As a Saudi Citizen in Exile, I Know What the Regime Does to Silence its Critics

As a Saudi citizen exiled in Washington, D.C., since 2000, Ali al Ahmed has experienced first-hand what the Saudi government is willing to do to silence its critics inside and outside the country.

By Ali al Ahmed

The murder of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul after visiting the Saudi consulate there on Oct. 2 is disturbing but not surprising to me and other dissident writers and activists who provide a critical view of the kingdom and have paid for it, usually with exile or prosecution of our family members.

As a Saudi citizen exiled in Washington, D.C., since 2000, I have seen and experienced first-hand what the government is willing to do to silence its critics inside and outside the country. These actions date back to as early as 1979, when dissident activist and author Naser Al Saeed was abducted from Beirut, Lebanon, in December of that year.

His fate remains unknown, but it is widely believed that the Saudi intelligence service paid PLO gunmen to kidnap and fly him back to Riyadh, where he was secretly killed. (Ironically, Khashoggi worked for many years with Turki Al Faisal, the man who ran Saudi intelligence at the time and is suspected of carrying out that operation.)

Opposing the Saudi royal family — especially if you advocate a progressive alternative to the current regime — is a dangerous undertaking, a fact that has never been far from my mind since moving to Washington in 2000 after my graduate studies in Minneapolis.

Once I became a recognized voice for reform and democracy, the Saudi government used carrots and sticks to silence me. In March 2004, the Saudi Embassy seized my passport when I attempted to renew it and offered me a one-way ticket home. The government has since quietly made me a stateless person by rescinding my nationality, which I discovered only when my family tried to process a legal document back home.

The monarchy has also been trying to convince me to return home since 2002. In 2007, a senior Saudi intelligence officer traveled to Washington to arrange a meeting between former Saudi crown and then head of Saudi intelligence (and brother of the present King), Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz, and myself at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Tyson’s Corner.

Prince Muqrin asked me to return home with a promise of wealth and safety. I responded by asking for a public apology to my parents, and my mother in particular, for putting her in prison. He replied, “The state doesn’t apologize.”

The government also used Arab nationals to lure me to Malaysia and Lebanon, countries known for handing dissidents over to the Saudi government. I had the good sense to decline these invitations and made the U.S. government aware of them.

A WikiLeaks Revelation

WikiLeaks document sent in 2013 from the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs to its embassy in Washington (at the time led by the current Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubair) ordered the surveillance of the Institute for Gulf Affairs (IGA), an independent think tank I founded in 2001.

What’s more, the document accurately noted that the IGA was going through financial challenges — a detail that was known only to me and my staff and which we later learned was leaked to the government by a Saudi national who worked with us for a time and later joined the government.

In recent months, I have received many phishing emails designed to hack into my account. One of them was particularly disturbing because it illustrated how far the Saudi government is prepared to go to silence its critics in Washington. The email included a photo of me attending a public event at the American Enterprise Institute, which could only mean that a government agent reported my presence, extracting my image from a video and sending it to me in a phishing email.

This past June, the head of The Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee, Salman Al Ansari, called me a terrorist after I reported on his links to antisemitism. I responded with a lawsuit, currently being tried in D.C. Superior Court.

I’ve received dozens of death threats, some of them serious.

In one case, a young Saudi man told me he would come to Washington to kill me after I tweeted that Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman was “feeble-minded” for paying $200 billion to build a mega solar project that would supplant China as the world’s leading supplier of solar panels. I gave that information to the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, and thankfully they denied him a visa.

The government also tries to coerce me by squeezing my family, a common Saudi tactic. Two of my brothers were arrested, and one of them has been in prison for over 20 years just for being my brother. My nephews were also arrested; one of them has been sentenced to eight years in prison for attending one protest.

My family — parents, siblings, nephews, cousins, and many relatives and friends — is no stranger to political persecution. Two of my cousins were killed during the 1979 uprising, the first Arab popular uprising. I myself was imprisoned at age 14 and avoided capture narrowly on several occasions by fleeing the country.

My story is not unique: the Saudi government routinely persecutes other dissidents. Last month, prominent social media star and satirist Ghanem Al Dosary (our own Jon Stewart) was assaulted by several Saudi nationals in front of Harrods, the famed London department store. This attack in broad daylight was captured on video, yet none of the assailants have been arrested and the British government has yet to provide an explanation for its inaction.

