Jamal Khashoggi’s former colleagues at Arab News recall their association with him

His former colleagues describe Jamal Khashoggi as a calm boss, one who would listen intently to their arguments for and against running a certain story. (AN photo)
Updated 31 October 2018

Jamal Khashoggi’s former colleagues at Arab News recall their association with him

  • Jamal was never an ideologue. He was interested in the news, its source, and why, where and how it happened. — Khaled Almaeena
  • Jamal, like all true journalists, loved being in a newsroom. The electricity of breaking news was adrenaline to him. — Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

'He was the huggable panda'  Khaled Almaeena 

Jamal Khashoggi’s first media job was at Arab News, which he joined in 1985. He had graduated from college in the US. Initially he worked as a reporter on local news, then he was moved to cover other stories, mainly social issues. At first, he wrote in Arabic and his stories were translated and edited.
He was always amiable and pleasant to deal with; he always had a smile and came to work on time. I remember him discussing things with his colleagues and telling them about the life he had enjoyed in the US. The Khashoggis are from Madinah, and I knew many of his cousins as well as the family elders.
The paper sent Jamal to cover the Afghan war. I am very pained to note that some media reported that he had joined the resistance or Al-Qaeda, or was close to certain infamous people. That is totally wrong. He wore Afghan clothes but everybody did that, even American reporters.
It is improper for anyone to accuse Jamal of being a political ideologue. Of course, at that time our sympathies were with Afghanistan because it had been occupied by the Soviets, who were committing atrocities all over the country. But that did not mean that we sided with Al-Qaeda’s ideology. The Taliban did not exist at that time.
Jamal continued to do his job as a journalist. He returned from Afghanistan to his desk job, which he did until the invasion of Kuwait. At that time, I moved my office from Jeddah to Dhahran and Dammam, and took a number of Arab News staff with me, including Jamal.
We were one of the first groups to enter liberated Kuwait. We sneaked in with the US Army, and I remember that Jamal was not afraid. He seemed to be everywhere, walking through minefields and doing various jobs.
Jamal left Arab News, and in 1993 I did too. I returned to the paper in March 1998. After a while, I asked Jamal to return as my deputy, which he did. He often talked about Afghanistan, where he had met, known and made friends with many different people. Whenever there was a representative from Afghan peace talks under the umbrella of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) or Saudi Arabia, Jamal was there to cover and write the stories.
In 2001, he began to probe extremist tendencies among segments of Muslim populations worldwide; he became very interested in that phenomenon. Jamal was never an ideologue. He was interested in the news, its source, and why, where and how it happened. Soon after he went to Algeria and then Tunisia, where he also met all kinds of people.
In 2003, he left Arab News to work at Al-Watan. His first stint lasted only 57 days. We used to read his work regularly. Jamal and I sometimes enjoyed shisha together at Nakheel Restaurant on the Jeddah Corniche, where everything was discussed. At times I found him withdrawn, while at other times I found him bubbling with enthusiasm.
He and I often traveled together with King Abdullah because Jamal was now my counterpart at Al-Watan. We enjoyed a good cigar. He was an avid moviegoer. He was always kind and enjoyed a good joke. He reminded me of a large teddy bear. Before he lost weight, I used to joke with him: “You are the huggable panda.”
I am very sad to hear that he is gone. I pray to God that his family will be able to bear this great loss. He was a good man. Goodbye, dear gentle giant.

Khaled Almaeena was editor in chief of Arab News from May 1, 1982, until Feb. 20, 1993, and then from March 1, 1998, until Oct. 8, 2011.
Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena

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‘He was passionate about Saudi Arabia’ — Abeer Mishkhas​

I worked with Jamal Khashoggi when he became deputy editor of Arab News. He had a calming presence, was passionate about Saudi Arabia, and had a very professional view of how the media should address global changes after 9/11.

I remember a meeting he had with some of the paper’s reporters and writers. We were discussing how to portray Saudi Arabia as we knew it, to counteract negative stereotypes in the Western media. Jamal suggested that I write my first op-ed. That was the moment I found my voice as a Saudi writer. It was his support and confidence in my abilities that moved me in the right direction.

It is very hard to talk about him in the past tense, but we should take solace in the fact that he touched everyone who had the good fortune to work with him.


Abeer Mishkhas, formerly features editor at Arab News, is features editor at Asharq Al-Awsat.


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‘He was very polite, very supportive’ — Maha Akeel


I first met Jamal Khashoggi, God rest his soul, when I joined Arab News in 2004. He was deputy editor at the time. He was softly spoken, polite, intelligent and supportive. Whenever I sought his assistance or opinion for a story I was working on, he was always helpful.

Jamal left Arab News shortly after, as did I a few years later, but I continued running into him, especially when he was editor in chief of Al-Watan newspaper.

