The Assassination of Jamal Khashoggi: A Reflection of Regional Politics?

The session “The Assassination of Jamal Khashoggi: A Reflection of Regional Politics?” discussed the murder of the prominent Saudi journalist and Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, which provoked an international outcry and continues to have strategic, political and legal ramifications.
The speakers unanimously mentioned that Jamal was a moderate citizen who wanted to make Saudi people more free by peacefully pushing the Saudi authorities to be more open towards human rights. David Hearst mentioned that Jamal’s ideal vision for the Middle East was to bring democracy through moderate venues, such as giving the Arab world access to quality news in Arabic. According to Ayman Nour, who knew Jamal for over 30 years, “Jamal was pro-reform in the Arab world. But they (the Saudi leadership) did not understand his position…and saw him as an enemy.” Therefore, they targeted him “to kill the wave of reform.” Tawakkul Karman argued there might be similar Saudi people who have had the similar fate, but Khashoggi’s famous nature revealed the crime.

Regarding the political dimension of the Khashoggi murder, Yasin Aktay contended that the Saudi authorities wanted to harm the Turkish economy by targeting the tourism industry and the Turkish democratic model, which acts as a reconciliation between democratic and Islamic values. According to Yahya Ibrahim Assiri, the Saudi state does not want any Muslim country to have democracy because of the potential that it could represent a model that the Saudi people could seek to emulate. Additionally, Hatice Cengiz, Jamal Khashoggi’s fiancée, elaborated that Khashoggi’s murder had a negative impact on Saudi reputation, especially Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman’s PR campaign to portray himself a reformer and champion of women’s rights.

On the West’s stance regarding the Khashoggi killing, Tawakkul Karman said that Western governments have turned a blind eye to the crime in exchange for securing economic benefits from the Saudi government. Finally, the panellists and participants arrived at the conclusion that Jamal Khashoggi has come to represent a powerful symbol of democracy for the region and a rejection of the counter-revolutionary efforts-led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the Middle East. According to Hatice Cengiz, Jamal Khashoggi will remain a very important source of inspiration for the Arab youth in the years to come. Her views were echoed by Yasin Aktay who stressed that “Jamal was a moderate, but in death he has become a radical democrat. He has become much more influential now.”