A few weeks ago, a young man in West Virginia contacted me through a mutual friend to seek help with his asylum application. This individual, Mr. Hamad AlSudairi, had been stabbed by a Saudi national after hearing him criticize corruption in Saudi Arabia. Such mild condemnation is sufficient cause for a pro-regime zealot to attempt murder. The case is now before a West Virginia court.

The forced disappearance of Khashoggi by the government of Saudi Arabia is an attempt to intimidate other dissidents into silence and/or surrender. Unfortunately for the Saudi regime, history teaches us that despots can never succeed in completely suppressing the voices of freedom.

Speaking for myself, I can say that I have inherited that spirit of dissent in order to fully empower our people and to establish a modern government with full rights for all. This dream will never die, no matter what the cost. We only have one life, and we must make it worthwhile.

This article originally appeared on The Daily Caller.

Ali al Ahmed is the founder and President of the Institute for Gulf Affairs.


43 comments for “As a Saudi Citizen in Exile, I Know What the Regime Does to Silence its Critics

  1. elmerfudzie
    October 31, 2018 at 13:23

    Too bad that the House of Saud, His Majesty, MBS, didn’t learn from recent Russian history. To refresh the collective memory of CONSORTIUMNEWS readers, let us recall that it was the Ukrainian leader (parliament) Oleksandr Moroz who exposed Ukrainian President Kuchma as the architect who plotted the murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze (September 2000). Looks as tho internal strife and civil war will soon, become full blown within Saudi Arabia. This scenario of coups and assassinations seem to mirror recent developments in the Donbass region. Along similar lines, Benjamin Fulford who writes for, also believes that there exists a possible coup against the House of Saud and suggested that there was a foiled attempt, last week, against Putin. The sources (dubious) were leaks from unnamed Pentagon, CIA, and FSB sources. In my view, all hell’s about to break loose, from Moscow down to Tel Aviv!

  2. October 31, 2018 at 12:30

    On the topic of what Saudi Arabia does to those who dissent, here’s an intriguing new mystery:

  3. bfearn
    October 30, 2018 at 09:54

    Be (more) careful Ali.

  4. October 30, 2018 at 00:16

    Signed petition

    As the child of Iran
    -I have seen many of
    -the rises and the falls
    -as ruthless and as kind
    – (cutting of body parts
    -while victim is alive…)

    As the child of Iran
    -I have an ancient Mom.

    History tells me much
    -but we are deaf and dumb.

    Around me particles
    -rising dust in the wind
    -of deserts’ hurricanes
    -and in the dried lakes,
    -to rivers and mountains,
    -even in raindrops
    -open hearts, talk with us
    -about things around us…

    My mother
    Peace and War
    Victimised, Brutal
    Thrown in wave of lies.

    So, it is too simple
    -to read all words with “F”
    -from worst to nicest…

    You spell a letter
    -I look at your gesture
    -and read a full sentence.

    “F” can be from the
    -Fox to Foe to Friend.

    MBS who ordered murder of Consulate
    -condoles the son of dead? I dread!!!

  5. October 29, 2018 at 23:45

    Great informative piece on the dangers of speaking truth to power. I found particularly interesting the paragraph about the recent “assault” of a person outside of Harrod’s in London. The fact that there were no arrests and the British Govt’s inaction speaks volumes to me. The Skripal event happened and PM May within a day loudly pronounced the Russians were guilty. It’s obvious who the UK considers an ally ….and they won’t be cancelling any war weapon contracts either.

  6. Please
    October 29, 2018 at 18:20

    If, as you reference, Khashoggi worked for the leader of the intelligence agency for many years, then Khashoggi is, de facto, an intelligence agent. Ironically, he briefly worked for the Washington Post, an entity that has published articles by Bob Woodward, Office of Naval Intelligence.

    • Skip Scott
      October 30, 2018 at 09:55

      That is the real reason for all the kerfuffle over his murder. Even MbS dare not mess with the CIA.

      • Please
        October 30, 2018 at 14:47

        Also, Khashoggi’s uncle, Adnan, the world’s richest arms dealer (until he died last year) was making billions with the agency, Iran-Contra and then some. No, you don’t mess with our guys.

  7. Anonymot
    October 29, 2018 at 17:26

    American administrations have long been associated with killers, dictators, and fascists; those the CIA installed as well as those who installed themselves. The advantage of being associated with America for the killer is that we have sold the world on our package, Democracy, not the content, fear and greed, curiously like other right wing governments. The fascists say Look, America supports us; how can we be bad. For it’s part, America gets orderly, predictable, and compliant countries to exploit.

