Istanbul – of Middle East Dissidents
Istanbul is currently the main hub of journalists, academicians, social and political activists from the entire Middle East who have fled their countries to safeguard their personal freedom to express and organize people around some cause or ideology.
By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
The assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2 is a diplomatic episode that refuses to shift away from the headlines of the world media despite the passage of two months. It was just a coincidence that this scribe chose to be in Turkey, albeit for sightseeing, during the last ten days of October.
Istanbul is currently the main hub of journalists, academicians, social and political activists from the entire Middle East who have fled their countries to safeguard their personal freedom to express and organize people around some cause or ideology. It is the only international city in the entire region which remains hospitable to all kinds of people who are keen to vent their dissent.
But Jamal Khashoggi stood tall among the groups. He was no pushover. His Media Watch Group was proving a thorn in the flesh for the de facto Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Sultan (MbS). His columns in The Washington Post on the situation within the Saudi Kingdom were proving to be a constant pain for the Saudi monarchy keen to keep the Americans in good humour. They most often tore the deceptive progressive façade of the ruler who had won some acclaim with initiatives like permitting women to drive on Saudi streets and the Vision 2030.
Khashoggi was described to be a mobile encyclopaedia on Turkey and Saudi Arabia in particular and the Middle East as a whole. Khashoggi’s ancestors had migrated to Saudi Arabia from central Turkey in the early decades of the last century. Khashoggi is a Turkish word meaning ‘spoon-maker’, which is written ‘Kasiki’ in the Turkish language. He was about to launch a web magazine too. He and Syrian dissident Iyad al-Haji were engaged in making a documentary on the life of an Ottoman General who had played a key role during Ottoman rule in vast tracts of the Arab world.
Erdogan’s is the first Turkish government after 1921 (when Ataturk dislodged the Ottoman caliphate) to have thought of reviving ties with several Arab regimes. Previous Turkish governments just maintained nominal diplomatic relations with Arab neighbours.
Khashoggi had been inveigled into the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul for issue of documents dissolving his marriage with his first wife in Saudi Arabia. He had fixed up his marriage with his Turkish fiancée on October 3. What followed is history, unprecedented due to the bestiality he met with leading to his death and the cause for an international furore.
Khashoggi wanted to settle down in Istanbul and had already arranged an accommodation for his post-marriage residence. He used to divide his time between Istanbul and Virginia, where he had bought a flat in 2008.
Istanbul is currently home to nearly 800 dissident scribes, intellectuals and activists from Middle Eastern states who are affiliated to Arab Media Association fuelling opposition to a variety of regimes. Several of these activists have grouped themselves to set up radio stations and TV channels which provide an alternative media platform for the people opposed to oppressive dispensations. Besides, Turkey is also providing shelter to over 2.6 million Syrian refugees in camps along the border with the embattled nation. Several of them are providing manpower in the informal sector of the Turkish economy. Many of them can be seen peddling rosary beads, tissue paper and other knick-knacks on streets of Istanbul. Even thousands of activists of the Muslim Brotherhood who fled Egypt following deposition of President Mohammed Morsi, have found asylum in Turkey.
Although Khashoggi had turned against the MbS regime ever since he left Saudi Arabia around the beginning of 2017, he is said to have worked for the Mukhabirat, the Saudi Intelligence, for some time while working in Saudi Arabia. It is pointed out that he had advocated the execution of prominent Shia dissident leader Namr al-Namr in 2016.
What however emerges from the entire Khashoggi affair is that not much should be expected from the dispensation ruling Riyadh. Much of the ‘reforms’ within Saudi Arabia merely serve as a camouflage for the regime which remains repressive as ever, if not more.