Jamal Khashoggi is one of the most prominent Saudi and Arab journalists and political commentators of his generation, owing to a career that has spanned nearly 30 years.
Born in Medina in 1958, Khashoggi was once close to the inner circles of the Saudi royal family, where he earned his reputation as a reformist by pushing the boundaries of critically questioning Saudi’s regional and domestic policies.
The young Khashoggi studied journalism at Indiana University in the United States and began his career as a correspondent for the English language Saudi Gazette newspaper.
From 1987 until 1990, he reported for the London-based and Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat daily. He also spent eight years writing for the pan-Arab Al-Hayat newspaper.
Khashoggi is best known for coverage of the events of Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait and the Middle East in the 1990s. He met and interviewed Osama bin Laden several times in the middle of the decade, before the latter went on to become the leader of the al-Qaeda group.
In 1999, Khashoggi became the deputy editor for the Saudi-run newspaper Arab News, and remained in that position for four years. His next position as the editor-in-chief of the Al-Watan paper barely lasted two months before he was dismissed from the post without explanation in 2003. However, some hinted his “editorial policy” was to blame.
The journalist then became a media adviser to Prince Turki bin Faisal, who was the former head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate and served as the Saudi ambassador to the US from 2005 until the end of 2006.
Khashoggi was reinstated as the editor of Al-Watan in 2007, but was fired again in 2010, for “pushing the boundaries of debate within Saudi society” according to his personal website.
In the same year, Khashoggi was appointed as general manager of the Al Arab news channel, which was owned by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and operated out of Manama, Bahrain. The channel shut down barely one day after its launch in February 2015, with some speculating that the hosting of a Bahraini opposition member was part of the larger editorial issue with Bahrain.
Khashoggi also served as a political commentator, appearing on a number of Saudi and Arab channels.
‘Ordered to shut up’
Following the rapid rise through the ranks of Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), Khashoggi lent his voice to call out the crown prince’s policies at home, particularly after promises of reform were followed by a wave of arrests and repression.
Princes, prominent businessmen, activists, and Muslim leaders were not spared from the crackdown, which was orchestrated by MBS.
Khashoggi continued to write, and advocate for freedom of speech in his country, and in September 2017 he criticised the classification of the Muslim Brotherhood as terrorists by Saudi Arabia.
In a post on Twitter, he wrote: “For a while now, I have found that anyone who believes in reform, change, the Arab Spring, and freedom, and those who are proud of their religion and their country is labelled as being part of the Muslim Brotherhood. It seems that the Brotherhood’s school of thought is noble.”
Due to his candour, Khashoggi’s presence in the kingdom was becoming more precarious by the day and eventually, he moved to Washington, DC, after revealing that he was “ordered to shut up”.
In the same month, he published an article with The Washington Post under the title “Saudi Arabia wasn’t always this repressive. Now it’s unbearable”.
Khashoggi shared it on Twitter and wrote, “I was not happy to publish this article on The Washington Post, but silence does not serve my country or those detained.”
The post earned the ire of Prince Khaled Al Saud, the governor of Mecca province, who criticised him on Twitter. “Our guided leadership does not need advice from you and your likes,” Saud shot back.
A few months later, in December, Al-Hayat newspaper ended its relationship with him and banned his writings, citing Khashoggi’s perceived “transgressions against Saudi Arabia”.
Critiquing Saudi policies
During his stay in Washington, DC, he participated in many activities to defend freedoms and rights.
In his new role as opinions editor for The Washington Post, Khashoggi became more vocal about his criticism of MBS, likening him to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In a May 21 column for The Washington Post, he wrote: “We are expected to vigorously applaud social reforms and heap praise on the crown prince while avoiding any reference to the pioneering Saudis who dared to address these issues decades ago.
“We are being asked to abandon any hope of political freedom, and to keep quiet about arrests and travel bans that impact not only the critics but also their families.
Unfortunately, the Saudi regime is such that it cannot stomach even moderate criticism and this is what they do to moderate critics.
David Hearst, editor-in-chief Middle East Eye
Khashoggi also called out MBS’ “impulsivity” as displayed in the debacle of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri‘s forced resignation from Riyadh (once back in Beirut, Hariri retracted his notice) to Saudi’s role in the Yemen war.
In a September 2018 article titled “Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Must Restore Dignity to His Country – by Ending Yemen’s Cruel War” he urged the kingdom “to face the damage that resulted from more than three years of war in Yemen”.
He also wrote that Saudi Arabia “cannot afford to pick fights with Canada”, referring to a spat between the two countries over Canada‘s criticism of human rights in the kingdom.
Saudi consulate vanishing
On October 2, Khashoggi flew to Istanbul and entered the Saudi consulate to obtain documents that would seal his marriage to his Turkish fiancee, Hatice Cengiz.
To date, he has not been heard from again, with Turkish security announcing on Saturday that they believe he has been killed.
“We believe that the murder was premeditated and the body was subsequently moved out of the consulate,” a Turkish official told the Reuters news agency.
On the other hand, the Saudi consul in Istanbul, Mohammed al-Otaibi, said that “the citizen, Jamal Khashoggi, is not in the consulate or in Saudi Arabia.”
“The consulate and the embassy are making efforts to search for Khashoggi and we are concerned,” he said.
On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters that authorities were looking into all video surveillance footage of the mission’s entrances and monitoring all inbound and outbound flights since the writer disappeared.
“I am following the [issue] and we will inform the world whatever the outcome [of the official probe]”, Erdogan said.
“God willing, we will not be faced with a situation we do not want. I still am hopeful.”
In his colleagues’ words
The Washington Post described Khashoggi as one of the “eminent thinkers in their fields and countries”.
His colleague at the Post Jason Rezaian wrote that Khashoggi presented to readers “insightful commentary and sharp criticism about the seemingly impenetrable country.
“But despite his criticisms of his homeland, Jamal consistently expressed his love for it and his desire to return, always reiterating his belief that Saudi Arabia could and would do better,” Rezaian said.
Karen Attiah, Khashoggi’s editor, said of his disappearance: “We are not going to let this go.
“As his editor, I can say that what comes through in conversations with him is how honestly he loves Saudi Arabia and its people and feels that it is his duty to write what he sees to be the truth about the kingdom’s past, present and future,” Attiah wrote.
David Hearst, editor-in-chief of news website Middle East Eye, said that Khashoggi was a “loyal Saudi”.
“He did not consider himself a dissident,” Hearst told Al Jazeera, describing Khashoggi as “very moderate, mild” with “sensible things to say.
“He said you cannot have an economic reform unless you have a political reform. These are the views of a reformer, not a revolutionary. Unfortunately, the Saudi regime is such that it cannot stomach even moderate criticism and this is what they do to moderate critics,” Hearst said.
Bill Law, a Middle East analyst, wrote that he fears for Khashoggi’s life.
“He is a good man and a fine journalist,” Law wrote. “His is a voice of reasoned criticism and wise comment that the Saudi crown prince should listen to.