As a Saudi citizen exiled in Washington, D.C., since 2000, Ali al Ahmed has experienced first-hand what the Saudi government is willing to do to silence its critics inside and outside the country.
By Ali al Ahmed
The murder of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul after visiting the Saudi consulate there on Oct. 2 is disturbing but not surprising to me and other dissident writers and activists who provide a critical view of the kingdom and have paid for it, usually with exile or prosecution of our family members.
As a Saudi citizen exiled in Washington, D.C., since 2000, I have seen and experienced first-hand what the government is willing to do to silence its critics inside and outside the country. These actions date back to as early as 1979, when dissident activist and author Naser Al Saeed was abducted from Beirut, Lebanon, in December of that year.
His fate remains unknown, but it is widely believed that the Saudi intelligence service paid PLO gunmen to kidnap and fly him back to Riyadh, where he was secretly killed. (Ironically, Khashoggi worked for many years with Turki Al Faisal, the man who ran Saudi intelligence at the time and is suspected of carrying out that operation.)
Opposing the Saudi royal family — especially if you advocate a progressive alternative to the current regime — is a dangerous undertaking, a fact that has never been far from my mind since moving to Washington in 2000 after my graduate studies in Minneapolis.
Once I became a recognized voice for reform and democracy, the Saudi government used carrots and sticks to silence me. In March 2004, the Saudi Embassy seized my passport when I attempted to renew it and offered me a one-way ticket home. The government has since quietly made me a stateless person by rescinding my nationality, which I discovered only when my family tried to process a legal document back home.
The monarchy has also been trying to convince me to return home since 2002. In 2007, a senior Saudi intelligence officer traveled to Washington to arrange a meeting between former Saudi crown and then head of Saudi intelligence (and brother of the present King), Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, and myself at the…