A man holds a sign that says "we will not leave without Jamal Khashoggi"

A demonstrator holds picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi during a protest in front of Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 5, 2018. The world would find out later that Khashoggi had been murdered on Oct. 2 inside the consulate. 

Credit:

Osman Orsal/Reuters

The World interviewed slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Sept. 21, 2017, after he published a column in the Washington Post called "Saudi Arabia wasn't always this repressive. Now it's unbearable." 

Khashoggi's column was in reaction to arrests of about 30 critics of the then-newly crowned prince, Mohammad bin Salman. Khashoggi wrote: 

Oct. 2 marks one year since Khashoggi's brutal killing inside of the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. The 59-year-old writer, a prominent critic of the Saudi regime, had been living in self-imposed exile in the United States.

Listen: Carol Hills combines the archive tape of the interview below with reflections from Khashoggi's colleague and friend, Jordanian journalist Salameh Nematt.

Here's what he told us in 2017. 

Carol Hills: Hi Jamal. It's Carol Hills in Boston.

Jamal Khashoggi: Hello, Carol.

And I'm pronouncing you Jamal Khashoggi. Is that correct?

Jamal Khashoggi, that's correct.

All right, appreciate you being with us today.

Sure.

Is it Kha-sho-gee or Kha-shog-ee?

To my American friends, I say Khashoggi. It is actually Khashoggi, but that would be very hard to say. Khashoggi is good.

Khashoggi is good? Okay, great. Alright, well, here we go. We're going to read the lede and chat for a few minutes, and it is recorded, so feel free to correct us or add something.

Alright.

Here we go in three, two, one. I'm Carol Hills. This is The World. Imagine not being able to go home because of something you wrote. Our next guest lives in Washington, D.C., but his home is Saudi Arabia. Journalist Jamal Khashoggi wrote an opinion piece in The Washington Post this week, and it could make going home to Saudi Arabia difficult for him. Mr. Khashoggi, the title of your article was, "Saudi Arabia wasn't always this repressive. Now it's unbearable." What prompted you to write it?

A number of things. I was very much hopeful for a change in Saudi Arabia with the rise to power of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a very dynamic, eager prince. I think he saved Saudi Arabia from slow death by putting ahead issues of oil dependency and the need for reform and stopping waste in government spending.

I'm sorry, could you say that again? Did you say it stopped it from a slow death?

Yes.

OK. If you could just say it again, we weren't sure what you said. Go ahead.

Yes. I was hoping for Saudi Arabia to continue in the direction of reform — OK, I need to start all over again.

Let me just — I'll start it from the top.

OK.

Mr. Khashoggi, the title of your article was, "Saudi Arabia wasn't always this repressive. Now it's unbearable." What prompted you to write it?

A number of things: Arrests, mass arrests which we never witnessed before. A campaign, a hate campaign, intimidation against writers, intellectuals. No tolerance even for silent critics or silent people. That prompted me to say something, because this is not the direction I was hoping my country to take, particularly with the rise to power of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who was received warmly by most Saudis. The majority of Saudis are young. I see that he saved Saudi Arabia from slow death, the direction of overspending and overbudgeting unnecessarily projects.

You mentioned Prince Mohammed bin Salman. He's young, he's just 31. He's now next in line to lead the country. And you were positive about him. What are your mixed feelings about him now?

It is just this intolerance that is totally unneeded. He doesn't have opposition. People are willing to support his reform plans, and these reform plans are going to be painful, because they're going to address economic matters, unemployment. And that requires unity, not division. But what we have right now is division. Saudis targeting other Saudis. Saudis hating other Saudis.

 

And do you see —

That is not a recipe for the future.

And do you — do you say — and do you think Prince Mohammed bin Salman is behind that divisiveness?

Look, he's in charge. He's in charge. He can stop it. I'm not saying he's behind it, but I'm saying that he can stop it.

What specifically is Mohammad bin Salman doing to divide Saudis?

