I have been affected by the Arab Spring. Some criticize me for calling it a “historical inevitability,” as if by attacking the Spring we can put an end to it. My problem began after what happened in Egypt in the summer of 2013. I have been losing friends since. I did not call it a coup - I believe the military regained a power it had held for 1,000 years. Maybe they were not friends, as a real friend cannot be lost just because your opinions differ.
Some also claim I misled them because I portrayed myself as a liberal but did not welcome the “popular revolution” that brought down the Muslim Brotherhood. I was unable to convince them that my stand is based on the principles of freedom and democracy, because they are the best solutions for Arab states that have failed due to military rule.
Some said my enthusiasm for the Egyptian revolution of Jan. 2011 was due to me being a latent supporter of the Brotherhood. The numerous articles in which I have criticized the Brotherhood and blamed it for the collapse of democracy did not change their opinion.
An editor-in-chief at a prominent newspaper disapproved that I applauded the Friday sermon by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi in Tahrir Square a week after the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak. I was astounded by the symbolism of the moment, and considered it a sign of the rise of freedom of expression in Egypt. However, the editor-in-chief only saw the Brotherhood in this picture.
He wrote an article entitled “The deceivers,” in which he said I had fooled him and others because they knew me as a liberal. He, who was supposed to be a friend, was unable to understand that liberalism is for everyone, and if applied selectively will no longer be liberal. The holder of a free pen defends principles and refuses to be restricted.
I wrote articles in which I urged stable Arab countries to help their neighbors, and called for an Arab Marshall Plan. “You want a Marshall Plan to support the Muslim Brotherhood,” replied a colleague in an article in the same newspaper, who is proud to support non-transparent rule and describes his position as courageous and noble.
In the Arab world, everyone thinks journalists cannot be independent, but I represent myself. What would I be worth if I succumbed to pressure to change my opinions?Jamal Khashoggi
A few weeks ago, my friend Nawaf Obeid admonished me, saying: “You need to write an article in which you confirm that you are not a supporter of the Brotherhood.” I replied: “Whatever I say, I’ll never convince those who suffer from Brotherhood-phobia. They say I support this party because I criticize their favorite regime. Do that and you too will be accused of being a Brotherhood supporter.”
In the Arab world, everyone thinks journalists cannot be independent, but I represent myself, which is the right thing to do. What would I be worth if I succumbed to pressure to change my opinions? The atmosphere of freedom must be preserved, and I am happy that my government is doing so. A public meeting I had with a group of youths in Riyadh to discuss the volatile regional environment was recorded and broadcast online without any curtailment.
That was the best cure for the articles that were attacking me and the friends who were abandoning me. I talked to the youths for more than two hours, and answered their questions freely. I felt then that the world cannot bring down someone who is free on the inside. I want to be free, to think freely and write freely. I am free to do so.
This article was first published in al-Hayat on Dec. 26, 2015.
Jamal Khashoggi is a Saudi journalist, columnist, author, and general manager of the upcoming Al Arab News Channel. He previously served as a media aide to Prince Turki al Faisal while he was Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States. Khashoggi has written for various daily and weekly Arab newspapers, including Asharq al-Awsat, al-Majalla and al-Hayat, and was editor-in-chief of the Saudi-based al-Watan. He was a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan, and other Middle Eastern countries. He is also a political commentator for Saudi-based and international news channels. Twitter: @JKhashoggi