My name is Roula Khalaf and I am deputy editor of the FT. I've been writing for the FT since 1995 when I joined as North Africa Correspondent. I'm originally from Lebanon and have been Middle East Editor and Foreign Editor. Before joining the FT, I was a staff writer for Forbes magazine in New York.


Comments: 459 • Responses: 26  • Date: 

eye__ball350 karma

Hi Roula. Thanks for doing this AMA.

I'm from (and live) in the Gulf region - not KSA. The reaction to Jamal's killing around us is twofold: in public spaces such as Twitter (which is quite popular around here, as I'm sure you know), people are standing with KSA and rallying around MBS. In private, between close friends and relatives, I find that people are generally horrified.

This sort of split is very common with Arabs, generally because of our lack of free speech platforms.

My question is this: what will it take for us Arabs (especially the comfortable ones in the GCC) to finally come together and publically stand up to these horrific acts and condemn these actions from our leaders? (e.g. the war in Yemen, Syria, Iraq, the list goes on.)

financialtimes365 karma

I understand your frustration. One of the most worrying trends in recent years is the extent to which governments in the Middle East have been able to control social media conversations. I have also noticed that no one from the Gulf dares to criticise the Saudi authorities on Twitter. Not long ago, Saudis were telling me that Twitter was their parliament.

Unfortunately I do see Arab coming together to stand up against their leaders. The Arab spring and its aftermath have led to disillusionment as well as fear. Many people look at Syria, Libya, Yemen and conclude that the alternative to current regimes is chaos.

dailyredditornigga129 karma

Hi Roula, thanks for doing this in a time that is a bit a tenuous for journalist reporting on the middle east. How has Jamal Khashoggis death affected your relationship with your sources within the middle east specifically saudi arabia? and follow up question what is the sentiment within the saudi people about his death and how do they plan to react?

financialtimes138 karma

That's an interesting question. It's not so much that it has affected my sources but no one I tried to contact in Saudi Arabia was willing to stray from the official line, even though that line was shifting and the involvement of Saudi agents was evident. That suggests to me that people were afraid to even admit that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the murder. More broadly I would say that many activists in the Middle East have been terrified by the brutality of the murder and that Saudi activists in particular interpret it as a warning to all of them.

On the second point, it's difficult to gauge the reaction of Saudis now that their government has admitted to some involvement, though the full story has yet to emerge. Contacts of mine who have been in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, in recent weeks tell me that young people they met, who are supporters of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, were either in denial or still so attached to the social changes he has introduced that they're not willing to criticise him. Others, I'm told, are saying for the first time that they are worried the prince is reckless.

indi_n0rd75 karma

Anything major that you can predict from the aftermath of this entire incident? Like MBS getting booted from the throne? Has there been any change in public opinion on MBS?

financialtimes169 karma

It is clear that the killing of Khashoggi has taken the shine off MbS and radically changed the image of a reformist leader that he has been nurturing. Those who believed that MbS was the key to a stable Saudi future are now reviewing their analysis. As things stand today, however, I would not expect MbS to be removed from power. He is his father's favourite son and as far as I can see, King Salman is sticking by him. He has also made sure that anyone capable of challenging him in the royal family is stripped of all his powers, or under house arrest, or no longer in Saudi Arabia.

rydogski57 karma

What has been the hardest part about being a journalist in this region?

financialtimes107 karma

Reading your question I recalled a meeting I had with a senior western diplomat in Damascus once. He told me he hoped to see me again because journalists don't get repeat visits. It was a while before I was able to go back to Damascus. To your point, journalists in the region need access to report on countries, particularly the most authoritarian and closed, and quite a few don't allow access.

oneyesterday56 karma

As a journalist, how do you remove these well-founded criticisms against the Middle East from the negative overgeneralised stereotypes that are still propounded?

financialtimes69 karma

The job of journalists is to write the facts and explain the nuances. I hope that we, at the FT, contribute to a better understanding of the Middle East, because we have reporters on the ground who know the countries they write about and have a deep understanding of the political, economic and cultural dynamics.

LizardOrgMember536 karma

What's the biggest misconception the public believe about the Middle East?

financialtimes80 karma

I think there's a widespread misconception that democracy is not for Arabs. I find myself having to argue against that, time and again. The 2011 uprisings and their aftermaths of course did not help. But I am often asked whether democracy will ever work in the Arab world. To which I always say it will. Just not yet.

rightobucko32 karma

Have you ever felt endangered after publishing something? If so, what happened?

financialtimes70 karma

There are many governments in the Middle East that have used violence against journalists and that's something that those reporting on the region have to take into account. Thankfully, in my own experience, the reaction to critical reports has been to deny me a visa to visit the country.

