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Global Opinions columnist for the Washington Post, and former editor-in-chief of Al-Arab News Channel Jamal Khashoggi
I had the good fortune to sit down recently with a D.C.-based Saudi dissident, and the timing coincides with the Jamal Khashoggi case, which remains the big news following reports Monday that Mr. Khashoggi may have died in a botched interrogation, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is headed to Riyadh.
Part of the back story of dissident Ali Al-Ahmed is that he immigrated to the United States in the ‘80s to go to school in Minnesota, earning an undergrad and graduate degree, and has spent 18 years as director as the Gulf Institute, a think tank focused on revealing truth to the West in affairs of the Gulf region.
He began his career as a dissident after his university years, organizing a campaign against the Saudi monarchy, which he sees as corrupt, murderous and misunderstood, or even rationalized in Western capitals. After beginning to publish critical articles, Mr. Al-Ahmed’s initial activist work was protesting a well-funded, nationwide exhibition the kingdom put on in 1989. He followed the event around the country and shocked the Bush administration, and the monarchy alike, with his group’s protests against the Saudi government. “It was a beautiful moment,” declared Mr. Al-Ahmed as we talked, the pride obvious in his voice. “No one had ever seen this before. Not even the State Department or the White House. They almost shut down the exhibition because of our activities.”
The course he chose has not been easy. He has had his Saudi citizenship revoked, members of his family have been arrested, and he faced deportation pressure as the Kingdom worked to silence him, to no avail. Operating on a shoe-string budget, funding has also been a problem, as the American government was not forthcoming with financial help for his activities. “Every administration has been afraid to anger the Saudis,” he declared. “The energy issue and regional geopolitics have been too important to do so.”
With the Khashoggi mystery, I think his view of the situation is interesting, and one filled with insight into how the kingdom operates.
First of all, he has confirmation that some type of audio recording of the killing exists, and was expecting it to come out. However, that has not been the case. He believes the murder has highlighted the norms in Saudi operations, activities which are nothing new. However, now the media and Western authorities have to take notice. “People who once made excuses for the regime now are saying this might have happened,” he stated.
“The so-called inspection of the Turkish consulate is just a formality. The have had two weeks to sanitize, clean, and paint the facility. They will find no evidence.
“America should use this crime to rethink its relationship with the monarchy. The American revolution was built on opposition to another king centuries ago. We, the Saudi people, want to follow in the footsteps of your American founders. To say we cannot create such a country as yours is just bigotry, and ignorance.
“President Trump’s statement against the regime is the strongest statement ever from an American president. Ever! I hope he follows up his words with actions. Have you noticed how Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, have all stayed silent? … “This is a moment of truth for America and the West in their relations with the Saudi kingdom.”
Mr. Al-Ahmed believes the West should stand up for the Saudi people now that the United States is energy independent. With the Gulf states losing power on the energy front, thanks to President Trump’s efforts, perhaps this is possible.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on his way to the kingdom as I am writing this. It will be interesting to see what comes of the Khashoggi affair, an incident which could further up-end America’s relationships with its allies.
Originally posted at The Washington Times