Bin Laden to Bin Salman: in the orbit of Khashoggi

Ideas

Bin Laden to Bin Salman: in the orbit of Khashoggi

An editor and author, he was a leading commentator on Saudi affairs

© The Daily Telegraph


Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who is thought to have died in violent circumstances in Istanbul, aged 59, had, for decades, been among the leading reporters and commentators on the affairs of the kingdom.
He made his name locally in the late 1980s and early 1990s when, travelling as a foreign correspondent, he wrote for Saudi newspapers about the first Gulf War and, in particular, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
During his time there, he came to know Osama bin Laden, interviewing him at his hideout in the Tora Bora mountains and when he was living in Sudan.
At the time, Bin Laden, who was Saudi by birth, was a prominent member of the mujahideen resistance against the Soviets, much of it funded by the Saudis, then perturbed by the spread of communism.
Khashoggi developed close ties with the Saudi government, which used him as a link to Bin Laden, and was believed by some to work for its intelligence services, probably as a source. Although he is said to have tried and failed to persuade Bin Laden to renounce violence, Khashoggi still retained the ear of powerful members of the ruling house.
In 1991, he became editor of Al Madina, one of Jeddah's oldest newspapers, and, in 1999, deputy editor-in-chief of the English-language broadsheet, Arab News.
Four years later, he was appointed editor of the newspaper, Al Watan, only to be fired after a few months on the orders of the Ministry of Information. He had allowed a columnist to criticise the founder of Wahhabism, the conservative form of Sunni Islam, the state religion of Saudi Arabia.
Such rebuffs were to mark the remainder of his career.
Khashoggi admitted that, as a young man at university in the US, he had joined the Muslim Brotherhood, the reformist movement begun in Egypt in the 1920s, which was long supported by Saudi Arabia. He claimed to have since renounced it, but many of his writings revealed sympathy for a more secular and religiously pluralist kingdom.
Fled to the US
In 2003, he went into a form of exile by becoming media adviser to Prince Turki al-Faisal, then ambassador in London, but formerly the head of the Saudi intelligence apparatus.
Khashoggi was permitted, in 2007, to return to Al Watan as editor, but was dismissed a second time three years later in similar circumstances.
He continued to contribute regularly to the media, including foreign broadcasters, building up nearly two million followers on Twitter.
In 2015 he agreed to become editor-in-chief of a new news channel based in Bahrain, Al-Arab. Backed by Saudi and western investors, it aimed to rival Al Jazeera (which is supported by Qatar), but it was closed down by the Bahraini government on its first day after interviewing a member of the opposition.
In June 2017 Khashoggi fled Saudi Arabia for the US, supposedly with only two suitcases, after finding himself at odds with some of the policies of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, who now wields power.
Although he never positioned himself openly as opposing the prince, Khashoggi took the line in his writing that a crackdown on dissent, and participation in the war in Yemen, were not in the kingdom’s best interests. He was, he told the BBC in November, “worried for my country, my children and grandchildren - one-man rule is always bad, in any country”.
Latterly, he had contributed a monthly column to the Washington Post (itself often at odds with US President Donald Trump). His last article (posthumously) called for greater free expression across the Arab world.
The son of a merchant, Khashoggi was born in Medina on October 13 1958. His family's roots were Turkish - their name means "spice-maker" - and his grandfather, Mohammad, had moved from the city of Kayseri, in Anatolia, to the Hejaz region of the Arabian peninsula when both were still under Ottoman rule.
There he became personal physician to Ibn Saud, the founder of Saudi Arabia, a status that allowed his family to achieve prominence. His children included Adnan, the arms dealer, and Samira, who married Mohamed Fayed, the former owner of Harrods.
Jamal's cousins included Dodi, who died in 1997 in the same accident as Diana, Princess of Wales, and Nabila, for whom Adnan named his vast yacht, which was later bought by Donald Trump.
After schools in Medina, Jamal studied business at Indiana State University, graduating in 1982. His first job was as the manager of a group of bookshops.
By the mid-1980s, however, he was writing for English-language newspapers such as the Saudi Gazette and Arab News. He published three books, including, in 2016, a study of the Arab Spring.
Khashoggi married and divorced three times. By his first marriage he had two sons and two daughters, who survive him.
He was engaged to a Turkish researcher, Hatice Cengiz. They had planned to marry before his 60th birthday last week. It was to secure confirmation of his divorced status that he went, on October 2, to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, where he is presumed to have died.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited

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