Dubai: A news feature in the Washington Post highlighted how Qatar “at times shaped the columns slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi submitted to The Washington Post, proposing topics, drafting material and prodding him to take a harder line against the Saudi government.”
The feature about Khashoggi’s final months in his self-imposed exile said that “Khashoggi came under mounting suspicion because of his writing as well as associations he cultivated over many years with perceived enemies of Riyadh.”
“Among Khashoggi’s friends in the United States were individuals with real or imagined affiliations with the Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood, and an Islamic advocacy organisation, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, regarded warily for its support of the public uprisings of the Arab Spring,” the feature said.
“Perhaps most problematic for Khashoggi were his connections to an organisation funded by Saudi Arabia’s regional nemesis, Qatar. Text messages between Khashoggi and an executive at Qatar Foundation International show that the executive, Maggie Mitchell Salem, at times shaped the columns he submitted to The Washington Post, proposing topics, drafting material and prodding him to take a harder line against the Saudi government. Khashoggi also appears to have relied on a researcher and translator affiliated with the organisation, which promotes Arabic-language education in the United States.”
Editors at The Washington Post’s opinion section, which is separate from the newsroom, reportedly said they were unaware of these arrangements.
Khashoggi was never a staff employee of the Post, and he was paid about $500 per piece for the 20 columns he wrote over the course of the year. He lived in an apartment near Tysons Corner in Fairfax County that he had purchased while working at the Saudi Embassy a decade earlier, The Post said.
Salem, a former US diplomat who had known Khashoggi since 2002, said that any assistance she provided Khashoggi was from a friend who sought to help him succeed in the United States.
She noted that Khashoggi’s English abilities were limited and said that the foundation did not pay Khashoggi nor seek to influence him on behalf of Qatar.
“He and I talked about issues of the day as people who had come together, caring about the same part of the world,” Salem said. “Jamal was never an employee, never a consultant, never anything to [the foundation]. Never.”
However, according to a voluminous collection of messages obtained by The Post, Khashoggi appears to have accepted significant help with his columns and Salem reviewed his work in advance and in some instances appears to have proposed language.
In early August, Salem prodded Khashoggi to write about Saudi Arabia’s alliances “from [Washington] DC to [occupied] Jerusalem to rising right wing parties across Europe ... bringing an end to the liberal world order that challenges their abuses at home”.
Khashoggi expressed misgivings about such a strident tone, then asked, “So do you have time to write it?”
“I’ll try,” she replied, although she went on to urge him to “try a draft” himself incorporating sentences that she had sent him by text.
A column reflecting their discussion appeared in The Post on August 7. Khashoggi appears to have used some of Salem’s suggestions, though it largely tracks ideas that he expressed in their exchange over WhatsApp.
Other texts in the 200-page trove indicate that Salem’s organisation paid a researcher who did work for Khashoggi, The Post said.
The foundation is an offshoot of a larger Qatar-based organisation. Khashoggi also relied on a translator who worked at times for the Qatari embassy and the foundation.
Khashoggi and Salem seemed to understand how his association with a Qatar-funded entity could be perceived, reminding one another to keep the arrangement “discreet.” He voiced concern that his family could be vulnerable.
As she reviewed a draft of the August 7 column, she accused him of pulling punches. “You moved off topic and seem to excuse Riyadh...ITS HIGHLY PROBLEMATIC.”
Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2. Saudi authorities have arrested 21 individuals linked with the murder and following initial investigations, the public prosecution asked for the death penalty for five of them.