GreyPhantom10030 karma

Hello Roula! Fellow Lebanese here...

1) Are there any topics or journalistic opportunities you would like to embark on about Lebanon, or see someone report on them?

2) Where can someone get reliable reporting that is unphased by sectarian and religious bias in Lebanon? (if it is even possible...)

Thank you for doing this AMA!

financialtimes27 karma

Hello! I recently wrote a column about, it's a one year old journalist platform that'd doing some good work. It's based in Beirut.

and of course read the FT!

stripesndredlights23 karma

How big of an effect is sovereignty playing in the investigation? How will this effect the relationship between the Saudis and Turkey and the overall health of the region? It must be extremely difficult with the embassy in Turkey.

financialtimes39 karma

That's an interesting question. There is of course a geopolitical dimension to the stand-off over the Khashoggi investigation. Turkey and Saudi Arabia are rivals in the region. Turkey is allied with Qatar, which the Saudis and their allies have blockaded and isolated. Clearly this is playing out in the Khashoggi story. There's been a lot of speculation as to how far Turkey will push this. In the beginning, many analysts expected Turkey to strike a deal with Saudi Arabia and help cover up the murder, or at least limit the damage. But it appears that Turkey is pushing to implicate Mohammed bin Salman in the Khashoggi murder.

SacredWeapon20 karma

The narrative that MbS has used throughout this story is so unbelievably dishonest and comparable to the concept of "trickle-truth" (in which someone only admits to what has been proven to have happened) that I have begun wondering what his motive for lying about it in the first place was.

Do you believe his denials were to mitigate potential damage, or more comparable to the obvious lies told by Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, which mainly serve to highlight how there is no consequence to them for lying?

If the latter, was there a system of consequences for the leadership prior to his seizure of power? If so, what has he dismantled?

financialtimes42 karma

The fact that the Saudi narrative evolved, and that admission of guilt came gradually, and was almost forced out by Turkey, which was leaking details of the killing, has undermined the credibility of the Saudi story. Why did they hold out? My guess is that they assumed they may never have to tell the story. It seems to me that the plan was to kill Jamal, disappear his body (or body parts) and have someone wearing his clothes leave the embassy through the back door. The first Saudi cover story was precisely that and I suspect that they would have stuck to it if they could.

Some Saudi commentators were saying, in the aftermath of the disappearance, that there can be no crime if there is no body. Turkish investigators, however, have made clear they could prove the crime, even without a body.

smog-ie16 karma

Hi Roula, what do you make of the attempted cover up of this murder and the subsequent intervention of King Salaman?

financialtimes51 karma

For once I have to agree with Donald Trump: it was the worse cover up in the history of cover ups.

But I would add that it was a most macabre murder in the history of political murders

financialtimes13 karma

Thanks for joining me today. I am sorry I could not answer all the questions but here are some links to my recent articles on Khashoggi and the region.

The Middle East and the media

The enduring myth of the young Arab reformer

Khashoggi’s disappearance puts spotlight on rising repression


immerc13 karma

How religious / radical are younger people in the region? Is there any hope that once the older generation dies off, the younger ones will be more interested in peace?

financialtimes30 karma

It is difficult to generalise. Among the young generation you will find both radical and liberal. I think it's also important to understand that young people can be socially liberal but politically conservative or radical. People can be ultra liberal but with hardline views towards Iran or Israel, for example.

shrooki11 karma

Thanks for the AMA! Could you provide insight as to the reactions of journalists in the region who may have a slight "expose Saudi" tint to their writing? And if you're able to, could you also provide an example or two?

financialtimes19 karma

Much of the media in the Middle East is controlled by Saudi Arabia or people loyal to Saudi Arabia. So it's been interesting to watch how so few have diverted from the official Saudi line. I wrote a column about this last week which you might find interesting:

SearingShihtzu10 karma

Hi Roula, first time doing one of these. I regularly hear the argument that the UK should rescind deals with Saudi Arabia, particularly the military asset deals, on the grounds that it is a difficult and dangerous regime.

Many of these deals are worth billions of pounds and keep our defense industry healthy, while also boosting our nations economy.

What are your thoughts? Should we cancel the deals? What are the implications if we did?


financialtimes22 karma

There has to be a balance between commercial interests and standing up for values. At the FT, we have supported a halt to arms that are used in the Yemen conflict because the Saudi campaign has led to a rising level of civilian casualties.

griffaliff9 karma

I'd never heard of Khashoggi before this terrible incident. Why were the Saudis out to get him?

financialtimes35 karma

Quite a few questions on why this murder had so much impact. As background, Khashoggi was a Saudi journalist who has worked, for most of his career, for Saudi government publications. He was also an advisor to a senior prince. So he was not only prominent in the kingdom but also part of the family. He went into exile because he felt that the regime under Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman, had become even more repressive than previous leaderships. He was not only told what he could not write but asked to write in support of the prince's policies, even when he disagreed with them. In the US, Khashoggi was writing columns for the Washington Post.

