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'Jamal Khashoggi Way': Washington renames Saudi embassy street

Lawmakers, activists, and journalists gathered to commemorate the renaming of the street a day after Biden said he would visit Saudi Arabia
Activists gather around the new "Jamal Khashoggi Way" street sign after the renaming ceremony outside the Saudi embassy in Washington on 15 June 2022.
Activists gather around the new "Jamal Khashoggi Way" street sign after the renaming ceremony outside the Saudi embassy in Washington on 15 June 2022 (MEE/Umar Farooq)
By Umar A Farooq in Washington

At 1:14 pm on 2 October 2018, Middle East Eye columnist Jamal Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain paperwork so he could marry his fiancee.

Less than 10 minutes later, he was brutally killed by a team of Saudi operatives, in a plot that the CIA has concluded could not have happened without Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's knowledge.

On Wednesday, a day after it was confirmed that US President Joe Biden would be heading to the kingdom next month, activists, lawmakers and rights groups gathered for a ceremony in Washington DC that saw the street in front of the Saudi embassy renamed "Jamal Khashoggi Way" - a lasting sign to Riyadh, said those gathered, that the city would never forget Khashoggi's killing, no matter the politics of who sits in the White House.

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More than 100 people gathered in front of the embassy for the ceremony, where they held aloft photos of the slain journalist as security guards staffed the entrance to the building.

"Someone somewhere, perhaps today, is going to Google the Saudi embassy and see the name of the street on which it is located: Jamal Khashoggi Way. And that matters. Every little bit of accountability matters," Michael De Dora, Washington advocacy manager for the Committee to Protect Journalists, said during the ceremony.

The campaign to rename the street began soon after Khashoggi was killed, with activists delivering a 10,000-signature petition to the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC).

At first, the effort didn't succeed because local law prohibits naming any public space after a person unless they are deceased for at least two years. Then, last December, the city council passed a bill to approve the measure.

"This sign will be here in the heat of the day, the dark of night, when it rains or snows. Every day this will be Jamal Khashoggi Way and every day this will remind people of this terrible crime, but also who we are," said William McCarren, executive director of the National Press Club.

"We are for justice for Jamal. We are for press freedom and we are for democracy. And so was Jamal."

Lasting reminder amid reset in US-Saudi ties

Khashoggi's killing sparked international outrage and condemnations from renowned human rights groups, but little has been done to hold the Saudi government accountable.

While Biden ordered the release of the intelligence memo concluding that the crown prince, known by his initials MBS, was accountable - he and the Saudi government deny the charge.

Just weeks before Biden heads to the kingdom for a visit that includes meeting MBS, activists say that "Jamal Khashoggi Way" will stand as a lasting testament to where the city stands on the relationship between Washington and Riyadh.

"The White House announced that President Biden is going to visit Saudi Arabia," said Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni Nobel Laureate, journalist, and human rights activist.

"This means that Biden has abandoned his commitment to promote human rights around the world. That Biden has abandoned his commitment to punish Jamal Khashoggi's killers.

"This is a shame. Shame on the Biden administration. Washington should punish Jamal Khashoggi's killers."

Raed Jarrar, advocacy director at Democracy for the Arab World Now, holds up the Jamal Khashoggi Way street sign
Raed Jarrar, advocacy director at Democracy for the Arab World Now, holds up the Jamal Khashoggi Way street sign (MEE/Umar Farooq)

The White House confirmed the trip on Tuesday, saying the president would travel to the Saudi port city of Jeddah for a summit of regional leaders.

The visit comes after months of tension between the two longtime allies, including Riyadh's initial refusal to boost oil production, its refusal to join the West's censure of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as well as Biden's decision to release the memo linking MBS to Khashoggi's murder and his move to end support for offensive support for the Saudi-led coalition's war in Yemen.

Several steps have taken place in advance of the trip in a sign of warming ties, including Saudi Arabia's decision to boost oil production in July and August.

At the ceremony, a statement was read on behalf of Khashoggi's fiancee, Hatice Cengiz. She called on Biden to demand answers regarding the whereabouts of his body.

"Mr Biden, you'll soon visit Saudi Arabia as president, where you'll meet with Jamal's heartless executioner, dishonoring yourself and Jamal… Mr President, I beseech you not to lose your moral authority or overlook this heinous crime. You must uphold your vow to bring all the perpetrators of this brutal crime to justice.

"As disappointing as this is, if you have to put oil over principles and expediency over values, can you at least ask, “Where is Jamal's body? Doesn't he deserve a proper burial? And what happened to his killers?

"Ask also about the hundreds of other political prisoners rotting in Saudi jails and the victims of brutal repression like Jamal, who have been suffering immensely under an oppressive regime."

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