He was a fine writer and journalist. I remember seeing him with his wife at a municipality meeting to raise awareness about women’s rights and participation in the upcoming elections at that time. He was supportive of decisions taken to empower women. I pray for his family during these difficult times.


Maha Akeel is a Saudi journalist who started her career at Arab News in 2004.


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‘He always loved a good story’ — Siraj Wahab

Jamal Khashoggi loved a good story. He was a quintessential newsman who not only liked his story but also liked ferreting out what lay behind it. He was passionate about journalism and in the years that I worked with him, I found him to be extremely principled where the profession of journalism was concerned.

With him in the newsroom, we never felt the stress of a high-pressure job. Even if something went wrong, he always defended his team the morning after. He helped us absorb the shocks which inevitably come to all those in the newspaper business. He often shared his deep insights into the region and beyond with us in the newsroom. There was great bonhomie and a sense of camaraderie between him and Khaled Almaeena. The two were, at that time, the heavyweights of Saudi English journalism and both were sought after by the international media who frequented our newspaper. He was a man of cheerful disposition. Always smiling. Always encouraging. Always lifting our morale.

At Arab News, we all worked as a team with the aim of producing an outstanding newspaper for a very diverse readership. “I am proud and happy to have once been with Arab News,” he wrote in 2010. So too were we, very proud of our association with him.

He was very helpful to his staff. When, for example, I applied for the Alfred Friendly Press Fellowship in the US, he was one of two top Saudi editors who wrote a ringing endorsement for me. The other was Ustaz Khaled. Ustaz Jamal and I remained in touch long after he left Arab News. He was very generous with both information and quotes; rarely did an inquiry come to him that he did not respond to, regardless of what it was. Thus his quotes in addition to information from him often appeared in our stories. It is very hard for me to believe that all that is a thing of the past and that he is no more.

Siraj Wahab is managing editor at Arab News. He joined the newspaper in 1997. Twitter: @sirajwahab


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'He was a devoted father' — Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

The earliest memories I have of Jamal Khashoggi are from the late 1980s. I had just started working at Arab News as an editor, and Jamal was an ambitious reporter for Al-Muslimoon, a weekly newspaper on Muslim affairs and our sister publication.
He used to rush up to our newsroom on the third floor, waving the latest story that he had written after returning from another reporting trip to Afghanistan, where he covered the conflict between the mujahideen and Soviet troops who had invaded and occupied the country.
He would regale us with stories of his adventures and describe what it was like interviewing Osama bin Laden, who was leading a group of Saudi fighters. This was long before 9/11, and bin Laden was not yet on the most-wanted-terrorist list.
Many years later, Jamal returned to work at Arab News as deputy editor. He was a calm boss, and would listen intently to our arguments for and against running a certain story. He never yelled at anyone and was liked by all. Jamal, like all true journalists, loved being in a newsroom. The electricity of breaking news was adrenaline to him. After he left Arab News, he twice became editor-in-chief of Al-Watan newspaper.
Jamal always had a twinkle in his eye, and he loved to laugh heartily at a good joke. He was a devoted father. I remember him telling me years ago that he was worried about his son’s higher education. Jamal will be missed by all his former colleagues at Arab News. May his soul rest in peace.

Rasheed Abou-Alsamh is a Saudi-American journalist based in Brasilia, Brazil. He worked as an editor and columnist at Arab News from 1988 to 2007.

Saudi Arabia seeks to improve its knowhow

The challenge remains in changing a mindset in the Arab world which still focuses on the number of graduates rather than the quality of education.
Updated 22 min 53 sec ago

Saudi Arabia seeks to improve its knowhow

  • With the Kingdom ranking 66th out of 134 countries in the Global Knowledge Index, education is key to improving its standing
  • The Arab world needs to make strides in research, development and innovation in order to bridge the gap with the West

DUBAI: With Saudi Arabia standing 66th out of 134 countries in the Global Knowledge Index, the Kingdom is hoping that a focus on  innovative education will boost its ranking. 

Improving the quality and nature of education to enable youth to innovate and be creative will prove key to achieving that goal.

The index results were announced in Dubai last month by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation, in partnership with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), to measure the knowledge sector in 134 countries.

“With Saudi Arabia, we obtained the information from international organizations which were provided data from the government,” said Dr. Hany Torky, chief technical adviser at the UNDP and project director at the Arab Knowledge Project. 

“We rely on international organizations like the World Bank and UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization),” but Arab countries “don’t convey data to international organizations” or they do so “very late,” he added.

The aim of the index is to map trends in different areas of knowledge to be able to identify challenges facing countries in the field.

Saudi Arabia scored high in sectors such as health and environment, information and communications technology, and features of the labor market.  It also proved strong in research, development and innovation, ranking 38th, and the economy, at 47th. 

