Updated: Apr 26
Director: Bryan Fogel
‘The Dissident’ is a documentary about the Saudi Arabian state authorised assassination of reporter Jamal Khashoggi at the directive of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS).
Unfortunately, it is also a record of how our world will put economic interests before justice. This fact is augmented by the inability of film-maker Fogel to find mainstream distribution for his documentary. Major streaming services don’t want to host the film, apparently due to its controversial subject matter. (I caught ‘The Dissident’ at Dendy Cinema, Newtown.)
Thankfully, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was so incensed by the Saudis thinking they would get away with murdering a high-profile journalist on Turkish soil (specifically, murder Khashoggi at Turkey's Saudi Embassy and then burn his flesh at Turkey's Saudi Consulate), he released tapes that proved irrefutably that the crime was a premeditated assassination. The tapes are heinous, complete with references to ‘the sacrificial animal’, grunts and wheezes as Khashoggi is suffocated and then the unmistakeable sound of a bone saw.
The documentary traces the path of Khashoggi’s career as state journalist and part of the inner circle of the Saudi Arabian monarchy (he was considered the man who could best represent a reforming Saudi Arabia to the world), to his growing acknowledgement that his belief in truth and his formal role were becoming increasingly impossible to reconcile. The Arab Spring in 2011 made up his mind. He knew that the money and resource that shut down this social movement could only have come from Saudi Arabia.
From Khashoggi believing that the Saudi heir apparent MBS was going to be a part of the Arab transformation, he soon realised that the young prince was heralding a more repressive regime than that which came before. When professional friends began to disappear, Khashoggi realised it was time to leave his country.
Khashoggi left his beloved wife and family never to return, began writing and being the expert opinion for many international publications including the ‘The Washington Post’ and ‘Al Jazeera’. As his essays and opinions became increasingly concerned about what he saw as the increasing eradication of freedoms and media truth-telling in Saudi Arabia, the target on his head became larger.
‘The Dissident’ also covers the story of another (this time young) exiled Saudi player, political dissident and social media activist Omar Abdulaziz. Abdulaziz was an admirer, media-follower and eventual friend of Khashoggi, whose own family and friends in Saudi Arabia have been incarcerated for his out-spoken social media presence; one brother having had his teeth removed as a ‘gesture’ to Abdulaziz to cease and desist critical tweets about the regime. It was Abdulaziz who explained to Khashoggi the armies of ‘trolls’ that MBS employs to discredit and threaten any dissenting voice on social media (Khashoggi had shared with Abdulaziz his inability to understand the mass of hate mail and slanderous accusations that were being directed at him through social media channels. Abdulaziz explained that this trolling was all apart of Saudi's social media strategy and that for every criticism of the regime, a positive new post would be published about MBS and a slanderous one about the critic of the Saudi Crown Prince.)
Heartbreakingly, in the documentary we are made privy to CCTV tapes showing Khashoggi entering the Saudi Arabian embassy while his young fiancée, Turkish journalist Hatice Cengiz waits hours and hours until she realises the man she loves will not return.
Lest we forget all our world's heroes, past and present.