After Khashoggi, exiled journalists say ‘you can’t feel safe, anywhere you go’

The World

Samy Kamaleldeen, 38, jokes with a friend before an evening broadcast of "Egyptian Street." The opinion program, which covers issues that he says matter to everyday people, broadcasts from El Sharq TV's studios in Istanbul. Returning to Egypt, Kamaleldeen says, would be dangerous for him and his colleagues. 

Durrie Bouscaren/The World 

As he walks into the studio, Samy Kamaleldeen greets everyone — camera guys, control room techs, even the person who brings the tea. On air, the 38-year-old host of “Egyptian Street” veers between humor and outrage. The idea is to cover the topics that matter to people when most of the news in Egypt is aligned with the government.  

“I’m trying to present a real awareness to the people, against the false awareness of the Sisi regime. It’s everything that matters on the Egyptian street.”

Samy Kamaleldeen, El Sharq

“I’m trying to present a real awareness to the people, against the false awareness of the Sisi regime,” he explained. “It’s everything that matters on the Egyptian street.” 

The station behind it is El Sharq, “The East.” On Kamaleldeen’s show, the viewers and the politics are Egyptian, but the journalists broadcast from a small studio in Istanbul. 

Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and expert on the region’s politics who was killed inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, was an occasional guest at the station. El Sharq (not to be confused with the think tank of a similar name), counts itself among a collection of satellite TV stations who broadcast in Arabic from countries outside of the Arab world, in the hopes of reaching their audiences in countries where journalism has been violently suppressed.

For many at El Sharq, the news of Khashoggi’s death at the hands of his own government was terrifying — not just because of the senseless violence of the act, but because in his story they saw their own. Among El Sharq’s employees are journalists from Egypt, Syria, even Sudan.  For many, returning to their home countries would be a dangerous prospect, particularly after a broadcast like this. 

Related: Jamal Khashoggi's last interview with The World

In one segment, Kamaleldeen and his co-host focus on a new wave of corruption claims against Egypt’s military dictator, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. A series of testimonial monologues uploaded to YouTube by a government contractor-turned-whistleblower have set off protests in Egypt — some of the first since Sisi’s bloody military takeover of the country in 2013.

“He’s taken your money, left the country, and smacked you [leaving a mark],” Kamaleldeen said, hypothetically addressing Gen. Sisi. “Now, we will listen to the tape of Mohamed Ali, where he exposes all of you.” 


Nadia Chankulla, 31, left, is a program producer for El Sharq's radio division. Sofia Sohoui, 29, sits to her right. The two hail from Sudan and Algeria respectively, but live in Istanbul. 

Credit: Durrie Bouscaren/The World

El-Sharq’s staunch, anti-Sisi, pro-Arab Spring stance is not without its critics. The station itself is owned by Ayman Nour, a former Egyptian politician and presidential candidate for the liberal Al-Ghad party. Some Egyptians in the diaspora say they’re turned off by broadcasters that seem to egg on protests in Egypt from a safe perch abroad. Supporters point to the risks faced by journalists in Egypt and argue that there are few alternatives.  

“If you belong to the Arab world, and are asking for freedom — you can’t feel safe, anywhere you go,” said Hossam El-Ghamry, an editor at the station. 

Related: Khashoggi’s fiancée calls for justice: ‘Jamal did no wrong to his country’

A friendship in exile

Before he knew Khashoggi, Kamaleldeen says, he knew his work. For many young people who hoped for change as protests swept the Arab world in 2011, Khashoggi supported a version of reform that was gradual, even moderate. 

The two men met in 2014, Kamaleldeen says, while working in Qatar. Both had a fondness for Cuban cigars, which they would smoke together in the Sheraton hotel over talk of politics and reform.  

“He had his own way of talking with people, a way of making people feel at ease. Giving them the space to talk.”

Samy Kamaleldeen, El-Sharq

“He had his own way of talking with people, a way of making people feel at ease,” Kamaleldeen said. “Giving them the space to talk.” 

On Oct. 3 last year, the day after Khashoggi disappeared, Kamaleldeen got a call from a Turkish source saying that his colleague wasn’t missing — he had been murdered. 

“I went into a nervous breakdown,” Kamaleldeen said. “Crying, nonstop.” 

Related: Saudi 'Youth Forum' at New York public library canceled after activists' outcry

Nader Fetouh Saber, the station’s director of programs, says he felt the same — it could have happened to any dissident journalist. 

“For a normal person, a peaceful person who hasn’t hurt anyone, to go to his own country’s embassy, to his country, leave his fiancé waiting outside, and be murdered, be assassinated that way,” Saber said. “That shook us. That shook me, at least.

Nader Fetouh Saber, El Sharq

“For a normal person, a peaceful person who hasn’t hurt anyone, to go to his own country’s embassy, to his country, leave his fiancé waiting outside, and be murdered, be assassinated that way,” Saber said. “That shook us. That shook me, at least.

Kamaleldeen pulled himself together, confirmed the tip and reported his friend’s death. But even today, he won’t walk inside his own consulate. 

Though the interview has been in Arabic, he switched to English to make the point: “I’m afraid, yani [meaning "so," or "like"].” 

Turkey — a safe haven for some

A year after Khashoggi’s murder, the yellow stucco building of Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate looks unchanged. A green Saudi flag flies from the roof. The glass skyscrapers of Istanbul’s banking district rise in the distance. A grocery store parking lot sits across the street, next to a small park.

It’s here where Khashoggi’s friends and colleagues unveiled a stone monument, inscribed with his name, on the first anniversary of his death — a permanent, visual reminder of a crime the Saudi government would rather forget.

“Why did they kill him? Because they were afraid of his thoughts.”

Yasin Atkay, politician, Turkey

“Why did they kill him?” Turkish politician Yasin Atkay asked the crowd during a round of speeches. “Because they were afraid of his thoughts.”  


A recent photo of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. 


Durrie Bouscaren/The World 

Related: Are the Saudis using big sporting events to 'sportswash' their image?

Though Turkey itself is a leading jailer of journalists worldwide, the country has extended humanitarian residency permits to a host of Egyptian dissidents, journalists and other exiles. Many of those fleeing Sisi’s regime are former supporters of the late President Mohammed Morsi. 


 A director leads the show, "Egyptian Street," from the control room. He's originally from Syria. 


Durrie Bouscaren/The World 

Over the past year, US intelligence agencies have determined with “medium to high” confidence that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s murder. But the international community’s failure to hold Saudi Arabia accountable, as well as US President Donald Trump’s eagerness to pursue a relationship with the kingdom, have left many journalists with the feeling that there is nowhere left to turn. 

“There are complicit governments all over the Western world,” said Rami Khouri, a journalism professor at the American University of Beirut and nonresident senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School. “There are hundreds and hundreds of journalists and civil society activists … who are being hounded and tortured and killed.”

“Jamal was a symbol of this,” Khouri said. “And he paid for it with his life.” 


Colleagues and loved ones unveiled a stone memorial to Jamal Khashoggi on the one-year anniversary of his death. It sits in a small park across the street from the Saudi consulate where he died. 


Durrie Bouscaren/The World