jamal khashoggi OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images

The Martyrdom of Jamal Khashoggi

Arab countries have a long history of rewarding journalists who toe the official line, while punishing those, like the disappeared Saudi commentator Jamal Khashoggi, who dare to speak truth to power. And the United States has a long history of arming their oppressors.

AMMAN – The London-based daily Al-Araby Al-Jadeed recently published a cartoon, by the Jordanian artist Emad Hajjaj, depicting a faceless man wearing a red and white keffiyeh and sweeping his brown thawb in such a way that it looks almost like he is performing a magic trick. Whipped up by his movement, papers float around him. At the bottom of the frame, the hand of another man, wearing what appears to be a white button-down shirt, reaches up, apparently having let go of his pen in order to try to grab onto something, to save himself. The caption reads, “The disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”

The cartoon names the victim, but not the perpetrator. True, any Arab – indeed, virtually everyone – knows exactly who is responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia. But the fact that a well-known cartoonist had to disguise the culprit’s image speaks volumes about the fear felt by independent journalists in the Arab world. Khashoggi’s disappearance has only deepened their anxiety.

Arab countries have a long history of rewarding journalists who toe the official line, while punishing those, like Khashoggi, who dare to speak truth to power. Since the failed Arab Spring revolutions – of which Tunisia is the only success story – citizens across the region have found themselves with a stark choice between radical Islamist regimes and military rule. Efforts presenting democratic alternatives have been systematically repressed.

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