The Khashoggi murder: Five years later: Has the world moved on?
Ignoring human rights, ignoring basic democratic values, when dealing with dictatorships and autocratic regimes doesn’t serve a country’s own strategic interests or bring about human rights
RIYADH: Saudi human rights activists working to get justice for Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered five years ago on Monday, want to see the international community take a less transactional approach to their country.
We know we live in the real world and that governments must deal with Saudi Arabia, said Abdullah Alaoudh, Saudi director at the US-based Freedom Initiative. “But ignoring human rights, ignoring basic democratic values, when dealing with dictatorships and autocratic regimes doesn’t serve a country’s own strategic interests or bring about human rights,” he argued.
“When you trade your freedoms for security, you get neither,” Alaoudh told DW. “When dealing with Saudi Arabia, we believe there is a way to navigate current politics without being naive,” added Lina al-Hathloul, head of advocacy at the UK-based organization, ALQST for Human Rights (“al-qist” means “justice” in Arabic). “You can buy Saudi oil and criticize the gross human rights abuses of Saudi Arabia at the same time,” she stressed. “Saudi Arabia has leverage, but the world — the EU, UK and US, in particular — also has leverage over Saudi Arabia, and they should be using it,” she told DW.
Al-Hathloul has been campaigning for justice for her sister, Loujain, a women’s rights activist, for years. The latter fought to end a prohibition on female drivers in Saudi Arabia but was imprisoned for almost three years for it. Loujain is currently out of prison but is banned from leaving Saudi Arabia. And Alaoudh’s father, Salman, an Islamic scholar, is still a political prisoner back in Saudi Arabia. He was arrested in 2017 after advocating for peaceful coexistence between Qatar and other Gulf states in a tweet.
This week, both human rights activists were talking to DW about the Khashoggi case. It remains one of the most high-profile cases of Saudi abuse, but world attention seems to have shifted away over the past few years.
Over the last month, international media attention on Saudi Arabia has been firmly focused on things like potential normalization with Israel, a rumored defense pact with the United States, how the Saudis might link their power grid to Greece’s and excitement that US electric automaker Lucid was setting up its first plant inside Saudi Arabia.
Analysts argue that Western leaders and others have been studiously ignoring the latest human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and placing their domestic interests first. In particular, Saudi oil is essential, as is the country’s financial clout and deliberate attempts to become an important diplomatic player.
So how do Saudi activists like Alaoudh and al-Hathloul keep protesting, even as the world moves on?
“We keep fighting anyway,” al-Hathloul said. “As a Saudi, I believe that fighting for Jamal will, in the long term, bring justice to him, his family and his legacy. And in the short term, we’re making sure we remind people that this could happen again,” she argued, pointing to recent draconian sentences given to Saudi citizens simply for expressing an opinion on social media.
Based in Washington, Alaoudh is trying to convince US officials working on foreign policy to re-evaluate what he describes as the false dichotomy between political reality and human rights and toppling the idea that dictators bring stability. “Because you’re not just losing the people of Saudi Arabia with that kind of thinking,” he argued. “You’re losing everybody. You send the wrong signal to the world and to every dictator that as long as you’re sitting on top of an oil well, you can get away with murder.”