Transcribed and annotated By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
On October 6 The Arab Tyrant Manual, which includes work from Iyad El-Baghdadi and Ahmad Gatnash, who together also are President and Founder of Kawaakibi where they do research @Islamandliberty and authoritarianism @ArabTyrantMan, published a recording they had done months ago with Jamal Khashoggi. Khashoggi went missing on October 2 in Istanbul after visiting the Saudi consulate. They noted in the tweet “Jamal Khashoggi didn’t describe himself as a dissident… ‘We want our country to thrive… We are not opposed to our government, and care deeply about Saudi Arabia.’ ‘It is the only home we know or want.’
What follows is a transcript of most the interview that I did.
It includes several voices, the voice of the interviewer on October 6, 2018 giving some overview in ITALICS, one question recorded from a Mehdi Hasan interview and then questions by the interviews in BOLD.
Jamal Khashoggi is missing, presumed kidnapped, he is a Saudi journalism heavy weight who made his career in 80s and 90s as foreign correspondent for Saudi Newspapers across the middle east, even interviewing Osama Bin Laden in the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan [he went there in 1987], in the 2000s he rose to editorship of several newspapers in the country and also served asa royal advisor and that’s why he is seen as close to the Royal family, he has 1.6 million Twitter followers; but in September 2017 he left Saudi Arabia, it was 6 months after he received an official ban on writing and tweeting, after relocating to the US, he wrote a column for the Washington Post, writing “my friends living abroad feel helpless, we want our country to thrive and see the 2030 Vision realized…yet we are the enemy.” This March is what he spoke to Mehdi Hasan:
Mehdi Hasan: You said friends of yours have been arrested and detained, why are you in self-exile?
Khashoggi: Simply because I don’t want to be arrested. I don’t want to be another Salman al-Awdah (Ouda)
This Tuesday 2 October, 2018, he entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to get some paperwork done. Not unusual, he isn’t charged with a crime. Consulates are obliged to provide services for all citizens. But he hasn’t been seen since. The Saudis insist he left the consulate, but the Turkish government say he is still inside, we were with Jamal at the Oslo Freedom Forum five months, here is a section of our discussion.
We are sitting in the press center of the Oslo Freedom Forum. We are here to ask him a few questions. About Saudi Arabia, about the future of the Arab world and prospects of reform. This podcast is called Arab Tyrant Manual to document how repression are similar.
Khashoggi: And the struggle for freedom is similar. I wrote an article when the Arab Spring began where I predicted that what happened in Tunisia will happen everywhere else. And it did happen in Yemen and in Syria with different results. But dictators steal from each other, they learn when they see how the West or European Union for example. They want to learn how “we can do that to” to get the Americans “off our shoulder,” the way Sisi go them off his shoulder. There is something they talked about in the forum. As much as social media scared Arab dictators, even one told a joke to buy Facebook and shut it down. They learned how to manipulate social media. If you cannot beat those young people, join them. So they are joining, in form of electronic armies, utilizing social media, spying on the people, trying to find out using experts through IP addresses to find the activities and go after them, in many countries including my country, people are being sentenced for Tweets.
We have heard Ahmed Mansoor has been sentenced for 10 years in the Emirates, seems the officials charge is contacting human rights organizations.
Khashoggi: I am referring to tweeting and putting posts on Facebook, it has been criminalized, even activists not using their true name. Governments are learning how to track them down. What is more scary is for instance that journalist who was in China, in China they are beginning to monitor people in east Turkestan as we call it and Xinjiang as it is also called, and this is a scary technology, maybe there is a need for freedom loving people, as much as governments are using technology to suppress activists and freedom organizations like the Forum, they need to develop also a mechanism to counter such power.
“I believe in the Saudi system and I support the Saudi system”
In Iran Siemens built an entire telecom hub and was actively assisting the Iranian crackdown on the internet, and the response was, ‘if we don’t sell it, the Chinese will sell it, so it better be us.’ Flipping back, you’re an insider’s insider, who has seen the permutations of the gulf region and Arab world for a long time and possess experience knowledge that many of us lack, and wanted to field a couple of tough questions. Help us unpack the latest dynamics. The first is, how is someone like you who has been for decades a prominent Saudi journalists whether right or not and presented as having his pulse on what the rulers are thinking, how does a man like that after these decades become opposed to that very system, what happened?
Khashoggi: I don’t want to see myself as opposed to the system, opposed to some of the policies of the system, I believe in the Saudi system and I support the Saudi system
Khashoggi: A reformed hopefully. But I am not against the system per see, but of course if I can push for reform I would not hesitate to. But I know there is no environment for such a thing after what happened in the Arab spring.