This intimidation, the bashing of critics, allowing the media to go after independent Saudis, is totally unprecedented.

But could you tell me in what way? What are the kinds of crackdowns that are going on?

Like we have now ... the government has what they call an electronic army that bash other Saudis. The right hand of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Mr. Saoud Al-Qahtani, called for Saudis to tell on each other. He created a blacklist, and he asked Saudis to report any other Saudi whom they see as unloyal to the country.

So Prince Mohammed bin Salman is kind of spying on people or having people keep track of ... who is speak- , who is writing negatively about him?

No. Again, I'm not saying Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is doing that. No, it's not him. It's not him. But this is happening under his watch. It is not him who's spying. It is not him who is intimidating. But this is happening under his watch and he — and I urge him to stop it. He needs to stop that.

Who has been affected by this?

Many, many Saudis are affected by it. Saudis who are going silent, Saudis who were arrested. Saudis who chose to stay out of the country.

Are the - And does the crackdown involve jailing people? What is happening to people who are writing in dissent?

Yes. It led to jailing people. There are more than 30 or 40 Saudis who were jailed for either being silent or being critic of government policies. Many of them I know personally, are friends. Writers -

Mr. Khashoggi, if you could, the mic is just a little bit strong. Can you ... can you just move back like about an inch from the mic?

OK.

Thanks. So are you saying that while Prince Mohammed bin Salman may not be behind it, he's allowing a certain kind of monitoring of the press and monitoring of what people are writing about the Saudi monarchy and allowing people to be imprisoned or jailed because of negative things they're writing?

Yes, that has been allowed. That has been encouraged. Now, right, a personal note. It is about six articles that were published in today's newspapers in Saudi Arabia attacking me. That's too much. You don't devote newspapers, national papers, to attack a critic of the government or a critic of a certain policy. I don't see myself as opposition, and I don't want to be. But that is a sample of the things that is happening not only to me. Too many. ...

Too many Saudis are being attacked and bashed by the Saudi newspapers.

And this is a new thing. This wasn't happening under the previous crown prince?

Yes, totally new things. And it hasn't been happening in the last ... as long as I know Saudi Arabia. I've been in the business of journalism for the last 30 years. There were a list of Saudi intellectuals but we were never told to bash intellectuals who were arrested. We just were silent about it. We knew of them. Some of them could be our colleagues. We would feel sorry.

And I wrote that in my article, it was very painful when one of us get arrested but we will never go and bash them in the newspaper. Now they are doing that, and that is shameful.

So you're saying that the Saudi monarchy will go ahead and sort of shame people and denounce people in the media who they think are critical of it?

Unfortunately, this is happening. It is not healthy. It will divide the society.

It seems at odds with Prince Mohammed bin Salman's other objectives for Saudi Arabia, which seem fairly progressive. I mean, talk about the kind of things he wants to do for Saudi Arabia.

Oh, like he wants to push for economic reform, open up the country, allow young people to enjoy entertainment, curb radicalism. We support him in all of that. But we should not move from one inclusive policy to another. We are fed up with religious rigidness. To be, to suffer under, what, liberal rigidness? It's not fair.

So you're saying that you know Saudis as a rule are kind of fed up with religious strictures and oppression, and so to have a liberal crown prince come in and be engaging in this kind of stuff is sort of intolerable.

Yes. What what we need is it is more opening that allow everybody to enjoy and express his views, whether he's religious or he's liberal or carrier of any other views. But to push the country into one direction, one point of view, label independent as traitors of the country. That is so [undeciperhable], not right.

We've seen the prince lately in photo ops with President Trump here in the US and in Saudi Arabia. What's your assessment of how the prince will steer his country's relations with the US?

He has the total support of the American administration. This is good. It is healthy for Saudi Arabia. It will help him guide Saudi Arabia into reform. But in the same time, I wish the administration would remind the leadership in Saudi Arabia of tolerance and [that] oppression is not healthy, it will not help his reform, and as I said earlier, this reform is going to be painful, and it requires a unity of the people around the prince.

