NEWS

CAIR Chief Announces Democracy Group in Khashoggi's Memory

An organization aimed at fostering democracy in the Arab world will be dedicated to the slain Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi's memory, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Executive Director Nihad Awad announced last weekend in an Al-Jazeera interview.

Khashoggi, a U.S. resident, was brutally murdered in early October inside Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul. U.S. intelligence believes the murder was ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

"Khashoggi as a Saudi citizen gave his full share to his country, the Arab world, and to the freedom of peoples and the press," Awad said. "He intended to launch an organization to foster democracy, raise the awareness of the people, interest in freedom of expression and the press, and monitor the performance of democracy by governments and the organizations of civil society."

If he is sincere, Awad should start by calling out authoritarian actions by the man who he and CAIR have hailed as a hero to democracy. Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is "still the world's worst jailer of journalists," the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported last week.

While Erdogan "has been the fiercest critic of Saudi Arabia for the murder of Khashoggi, his government continued to jail more journalists than any other on the planet," CPJ reported. Turkey jailed at least 68 journalists in the past year and "(f)or the third consecutive year, every journalist imprisoned in Turkey is facing anti-state charges."

Nearly 200 opposition newspapers and media, such as Today's Zaman, have been taken over or shuttered – 189 in total. Only press outlets favorable to Erdogan and his ruling party have been allowed to continue operations.

The Stockholm Center for Freedom, run by former Today's Zaman editor Abdullah Bozkurt, notes that Turkey's intelligence agency has abducted at least 80 people from 18 countries due to suspected ties to exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Erdogan blames Gulen for a failed 2016 coup attempt, which prompted his crackdown on journalists, academics and others. Turkey still demands that the United States send Gulen, a permanent U.S. resident, back to Turkey where he would face an uncertain fate.

Erdogan vowed Saturday that anyone who emulated the "Yellow Vest" protests in Paris and demonstrated against his regime would "pay a heavy price."

Rather than condemn Erdogan's authoritarian excesses, Awad and his organization have embraced Erdogan's Islamist party and hailed Erdogan's rule as a victory for democracy. There was no condemnation when Erdogan's bodyguards beat up peaceful protesters during his 2017 visit to Washington, D.C.

There are a lot of anti-democratic abuses in the world, but if Awad's new venture can't acknowledge the reality of life under Erdogan in Turkey, then he does not truly care about "freedom of expression and the press, and ... the performance of democracy by governments and the organizations of civil society."