    By coming (late) into WW I and WW II to save our very skins and economies, we burnished the image of America as a savior nation. Each case allowed us to erase the reality of our nascent fascism. So who, today, remembers the American Bund of the Thirties? There’s an excellent book on the subject by Arnie Bernstein.

    Who Remembers that Prescott Bush, paternal and ideological father and grandfather of our rulers, financed the Nazis until an edict had to be issued by the government to force him to stop it in 1942 well after we’d declared war?

    Who has really read THE DEVIL’S CHESSBOARD by David Talbot that details the genesis of the CIA or the remarkable book on the same subject, THE INVISIBLE GOVERNMENT by the famous journalist David Wise? He already had it nailed, named, and copiously documented!

    Even victims like the survivors of the Holocaust have allowed their sons to lead killer nations.

    Sometimes men have created a brief breathing space, as Ali Ahmed hopes to do, as FDR did, or a few Scandinavian administrations, but history tells us that we are a species turned against its own survival by virtue of the forms of governments it has created – good on paper, unworkable in the real world.

    America, it seems, pointed us in the right direction – until it too fell off the cliff.

    • Bethany
      October 29, 2018 at 21:09

      Great post. The human species is a truly warped/distorted one. Freud pondered the human’s death drive and came up with a theory to explain it. Whether that theory holds any water or not, it seems clear that it’s a real thing.

  8. KiwiAntz
    October 29, 2018 at 15:50

    Thank you Ali for your courage & bravery as a victim & survivor, in highlighting the brutality & sadism of this despicable, despotic Saudi Regime! It’s a pity Khashoggi didn’t possess your caution & good sense to recognise the danger signs of Saudi entrapment & it’s murderous schemes to silence dissent! Edmund Burke’s famous quote came to mind when I read your personal article & harrowing account? “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil, is for good men to say nothing “! You are the true embodiment of this quote & I salute you for your courageous stand against Saudi Arabian tyranny!

  9. mike k
    October 29, 2018 at 14:35

    It is strange that no comments are recorded so far n this piece. My own comments were not published. What gives?

    • mike k
      October 29, 2018 at 14:39

      And as soon as I sent the above comment, the rest mysteriously appeared, including the one I made early in the thread. Ghosts in the machine?

      • rosemerry
        October 29, 2018 at 17:00

        I was shocked by the comment that is there, as I found the writer of the article most unconvincing. Washington DC is hardly the place for a “dissident Saudi” to stay.

        • Musa Musa
          October 29, 2018 at 19:08

          Saudi Intelligence

        • KiwiAntz
          October 29, 2018 at 19:29

          Rosemerry, It’s a fine line to tread by Mr Ahmed’s criticism of Saudi Arabia without offending the American Govts dubious support of Saudi Arabia? As I mentioned in a previous comment, Ali is just using his good sense & cautiousness, not only to detect Saudi entrapment but also, to not offend his American hosts, who are providing sanctuary & protection to him as a Political asylum seeker? You don’t want to bite the hand that provides protection to you do you?? It’s being clever with what you say & how you say it & not being disingenuous as you have suggested with the Washington reference!

          • Skip Scott
            October 30, 2018 at 09:51

            I would hope that he would at least dare to ask for help from our government regarding the victimization of his relatives.

          • rosemerry
            October 30, 2018 at 17:10

            Thanks! Perhaps I was a bit flippant, but I trust neither Saudi nor US official positions.

      • anon432
        October 29, 2018 at 20:53

        When you make a comment, you are apparently allowed to see further comments that may include your own earlier comments. So there are two levels of comment visibility. But it appears that after perhaps a half hour, you are set back to the first visibility level. So I sometimes make a “test” comment and then delete it, to see more comments.

        • O Society
          October 29, 2018 at 21:18


          Thanks! That’s a useful trick. Unfortunately it doesn’t fix the glitch.

          The comment counter showed 8 before I posted a comment on this thread.

          Then it showed 18 immediately after I posted the comment.

          Then I went to the CN mainpage and immediately clicked on the link for this article to bring me back here. Now there are 28 comments.

          In other words, 10 comments were still invisible immediately following my use of the trick you described.