But in other sectors, the Kingdom scored relatively low. Technical and vocational education and training landed it in the 117th position, followed by 87th in the general enabling environment.

Khaled Abdul Shafi, director of the regional bureau for the UNDP, said focusing on education will be paramount for Arab countries. 

“Education can give young people this freedom and not consider that it should be based on memorization,” he added. 

“All the stages of education are important, and if Arab countries focus on education, we’ll be in a much better position compared to where we stand now.”

The knowledge gap between the Arab world and the West is large, with the exception of the UAE and a few other countries. 

Abdul Shafi blamed this on the quality of education in the Arab world, which he said is based on spoon-feeding and does not encourage innovation as much as it should. 

“It’s also not really related to the marketplace, so students are graduating without really having the skills required for the economy,” he added. 

“Education is the main reason, so we need to pay a lot of attention to the education sector in all its different stages to enhance its quality. It’s very important to determine where the problem is to work on dealing with it.”

He said research, development and innovation as a whole are lacking in the Arab world compared to other countries, with an absence of youth participation and the unavailability of data and research. 

“The importance of the index isn’t the ranking of countries, but to analyze the knowledge status in each country,” he added. 

“They’ll be able to put their hands on their weak points and work on further enhancing these indicators to achieve much more progress,” said Abdul Shafi.

“We encourage countries and work with them to transfer the practices of developed countries to less-developed ones, so we’re not just producing a report, we’re also collaborating with some of these countries to transfer their experience and knowledge.”

As part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 reform plan, a major focus has been placed on youth and their education. 

With a predominantly young population, the Kingdom has identified and developed initiatives to bridge the knowledge gap between the Arab world and the West.

Some include the Misk Global Forum, the flagship platform of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s foundation, which held its “Skills for Our Tomorrow” conference in November to focus on youth, knowledge and innovation. 

The Misk Foundation has also launched a number of programs to foster talent across the Kingdom, with the aim of developing a knowledge-based economy as the country shifts away from oil.

“The report enables us to face reality,” said Aysha Al-Mansouri, a Saudi specialist in youth capabilities development. 

“In Saudi, we have a clear vision and a future objective, which we hope to achieve through our Vision 2030. We need to do right by our youth and our country.”

But with 30 million illiterate people under the age of 18 in the Arab world, the task at hand is momentous. 

“It’s shameful for us as Arabs, and I was surprised to see so many young illiterates,” said Jamal bin Huwaireb, CEO of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Knowledge Foundation. 

With 30 million illiterate people under the age of 18 in the Arab world, the task at hand is momentous.

“Success is going to be the result of those who work continuously and have a clear strategy. In 40 years, illiteracy was completely eliminated in the UAE, so countries like Egypt or Iraq, which used to disseminate knowledge for centuries, should work on this. We all share the same goal, so it’s not impossible.”

The challenge remains in changing a mindset in the Arab world, which Torky said still focuses on the number of graduates rather than the quality of education. 

“What’s the point in having 100 percent of graduates if they don’t have the skills required for the labor market?” he asked. 

“Investment in education is almost the same in all Arab (Gulf) countries, but the process and deliverables of education are problematic. To maintain the status quo is a failure, and we need to keep improving.”

The education sector will have to keep up with the pace of technological transformation. “There are impacts of the acceleration in technology, like artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, blockchain and the Internet of Things, and the related skills that you need to acquire to deal with such developing technologies,” Torky said. 

“In the near future, there will be seven countries that will lead the world in knowledge, and the UAE is one of them, having jumped six positions in the index in 2018,” he added.

“Arab countries can actually reach such status, like the US, the UK, Singapore, Finland, Sweden and Brazil.”

Bin Huwaireb expressed hope that other Arab foundations will eventually collaborate with the UNDP in disseminating knowledge. 

“We have a single goal of reinforcing the concept of knowledge in the Arab world,” he said. “Over the years, we can now see that the difference is clear and everybody is speaking about knowledge, the knowledge economy, the industrial revolution and knowledge reports.”

Workshops are being held in Arab countries such as Jordan and Egypt to create momentum across the region. 

“We are beginning to reap the benefits of this project,” bin Huwaireb said. “Many Arab countries have a problem with empowering environments, but they should do their best to bridge this gap between them and other developed countries so their knowledge indicators can climb to higher rankings.”

He touched on scientific research, a vital element still lagging in the region. “Scientific research centers are a real obstacle we suffer from in the Arab world, because without such centers there will be no progress and no knowledge generation,” he said.

“But there are major plans and strategies to allocate the proper funds for scientific research, and we want it to increase in all Arab countries. It needs some time, but encouragement, motivation and collaboration should continue.”