Khashoggi: Because of the failure of the Arab spring that turned off the people from pushing for reform, authoritarianism is growing rapidly through the Arab world, but what changed is the Arab spring that changed me and changed the system. I am a believer of reform from within the system. And Saudi Arabia was doing reform since the time of Kind Abdullah, we all realized we needed to change in Saudi Arabia. When the Arab spring happened I wrote repeatedly, encouraging, hoping my government would embrace the Arab spring rather than confront it. Unfortunately they chose the other way around. There were mistakes also from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt which maybe alienated but that will complicate my answer; not supporting the Arab spring, confronting, which I saw it as an opportunity and historical inevitable event, because those Arab republics have failed. I wrote repeatedly that Gulf states haven’t failed and shouldn’t feel threatened and should embrace it, the more I write about that, the more I wrote, the more I was pushed away from government circles, they did not like this narrative of me, until came a time I was ordered to shut up, not to write, not to tweet, not to do anything; that was 6 months before my decision to leave the country, I still until today hope that particularly young Prince Mohammed Bin Salman will see the other side of the Arab spring as an opportunity for Saudi Arabia to lead and that it cannot be fought off.
[Jamal is about 60 and he thought the Saudi paranoia was unjustified…he insisted he had not been a member of an opposition; he disagreed from the inside. ]
If I may follow up. When you say you are not opposed to Saudi system per see. Does that include the alliance between the House of Saud and the religious establishment. Because for many people outside Saudi Arabia stands out for the government or private citizens supporting religious ideology that caused disasters across the planet, help me understand how does one want to reform and not oppose the system, with that duality in mind and I’ll tell you bluntly, and this goes to the audience, there are many people around the world who say they don’t care about Saudi Arabia, as long as these guys stop exporting this stuff, that is progress, how do you square it?
Khashoggi: Right. Since you see that as progress you got it. It is happening now. Saudi is not supporting any Salafi movement, any Salafi mosque in Europe, northern Europe, Salafis are going to suffer the most in the coming…and many people monitoring the Islamic scene [Khashoggi discussed the need to confront ISIS ideology in the summer of 2014 and posted articles such as this], see that, Salafism is in decline for two reasons, the defeat of ISIS and stopping of funding from Saudi, no individual will dare to send a single Euro or dollar to Salafi organization and government has seized all of that. So if you see that as progress then you have it, it is happening and Mohammed Bin Salman should be complimented for it. But again the notion that there is an alliance between House of Saud and the Wahhabi or religious establishment is over hyped; it has been proven this year by the decision of Bin Salman to disengage from radicalism and contain the religious establishment, limit the power of religious police, that this alliance doesn’t exist. I always believe that the sole power in Saudi is the government and house of Saud, they are the most powerful entity and I am hoping the government will see the people as an alliance and not the establishment. Why has the religious establishment in Saudi Arabia lost. They lost for two reasons. Reason number 1: They couldn’t provide answer for modern day Islam. Saudi Wahhabi establishment failed at that, so the government had to push them aside.
Was there a point where King Abdullah, King Fahd or King Salman, event that made them realize the religious establishment failed? What was the moment of reckoning?
Khashoggi: They realized that early on but tolerated it until 9/11 and after 9/11 there was a departure, Mohammed Bin Salman was assertive enough to take the final step even though he is not and is never said he is going after the Wahhabis and Ikhwan, but he is going after his own establishment, he cannot stop the Ikhwan because they are not in his domain. The modern Islamic movement have a power of their own. They are moving according to their own utilization and funding ability in Europe and everywhere else.
[When he said alliance with Wahhabism was over hyped because the government has claimed their reformed could be derailed by religious conservative, but Jamal is saying the mass imprisoning and purge was unnecessary and cynical]
So by extension, it is good you brought up the Ikhwan, speaking of the Muslim Brotherhood, did they also fail to come up with a test of modernity?
Khashoggi: The Ikhwan made the largest mistake when they allowed Salafi-ism to take over some of their narrative, particularly Egyptian one, while north African Ikhwan are free from that.
The Turkish model is becoming a very attractive one to most of young people.
You mean Ennahdha [in Tunisia]?
Khashoggi: Yes, and the others. But the Egyptian Ikhwan retreated from the progressive position of the Ikhwan of the 30s and 40s and they are paying a price for that and of them to move on they need to evolve and I feel there is a debate going on with the Egyptian Ikhwan, after the coup, the Turkish model is becoming a very attractive one to most of young people.
We need to point out it is authoritarian?
Khashoggi: It is authoritarian in its, not structure but in its, well day to day…behavior
The end result is authoritarian
Khashoggi: When you compare the AKP realization of society it is way more advanced than the perspective of the Egyptian Ikhwan. The AKP realization of the relations between the state and people. There view of secularism is way ahead.
That is a low bar to measure against?
Khashoggi: I don’t think so. Yes, the AKP is receiving a great deal of criticism and maybe we can blame it only on Erdogan but the party itself is way more a advanced party compared to many Islamic parties in our part of the world.
This is your first time at Oslo Freedom forum, have you been to one similar to this?
Khashoggi: No. This is different, outstanding and interesting and very depressing
Why depressing? We find it inspiring people are fighting?
Khashoggi: I wrote that down and I take notes during the sessions, is it uplifting or depressing? Overall depressing. What I found more depressing is not the repeated stories of abuse, happening in Egypt or [elsewhere], no respect for human rights, arrogance of a dictator, control of one family that goes on for years and years, what I found most depressing is the hopeless ness, the world knows about that, the Americans every year put out a human rights report where they outline abuse of human rights, whether in Kazakhstan or in Syria, and they actually do nothing. I felt most depressed when every time when someone stands looks at the audience and says please help us, please help us, and of course nothing will happen after that. That is what I found depressing.