Two days after Donald Trump’s election, Jamal Khashoggi returned to the Red Sea port city of Jeddah from Washington where he’d given a foreign-policy talk lightly critical of then president-elect Trump, when he received a phone call from the media adviser to the kingdom’s ascendent deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, better known by his initials M.B.S. “He said, ‘You’re not allowed to tweet or write your column or give comments to foreign journalists,’” Khashoggi recalled to me in March 2018. “I was ordered silent.”
As a member of the Saudi elite for decades, Khashoggi understood that political expression had strict limits in the kingdom, but M.B.S.’s apparent determination to quell even mild dissent on foreign soil left Khashoggi unnerved. Ten months later, in September 2017, he fled to Washington. “I began to feel whatever narrow space I had in Saudi Arabia was getting narrower. I thought it would be better to get out and be safe,” he told me.
I initially contacted Khashoggi for a prospective article about the young prince’s relationship to the White House, which I shelved because he was one of the few people who would speak openly. When he left Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi told me, he didn’t see himself in the mold of a dissident. He’d been editor-in-chief of the Saudi newspaper Al Watan and a media adviser to Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Britain. Moreover, he wanted M.B.S. to succeed. “He truly wants to make Saudi Arabia great again. But he is doing it the wrong way,” Khashoggi told me.