      October 30, 2018 at 07:18


      For more than a decade I wrote comments for CN. They didn’t shake the world but
      AI hoped to contribute to the discourse.

      Now I feel excommunicated from CN. My comments are not printed after the
      comment where they make sense. That is if they are printed at all.

      It may be arrogance, but I do feel that at times
      I have something to add….

      CN , whatever it is doing, has succeeded is distancing itself from its
      commenters. Their comments may not be printed at all. Or are
      lost for days and days. Or—if fortunate— are printed out of order
      and not a reply to either the article at issue or the commenter.

      The result is nonsense.

      I continue to read commenters picking up some information here
      and there. (I have just circulated one to my list.) I no longer
      feel that I am participating in a group. Whey should I ;put
      my effort (including research etc.) into comments that mhy (will)
      be lost for days or forever???

      • Virginia
        November 2, 2018 at 12:58

        To Peter Loeb. I so agree with you.

  10. robjira
    October 29, 2018 at 13:34

    Sir, you are an inspiration in courage and persistence to those who feel powerless in the face of monolithic, state authoritarianism. In the US, many are restrained from commitment to correcting flawed government by concern for their (and their families’) livelihoods; a byproduct of what has come to be known as “fascism,” or the fusion of laissez-faire capitalist business interests with central government.
    The situation in the US reminds me of a couple lines; from an episode of Dr. Who, a character wonders, “Is a slave really a slave if they don’t know they’re enslaved…?” and from Easy Rider when George warns, “..but don’t tell people they’re not free, ’cause then they’ll get to beating, burning, and killing to prove that they are free(paraphrased).”
    It’s scary as eff but unless people unite beyond petty “identity” labels, and become actively engaged in mass civil disobedience movements, we might as well get used to our collective, deteriorating gilt cage…if we don’t cause our own extinction first.

    • O Society
      October 29, 2018 at 21:04

      Spot on! I figure as long as most Americans can come home from work and watch TV, they won’t struggle much against whoever owns all the TV stations.

    • Linda Weyrick
      October 31, 2018 at 10:34

      Robjira, You pointed out a dilemma and challenge to each one of us to make one friend from “the other side”, as Arlie Hochschild did when she travelled the country in search of common ground with
      fellow citizens.

  11. Linda Wood
    October 29, 2018 at 12:05

    Ali al Ahmed, thank you for these words. I hope they help to turn the tide of American policy and public opinion away from support for psychopaths and toward peace and freedom.

  12. October 29, 2018 at 11:04

    Interesting piece.

    On the murder of Khashoggi, two important bits of information have surfaced.

    One, Britain’s security services received advance information, and the Saudis were apparently told very politely it wouldn’t be a good idea, perhaps so politely, they obviously ignored it.

    Two, America’s NSA received advance information and did nothing, unless it was the source for Britain.

    It is most instructive to see that, with the exception of Germany, not one major arms deal has been suspended.

    It just shows if you have enough money and the right friends, you can get away with murder, quite public murder even.

    That’s some set of values built into America’s imperial interests – what friendship with the Saudis and especially this dark prince are all about.

    America and Israel, hand-in-hand killing innocents for empire.

    • rosemerry
      October 29, 2018 at 17:02

      The UK, including the very friendly Royal Family, are close friends and arms providers to the Saudis.

    • David
      October 29, 2018 at 20:41

      Well said!!!

    • David
      October 29, 2018 at 20:47

      Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS) is a spoiled rotten man child, an egomaniacal, murderous monster – witness the escalating horrors he has inflicted on Yemen. He is also not very bright, egomaniacal, impetuous, self-obsessed, a pathological liar, cruel and joined at the hip with both Netanyahu and Trump who are eager puppets of multi billionaire, casino magnate, Zionist zealot, Sheldon Adelson.

      Must watch:
      Video: “Saudi Arabia Uncovered”

      Also:… “It’s time for Canada to take the next step against Saudi Arabia. It is one of the worst human rights abusers in the world, ruled by a hothead. Canada should stop selling it weapons.” by Stephen Maher Macleans Magazine, Aug 7, 2018.… Al Jazeera, August 10/18 “Yemen: Dozens of civilians killed in school bus attack. The Red Cross says many children under 15 dead and wounded after air raid blamed on Saudi-UAE coalition hits bus in Saada.”
      EXCERPT: “The Saudi-UAE military alliance at war with Yemen’s Houthi rebels has been blamed for an air attack on a school bus that killed dozens of people, including at least 29 children.

