoggi’s missing body, so he could be given a proper burial.
The last speaker was Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, who said he believed he had found a fitting way to honor his old friend and shame his murderers:
Rename the section of New Hampshire Avenue in front of the Saudi embassy in Washington “Jamal Khashoggi Way.”
The 60-year-old exile and Washington Post contributing columnist was allegedly killed by Saudi agents at the Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul a month ago.
Because of his unchallenged control of the regime and the high profile of the assassination, many suspect Mohammed is directly responsible — a charge the Saudi prince’s defenders reject.
“We are petitioning for the roundabout in front of the Saudi embassy in Washington to be named after Jamal Khashoggi,” Awad said. “I want you to start a petition, that in every street and every city where there is a Saudi embassy or a Saudi mission, demand that it will be renamed after him.”
“Imagine if their mail had to be addressed to Khashoggi Way?” Awad said afterward. “That their business cards included such an address?”
In Washington, the online petition is the brainchild of two unlikely partners, a pair of think tankers from opposing sides of the ideological aisle — Michael Werz, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, and Gary Schmitt, a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
Schmitt told The Washington Post the idea is to troll the Saudis for their unconscionable behavior and to remember Khashoggi stood for freedom of expression and paid the ultimate price for exercising it.
“We wouldn’t expect something like this to crest a sea change in U.S. policy,” Schmitt said. “But it’s a good reminder of the limits of partnerships with autocratic regimes.”
Schmitt said their petition had already gathered about 1,500 signatures — and that when the number reaches 2,000 or more, he and Werz planned to approach a potential ally on the D.C. Council, maybe even D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser herself, and push for the name change.
The Saudi embassy is located at 601 New Hampshire Ave. NW in Foggy Bottom, prime real estate between the Watergate Hotel and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.
“Per rules of the DC Council, a person can have a public street or building named after them only after they have been deceased for two years or more,” the petition states. “Given the principles at stake, we urge Mayor Muriel E. Bowser and the DC Council to make an exception in this case.”
This would not be the first name change in Washington designed to highlight human rights abuses.
Earlier this year, federal lawmakers and D.C. Council members joined Russian dissidents to unveil brown signs designating a bit of road outside the Russian Embassy as “Boris Nemtsov Plaza,” in honor of the slain opposition leader.
Since 2014, the Senate has passed bills and amendments introduced by Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz to rename the road in front of Chinese Embassy after the China’s lone Nobel Peace Prize laureate the writer and activist Liu Xiaobo, who spent years in prison and died of liver disease.
The name change stalled in the House, after President Barack Obama said he would veto it, but the effort is being revived under Trump. In 2014, the idea drew tart response from the Chinese, who said they should retaliate for any name change in Washington by calling the boulevard in front of the American embassy in Beijing “Torture Prisoners Street,” “Snowden Street” or “Osama bin Laden Road,” according to the New York Times.