Street in front of Saudi Embassy in DC renamed “Jamal Khashoggi Way”
By: Riley Bryant / Arab America Contributing Writer
It’s never uncommon to see streets named after people. In DC alone, there are dozens of circles and avenues bearing the monikers of US generals, political activists, and historical figures. What is uncommon, however, is using street names as a geopolitical slander prank on one of the most powerful countries in the world. Last week, that is precisely what happened at the unveiling of “Jamal Khashoggi Way,” which runs along the outside of the Saudi Arabian embassy in Northwest DC.
Memorializing a Global Freedom Fighter
Khashoggi, the American-based Saudi journalist who spoke critically of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (AKA MBS), made international headlines when he disappeared and was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Türkiye. After extensive investigations into the incident, it was concluded that it was impossible for MBS to have not known what was going to happen. It was an order from the highest officials of the Saudi regime.
Although he died in 2018, it has taken 4 years for the activists behind the initiative to get enough traction to make the renaming a reality. Not long after the incident, a petition circulated in the DC area and garnered over 10,000 signatures. Once support was clearly demonstrated, it was a waiting game to get over the last hoop: in DC, a person must have been deceased for at least 2 years before a street can be named after them. One pandemic later, the new name was finally approved, and “Jamal Khashoggi Way” was established.
The rename applies to a small span of the road at the end of New Hampshire Avenue NW. It runs between the Watergate Hotel (of scandal infamy), the Kennedy Center, and, of course, the Saudi embassy. The new road signs were unveiled during a ceremony last Wednesday, June 15, where several activists, DC council members, journalists (including friends with the late DC-based honoree), and common citizens were in attendance, along with Khashoggi’s fiancee, Hatice Cengiz. The ceremony was held at 1:14 pm, the time of day in which Khashoggi was last seen alive.
A Message to Saudi Arabia: This Will Not Be Tolerated
The name comes on the heels of a recent White House announcement that President Biden is planning a trip to Saudi Arabia to meet with MBS “on a big agenda,” including “counterterrorism, climate change, [and] certainly oil,” National Security Council coordinator John Kirby said during a White House press briefing. Despite the laundry list of talking points, the visit is highly criticized by human rights activists, political strategists, and much of the general public, including Arab America contributing writer John Mason. Many see Biden’s trip as a desperate, hypocritical move in the wake of surging energy prices and a poor approval rating, particularly since Biden has previously been an outspoken critic of MBS’ politics. To his critics, Biden’s sudden ability to put aside all his condemnations is characteristic of a weak foreign political leader; some are saying he is rolling over at the expense of American values.
Regardless of Biden’s politics, “Jamal Khashoggi Way” (which was voted on by the local DC council, not the federal government) serves as a tangible reminder of both the importance of a free press and the terrible crimes of the Saudi government. “We intend to remind the people who are hiding behind those doors, we intend to remind them every day, every hour, every minute, that this is Jamal Khashoggi Way,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), a journalistic nonprofit founded by Khashoggi for the purpose of highlighting democratic efforts in the MENA region and condemning human rights violations.
The people of DC have finally sent a clear message to MBS: regardless of how buddy-buddy the US government becomes with Saudi Arabia, the American people will always keep you accountable for the horrors you try to sweep under the rug.
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