      “The vehicle came under attack as it was driving near a crowded market in the Houthi-controlled province of Saada, which borders Saudi Arabia, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Thursday.

      “The ICRC said on its Twitter account that its medical team at the ICRC-supported hospital in Saada had received the bodies of 29 children, all under 15 years old. The hospital also received 48 wounded people, among them 30 children. In a separate Twitter post, Johannes Bruwer, the head of an ICRC delegation in Yemen, said that ‘according to local officials a total of 50 people died and 77 were injured this morning.’”

    • George Collins
      October 29, 2018 at 22:31

      There may be exceptions to the aphorism ascribed to Lord Acton, but where “power” is asserted “absolutely/tyrannically”, it invariably has corruption in mind and/or is willing to sacrifice innocents to maintain. Was Obama ever more than an opportunist with a flair for specifying? Hard to say, maybe. We do know he savaged the bill of rights, went after journalists, was against torture before he farmed it out and mandated the humiliation of of Bradley Manning who was kept naked in the brig and then pronounced guilty by Obama prior to any hearing.

      Obama may smell good next to the odious Trump but Obama was simply a more artful, less gauche tyrant who will go down in history as normalizing death by drone for innocents, US citizens and kids who chose the wrong parent.

      Israel and US are bully nations, birds of a feather, both known for their boasted nobility that is belied by their wanton violations of human rights.

  13. Jeff Harrison
    October 29, 2018 at 10:34

    Interesting. Does Iran do this also? There is a large Iranian expat community in California many of whom revere the late Shah. Does “dark” Iran intimidate their citizens in this country as the so-called beacon of light (Saudi Arabia) apparently does?

  14. hetro
    October 29, 2018 at 10:15

    I see no news yet on Israa al Ghomgham, facing a death sentence for dissent in Saudi Arabia–to be rendered yesterday.

  15. john wilson
    October 29, 2018 at 09:13

    There’s a report on ICH by TelSur saying that the British MI5/MI6 secret service actually knew about the possible abduction of Khashoggi by the the Saudi regime and that his planned abduction was because he had information that the Saudi regime had actually used chemical weapons in Yemen. I don’t know what the veracity of this report is, but I wouldn’t put it past the UK lot to be involved some how.

  16. October 29, 2018 at 09:05

    Welcome to the new & improved Axis of Evil

  17. mike k
    October 29, 2018 at 08:46

    Intimidation, torture, and murder are the common currency of powerful regimes. The US is no different from our Saudi allies, though perhaps a bit more subtle in it’s Mafia type operations, Power corrupts….

  18. Sally Snyder
    October 29, 2018 at 07:57

    As shown in this article, despite substantial evidence from multiple sources, Washington has chosen to ignore Saudi Arabia’s use of the death penalty:

    Despite the assurances of the Western media and Muhammad bin Salman, it looks like Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the death penalty is unlikely to change any time soon given the close link between the nation’s religious life and its legal system.

    • rosemerry
      October 29, 2018 at 17:04

      Why on earth would the USA disagree with this ? It is the only “civilized” country to use the death penalty. If the USA were in Europe it would not be accepted into the EU because of this policy.

  19. john wilson
    October 29, 2018 at 05:46

    He now lives in the US where he feels safe. However, were his politics of a different kind and he was writing things that shows America in a bad light, such as Julian Assange and others in Guantanamo have, he would find that the U.S. is no “shrinking violet” when it comes to torture. America’s treatment of Iraqi prisoners is legend and was as good as anything the Saudi regime come up with. The truth is, most governments and powerful organizations the world over demand obedience and those people who dare to challenge the state etc, end up dead, in prison or completely marginalized. I suggest the writer uses a pen name as advertising himself so openly just isn’t conducive to good health!

    • Skip Scott
      October 30, 2018 at 09:46

      Amen John-

      My thoughts exactly. We not only “drone” dissenting voices, we do a hit on their son and daughter as well. Real Mafia stuff.

  20. Dr. Ip
    October 29, 2018 at 03:25

    “I have inherited that spirit of dissent in order to fully empower our people and to establish a modern government with full rights for all. This dream will never die, no matter what the cost.”

    It would be “great” if “a modern government with full rights for all” could be established in the U S of A as well.

    Keep dreaming.

    • mike k
      October 29, 2018 at 08:49

      When dreams die, humanity is next.

Comments are closed.