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Khashoggi's fiancee shares intimate details of slain journalist's final days

Hatice Cengiz's book reveals the loneliness of the exiled Saudi journalist and his self-doubts about his criticism of Mohammed bin Salman
Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of Jamal Khashoggi, attends a press conference to launch her book in Istanbul on Friday (Reuters)
By in
Ankara, Turkey

“Dear Jamal, It has been exactly a month since I saw you. It feels like it was tomorrow or even just now. I still wait for your return. Because we couldn’t see even your body. Jamal… do you hear me?” Hatice Cengiz wrote in her diary in early November last year.

“Can you see me there? How are you there Jamal? Do you miss me Jamal, or do you feel how much I miss you?”

More than four months since Jamal Khashoggi's horrific murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkish authorities are still seeking answers about the whereabouts of the slain journalist's body.

His fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, however, is on another mission: Remembering him as the man she loved.

In a new book published in Turkish this week, Hatice Cengiz is speaking: Jamal Khashoggi, his life, his fight and his secrets, Cengiz provides an extensive account of the relationship she had with him, along with extracts from her private diaries that she kept after the murder.

'No one loved me before as you did now'

- Jamal Khashoggi

The book was co-written by journalists Sinan Onus and Mehmet Akif Ersoy.

Cengiz details the time she met Khashoggi at a conference in Istanbul to Facetime calls they had every day to catch up after the journalist had returned to Washington, where he was living in lonely exile.

Apart from the affectionate exchanges, the book reveals just how homesick and isolated Khashoggi had been feeling.

In his moments of depression, Cengiz was there to cheer him up and remind him that they were on a course to establish a new life.

“No one loved me before as you did now”, Khashoggi once told Cengiz, according to the book.

Cengiz, an independent researcher on the Middle East who speaks very good Arabic, initially met Khashoggi to interview him about his observations on the region in Istanbul last May.

The friendship between Khashoggi and Cengiz quickly deepened as they exchanged emails, messages and frequently met in Istanbul during his regular visits to the Turkish city.

They discussed politics, history and Saudi Arabia, and most importantly talked about Khashoggi’s desire to start a new family.

Khashoggi had two sons and two daughters from his first marriage but had been divorced three times by the time he met Cengiz.

“Night after night in the US, all alone, I watched the developments in my country. Being alone was causing me real pain and I was crying. But I didn’t want to tell this to my children,” he once told Hatice.

'MBS believes he's like Ataturk'

The book also unearths  a recorded formal interview between Hatice and Khashoggi in which he talked about the state of Saudi Arabia and compares it with Turkey.

“Saudi Arabia today looks exactly like Turkey back in the day. I think Mohammed bin Salman believes he is an extraordinary leader, like Ataturk, he thinks he has the best plan. He thinks he is the only one that can save us from radicalism and poverty. Like Mustafa Kemal, in return, he expects us to leave politics aside.”

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Khashoggi told Cengiz that he believed one-man rule in any country would only lead chaos because sound governing would not be possible.

"We have a different situation in Saudi Arabia now. Today it seems like the days when Abdulaziz Ibn Saud, the founder of the country, was the king. Even to him, people could go with different opinions. It doesn’t happen in Arabia anymore. The prince never listens to anyone."

Khashoggi believed the most important test before MBS was the looming economic crisis.

The structural problems of the economy, from skyrocketing numbers of guest workers to the diminishing oil income were very worrying, he said.

“He needs to realise Vision 2030. Actually, it would be enough if he could realise one third of the things Erdogan has achieved in Turkey. Like the AK Party [Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party], he needs to help the poor and increase their living standards.”

He also expressed self-doubt about his opposition to MBS, saying that he does not really know whether in 10 years he will still consider him to have been unsuccessful.

Cengiz also shares several more of Khashoggi's observations on Turkey.

At times, the journalist praised Erdogan and his leadership for opening up the country for Syrian refugees and Egyptian exiles, yet he also criticised the Turkish government for shrinking the space for critical opinions.

Cengiz writes in the book that Khashoggi had several plans such as establishing a non-governmental organisation to promote democracy in the Arab world and creating an Arabic section for the Washington Post, which the newspaper launched this month in his memory.

Cengiz is sure about one thing.

“Dear Jamal, we all know that you were living your last days of your life. Thank God that I was able to make you happy even for a short time,  and to be your lover.”

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.