There's substantial criticism of the Saudi role in Yemen. It's taken one side of Yemen's civil war and supported it with a bombing campaign for 2 1/2 years, all with US weapons and US targeting assistance and US pilots refueling Saudi fighter jets. As a Saudi man in Washington, D.C., I mean, you must think about that a lot — where is Prince ... Where is Prince ... Where is ... [Pauses.] As a Saudi man living in Washington, D.C., what do you think about that?

Well, I don't want, as a Saudi Arabian citizen, to see Yemen under the hegemony of Iran. But at the same time, this war has to stop. And the only way out is to wish for a peaceful solution that creates a power share in Yemen. The Yemenis need to learn how to, learn how to create a formula where all parties in Yemen live in the same Yemen and become democratic Yemen. That is the solution out. No one can impose his rule in Yemen, not Saudi Arabia, not Iran, and not a single party in Yemen. Has to be a multi-party system, a power-sharing system must prevail in Yemen to end this misery.

But surely after 2 1/2  years of bombing, the Saudi contribution isn't necessarily making any progress in Yemen, is it?

No, it is not. It is not. And not even helping our own safety and security in Saudi Arabia because the Houthi are still also bombing, every once in a while, Saudi Arabia. So we need all to go back to that negotiating table and push for a power-sharing formula in Yemen. That is the only way out.

I want to go back to your situation. Will you be able to go home to Saudi Arabia?

No. In principle, I can. But, of course, I will risk being arrested or being banned from travel and that will be very suffocating. And actually, last week, a friend of mine whom I met in Washington and an independent Saudi, I wrote about him in my article, Essam Al-Zamil, and he flew back to Saudi Arabia, where he was arrested. If Essam, who is very independent, who is not linked to any political organization, is arrested, I'm sure I'm gonna be arrested as well.

Have any of the people who have been getting arrested been released?

No. No. No one had been released from the list of people who had arrested recently. None I know of.

And how long have some of them been in jail?

It hasn't been no more than two weeks, so far, about 10 days.

You end your Washington Post article by admitting that you'd kept silent when friends were arrested. You were afraid of losing your job or endangering your family. Why did you make a different choice this week?

Because I'm free here, and I will feel very much bad, very much guilty, if I continue enjoying my life being silent when I can speak. When I was in Saudi Arabia, I had a reason and I felt very shameful about it when I learned of the arrest of my friends and not being able to say something. Which I couldn't bear that when I am free and I can speak here.

 

Do you still have family back in Saudi Arabia?

Yes, I have family, but I'm not worried for my family. And we don't have this ugly practice of targeting a family. No, Saudi Arabia, it is not Saddam Hussein's Iraq, a republic of fear. No, they will not touch my family or banish them. That is, that is the practice I know of in Saudi Arabia all my life.

 

If Prince Mohammed bin Salman on so many issues is forward-thinking, what do you think is behind his tolerance of this crackdown on freedom of the press?

I really don't have a good answer for that, because it is totally unneeded. And none of those guys was willing to oppose his views and even if they were, he enjoys an absolute power, and he can conduct his reform with or without the blessing of anyone. I don't have a good answer. It is totally unneeded. Is it all about Qatar? Because many of those — or most of the arrested — they took either a silent position or opposed the crisis that we call the Qatari crisis. I don't know. It is totally unneeded, but it was being built up for the last two years. There have been writing in local Saudi papers, by journalists who are close to the government, calling for the eradication of Islamists in Saudi Arabia. And that, as if we are going down the road of Egypt.

And this, this is very difficult for Saudi Arabia. Because how do you identify an Islamist in a very Islamic country?

 

Journalist Jamal Khashoggi is from Saudi Arabia. He lives and works in Washington, D.C. He spoke to us from New York. Thanks so much, Jamal.

Thank you very much.

 

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