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Final Khashoggi column laments ‘state-run narrative’ in the Arab world

The Washington Post published the final column from Jamal Khashoggi on Thursday. Although the newspaper's editor said she had hoped to edit the piece jointly with Khashoggi himself, she "has to accept" that that won't happen. The column emphasizes Khashoggi's passion for freedom of the press in the Arab world. Nick Schifrin speaks with longtime columnist Hisham Melhem for more on the story.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The Washington Post published a new column today, the final column from Jamal Khashoggi, the prominent Saudi journalist who Turkish officials say was murdered and dismembered by a Saudi hit squad.

    The column was written earlier this month. And The Post editor said she was hoping to edit it with Khashoggi, but that she — quote — "has to accept that is not going to happen."

    Here's Nick Schifrin.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Jamal Khashoggi's editor wrote today that his final column captures his passion for freedom in the Arab world, a freedom he apparently gave his life for.

    Khashoggi writes that, because of government repression, Arabs are — quote — "either uninformed or misinformed. A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche. And while many do not believe it, a majority of the population falls victim to this false narrative."

    His solution? A Middle East version of Radio Free Europe — quote — "Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of national governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face."

    To talk about this, I'm joined by Hisham Melhem, a longtime columnist who worked for Saudi-backed Al-Arabiya, and is now a columnist for the Lebanese daily newspaper Annahar. He's a fellow at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

    And welcome back to the "NewsHour."

  • Hisham Melhem:

    Thank you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you very much.

  • Hisham Melhem:

    Coming back home.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Jamal Khashoggi, how unique was he? And what was special about his voice?

  • Hisham Melhem:

    First, he was very prominent.

    I mean, there are Saudi dissidents in London, as far away as Australia. But he was the only one who had this incredible platform called The Washington Post. He published his columns in English, as well as in Arabic. He had many friends in Washington. People knew him in his previous life, as I knew him, as the son of the political system, Saudi Arabia, being the representative or the spokesperson of the Saudi ambassador in Washington like 10 years ago, Prince Turki Al-Faisal.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But he became a critic.

  • Hisham Melhem:

    Then he became a critic. And because he knows the inside, that was one reason.

    The other thing is, this is the first high-profile international journalist to be killed in the era of mass media — not only mass media, social media, the Internet and all that.

    Millions of people like you and me saw Jamal walk into his death. Millions of people are reading his last — his last column, as you just did.

    So all of these things, and then you have a very thin-skinned ruler in Saudi Arabia, who is very impetuous, is very flippant, is very reckless, as we have seen in this war in Yemen, the way he arrested people, kidnapping Lebanese prime minister.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You're wearing to the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

  • Hisham Melhem:

    Yes.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But let me ask about Jamal Khashoggi's last column.

    He writes that a state-run narrative dominates public psyche in the region.

    Is that right?

  • Hisham Melhem:

    This has been the case for decades. This has been the case for decades. Arab governments use their own control of the media or they intimidate media that is somewhat independent in those few societies where we have a limited space for free expression.

    We call them partially free societies. The real question is, how could you have — or how can you have a free media in unfree society?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Well, can — that was his one of his solutions. Can you have free media?

  • Hisham Melhem:

    No.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And can it change if you have some kind of international or transnational media, kind of like Radio Free Europe for the Middle East?

  • Hisham Melhem:

    I'm old enough to remember attempts in the past by people to publish the — not necessarily the radio, but like an international — an Arab version of The International Herald Tribune to publish in Europe, where you can have free expression.

    But these attempts to faced financial problems and political problems. After the Lebanese civil war 1975-'76, some people moved to London and Paris, and people says, well, now we will be freer. But you couldn't be freer because you have to sell in the Arab world. And so you're always under the control of local authorities.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But have you got new tech…

  • Hisham Melhem:

    Radio Free Europe, like we did in the past with the Soviet Union, Free Europe, is extremely important, because it's difficult for governments to control it.

    But, nowadays, the government also is using the blogosphere to intimidate Arab journalists. So we felt at one time, with the Internet, blogosphere, social media, we can have that limited space for freedom. But governments now are using it to antagonize and to intimidate their critics.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But, quickly, was he onto something? I mean, can something like that allow people, allow critics to have that conversation and get around governments?

  • Hisham Melhem:

    We are not having kind of conversation now.

    Most media in the Arab world are either controlled by the Saudis or the Qataris, OK? The Egyptians are very friendly to the Saudis. So it's extremely difficult to have a public serious debate about Arab governments are doing.

    Every week that passes by, we lose journalists, either in jail or assassinated.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So, very quickly, is the solution perhaps not free media, but pressure from the West, pressure from the United States?

    We saw Steve Mnuchin cancel his trip to the Saudi Davos in the Desert. Can that help?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    That helps.

    Look, they all look at the West, especially the allies, Egyptians, Saudis, all Gulfies. And criticism from the United States is extremely important.

    I heard an Arab diplomat telling me when I inquired about the fate of a scholar who was imprisoned. And he said, Donald Trump is not going to pick up the phone and inquire with our leaders about the fate of this scholar.

    That tells you everything you want to know. If there is no pressure from the West, they will do things with impunity, the way — the way Putin does things with impunity and — or Kim Jong-un or whether.

    We have to remember that we have to fight for these things. I mean, Jamal is the last in a long, long trail of Arab journalists, writers, scholars, artists who were killed by their own governments in their homeland, as well as overseas.

    And the only — I mean, I lost two of my friends in 2005. My editor was killed.

    And so, if there is no pressure from the West, we have to fight our own fight. They have to fight their own fight. But there has to be pressure from the West.

    And the president of the United States, unfortunately, downplayed Jamal's disappearance for two weeks.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    All right, we will have to leave it there.

    Hisham Melhem, thank you very much.

  • Hisham Melhem:

    Thank you.

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