Sarah Al-Otaibi is a Women’s Rights activist of Saudi and Lebanese background. Her insights on female empowerment in Saudi Arabia have been featured in Women’s March, the New Arab, Middle East Eye, and Open Democracy.
Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance and murder at the hands of the Saudi regime, i.e. at the behest of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) himself, has set precedents in several ways.
First, MBS has made clear his zero-tolerance policy for disagreement of any sort. Up until this point, the Crown Prince has largely targeted Human and Women’s Rights activists on the pretext of treason. For example, Saudi feminist Loujain Al-Hathloul, an outspoken critic of the driving ban on women, was arrested on the grounds that she was a Qatari agent. Khashoggi, however, did not embody the fiery passion of an activist. Many who knew him describe him not as a dissident, but a journalist who merely sought to exercise free speech and expose the truth, as any journalist would. Unlike Al-Hathloul and others, Khashoggi was not arrested on trumped-up charges, but murdered in cold blood without so much as a show trial.
Second, the events of the past two weeks signal that MBS is extending his reign of terror beyond Saudi Arabia’s borders. Like scores of other Saudi nationals, Khashoggi embraced an expat lifestyle that afforded him the freedom to express himself without fear of censorship. In one fell swoop, however, the Crown Prince has destroyed the sense of security that Saudis abroad enjoy. The streets of Western cities are no longer safe, much less those of Riyadh.
Third, MBS has aggressively sought to market himself as a reformer to the West in order to attract investors. He went so far as to flood electronic billboards in London with his visage shortly before his U.K. visit in March of this year. Khashoggi’s demise, however, is the final nail in the coffin for MBS’ dubious PR campaign: Uber, Financial Times, the World Bank, and other potential sponsors are pulling out of an upcoming business summit in Riyadh in droves. If the Kingdom’s war in Yemen —dubbed by the EU as ‘the worst humanitarian crisis in the world’— and severing ties with Canada over a tweet in support of jailed activists were not proof enough, the Crown Prince’s own blood lust has betrayed his true façade.
Yet, aside from all the ways in which Jamal Khashoggi’s case is an exceptional one, one question remains: what threat did Jamal Khashoggi pose to MBS? How does the Crown Prince suspect he will accomplish his lofty goals when he calls on a 15-man assassination team to hunt down and dismember a Saudi citizen who called for the truth? The Crown Prince’s megalomania and fragile ego are no justification for the suffering Jamal Khashoggi endured during his final moments on earth.
We cannot allow Jamal’s death to be in vain. We Saudis may not be able to convince MBS to change his ways, but citizens in Western democracies can certainly pressure their elected politicians and governments to stop enabling and turning a blind eye towards Saudi’s unacceptable behaviour. Suspending arm sales is the easiest and most efficient way to punish the Kingdom for its actions. Please write to and call your elected representatives, urging them to oppose arm sales to Saudi Arabia. If they do not respond, vote in leaders who will. Be vocal on Twitter and other social media platforms, and amplify hashtags like #StopArmingSaudi. And above all, do not allow the conversation —or outrage— to die out. This is what Jamal would have wanted.
I say we honour his legacy.