Why did his killing get so much attention? First, because he was well known in political and media circles in the west. Second, because his insights into Saudi Arabia were appreciated. Third, he was writing for a leading US publication. Fourth, because the murder happened in Turkey and many in the Turkish government knew Khashoggi. Finally, because of the gruesome nature of the murder.

King_Tommm7 karma

What do you think some of the ramifications of the west pulling out of agreements with Saudi, trade deals, conferences etc could be?

financialtimes19 karma

Too early to tell. Many chief executives did not show up at a major Saudi conference in Riyadh but they did send their associates. Some deals will suffer, but others will continue, especially in energy and financial services, and of course in defence.

FusionGel7 karma

Hello Roula. Do you have any recommendations for an unbiased account of the history in the Middle East? Perhaps a People's History of the United States version of the Israel/Palestine conflict. I feel like I have zero knowledge of the history and need a place to start.

financialtimes21 karma

Peter Mansfield's history of the Middle East is good

and Albert Hourani's History of the Arabs is worth reading

DustinHammons3 karma

Just being a critic of the Saudi government does not result in one being killed in the way Khashoggi was, why do you think he was killed with such malice?

financialtimes11 karma

I can't answer that, except to suggest that it may have been to send a message to every other potential critic that not even a word of dissent would be tolerated.

johnson_alleycat3 karma

Will this bring down MbS? If not, will it marginalize him or elevate a rival faction, and what might it take to push him out of succession?

Does Turkey plan to align with Iran more, considering its willingness to challenge the Kingdom through this scandal and its past support of Qatar in the face of the Gulf blockade?

If a New Democratic House exerts more pressure on the Senate's "principled" GOP members, particularly Lindsey Graham, what might the regional effects be if the US took a greater stance against MbS?

What else should we be following to better understand the region?

financialtimes7 karma

First, you should be reading the FT if you're interested in the region. We have a terrific group of correspondents.

Let me address your broader question: the full impact of the Khashoggi killing is still playing out. I think it's possible that MbS' wings will be clipped but I don't see an immediate scenario where he is removed from office. There is talk about bringing back some seasoned hands to guide him but that's still speculation and rumours. His position will also depend on the level of American support. Until now, he's enjoyed full support from the Trump administration and he had many allies in Congress. The sentiment in Congress is shifting and MbS' image has taken a heavy beating but I don't see signs yet of a change of heart in the administration.

apple_kicks2 karma

If someone wanted to learn more about the tensions and politics of the region (other than your articles) what books or resources would you recommend?

Also, what common mistakes do other media platforms make when covering news from the middle east?

financialtimes5 karma

I mentioned two historic books earlier

Albert Hourani's history of the Arabs and Peter Mansfield's history of the Middle East

willworth2 karma

Hi! I read via lord adonis, or rather, his twitter account, that this is a power play by Erdoğan. That such things happen often, but are normally kept quiet. Do you have any insights as to why this might be true? Obviously, I'd like to know if you think it's true, too. I can't even understand the motivation. Thanks in advance.

financialtimes10 karma

Partly true but not completely. This crime happened in Turkey and many in the Turkish government knew Khashoggi. His fiancee was Turkish. So I think it would have made a lot of noise regardless. But there's no doubt that it is a crisis that Erdogan is also exploiting.

immerc1 karma

Do you think the region would be as violent if it didn't have vast oil reserves? In many ways, it seems like this is the Resource Curse turned up to 11.

financialtimes5 karma

Possibly yes. But it would not get as much attention around the world without oil reserves.

foxytom1 karma

Hi Roula,

Was there any sort of event or story that Khashoggi might have been working on that drew the close attention of the rogue element (we are told) of the Saudi State?



financialtimes5 karma

The one project I know of is an attempt to counter the regime's online propaganda.

I think Khashoggi was very keen for independent information to reach Saudis who are being bombarded by propaganda.

Newmanq1 karma

Hi Roula, do you think that the political elite in turkey is going to use this murder as justifications for moving away from Saudi's and by extension The United States and towards Russia?

financialtimes5 karma

No. I think the political elite in Turkey is trying hard to find common cause with the US on this case. There's been a lot of cooperation but also pressure from Ankara on the US to acknowledge the Turkish version.

JaehyoFag-5 karma

Why did the Saudis cut up Khashoggi while he was alive? Why not just kill him, then cut up the body?

financialtimes2 karma

it doesn't appear they cut him up while he was alive.

he died within minutes of entering the embassy, he was strangled, and then dismembered, according to the Turkish investigation