When we shook hands and bade farewell in front of the Ambassadors Hotel on Saturday 29 September, never in my wildest dreams did it occur to me that I would never see Jamal Khashoggi again. We had just finished dinner at a Turkish restaurant in Bloomsbury, London, with colleagues and guests who participated in our conference earlier that day.
It is now one week since Khashoggi went missing after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. Although everyone following this tragedy has been hoping for the best outcome, it is becoming increasingly clear that something ghastly may well have occurred.
Having hosted him at his last public appearance, I feel a special sense of duty to record my own thoughts and impressions of this remarkable individual.
Upon close contact, the first impression one gets about Khashoggi is his intellectual energy and drive. His participation in our conference was not considered in our initial planning so when I called him in Istanbul to extend our invitation it was to attend as a guest, not as a commentator.
With striking humility, he accepted the invitation. It was at that point I decided that we had to take full advantage of his presence by asking him to be a panellist.
With his many years of experience covering all the major upheavals in the Middle East, Khashoggi was eminently qualified to make an invaluable contribution to our conference, which he did with aplomb and distinction.
Speaking on his country’s involvement in Palestine, he was keen to emphasise the unwavering support of the Saudi people as distinct from that of its current political leadership. Indeed, he recalled nostalgically the early 1970s, when Saudi Arabia under King Faisal was in the vanguard of Arab and Islamic support for the Palestinian cause and defence of the holy sites threatened by Israel’s military occupation.
In 1972, the late king founded the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the following year played a pivotal role in the OPEC oil embargo against countries which supported Israel during the 1973 October War. Two years later, Faisal was assassinated.
Khashoggi was a realist. He knew that even with its enormous wealth and religious prestige, Saudi Arabia does not have the final say on the future of Palestine. This, he says, was demonstrated early in the summer of 2018 when the political leadership took a step back from Trump’s “deal of the century”, which recognises Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and proposes Abu Dis as the capital of the future state of Palestine.
Such a formula will not be accepted by the Palestinian people; no political or religious authority will be able to impose it on them.
As we sat for dinner after the conference, Khashoggi pointed out to me some of the negative tweets that were posted by his Saudi critics. Like so many of his compatriots, Khashoggi had spoken out against the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar; its support for Egypt’s military rulers; and its incarceration of hundreds of religious scholars, university lecturers, journalists and human rights activists.
If it does turn out that Khashoggi has been murdered, this will also prove why this region, despite its vast natural resources, has failed to develop and remains pitifully dependent on western patronage. Instead of investing in free-thinking, homegrown media talent, they have chosen instead to invest in military hardware to destroy human lives.
With his vast knowledge of the region and unquestioned influence on public opinion, the Saudi establishment could have harnessed Khashoggi's capabilities not only for their national good but for the peoples of the region who he loved unreservedly. Instead, the state silenced him by dismissing him from jobs in the professions he loved; and now, well, nobody knows.
One week since his disappearance we cannot say beyond doubt that Jamal Khashoggi is dead, but we can say with certainty that in death as in life his thoughts, compassion and dynamism will inspire millions of disenfranchised people across this region.
Dr Daud Abdullah is the director of Middle East Monitor
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