Widow of murdered Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi speaks out

In June 2020, I left my life and job behind to seek asylum in the United States. I no longer felt safe in the Middle East. The move marked a turning point. Receiving asylum status signaled the start of a new chapter for me. Yet, my heart and soul yearn for my husband.

  • 5 months ago
  • January 18, 2024
9 min read
Hanan Elatr, the widow of the late Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi
Journalist’s Notes
Interview Subject
Hanan Elatr, widow of the late Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, was born in Egypt and raised in the United Arab Emirates. In the early 1990s, she received journalism training at the Emirati newspaper Al-Bayan but chose not to pursue a career in the field. Instead, she became a flight attendant for Emirates Airline. In 2018, she married Jamal Khashoggi, and in 2020, she relocated from the UAE to the USA. Last November, she was granted political asylum in the United States. In Hanan’s interview with Orato World Media journalist Mahasen Hawary, Hanan observed that Jamal’s “relationship with Qatar seemed to encompass balance and mutual respect. He vehemently denied allegations that he received Qatari funding or financial support from any party. In fact, he often expressed concerns about his own future and financial stability, which I believe only made him more independent. I remember when he turned down opportunities to appear on Qatai television to discuss the Gulf Crisis because he felt so strongly about maintaining impartiality.” Hanan says that she remained silent in the period immediately after Khashoggi’s death to protect her family, but with asylum status in the U.S., was ready to share her story in this Orato exclusive.
Background Information
According to an article in NPR in late February 2021, U.S. intelligence revealed that, “Saudi Arabia’s crown prince approved the operation that led to the brutal 2018 death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi…” The article went on to say that, “Khashoggi, 59, was a Saudi citizen living in Northern Virginia and writing columns for The Washington Post that were often critical of the Saudi monarchy. He was killed during a visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018. His body was dismembered, and his remains have never been found.” Saudi courts sentenced five men to death for the murder, but later reduced the sentences to 20 years. Three other men received lesser sentences.

VIRGINIA, United States ꟷ As a flight attendant for Emirates Airlines, our crew had made our way back to Dubai from Prague when I received the devastating news that my husband Jamal Khashoggi disappeared at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

It felt like the ground shook beneath my feet as I contemplated an unimaginable reality: facing the harsh world alone without my husband. My fear intensified as a flood of misleading information about my husband’s fate circulated. Despite an eventual announcement of his death, I held onto hope for his return.

Losing the love of my life Jama Khashoggi

On October 2, 2018, my late husband, a well-known Saudi journalist, columnist for the Washington Post, and editor-in-chief of the Al-Arab News Channel, was tragically assassinated by agents of the Saudi government at the consulate in Istanbul.

When Jamal and I married, it felt like the ship of my heart anchored in a fortress of love. Yet, political storms ravaged the port. My heart shattered when Jamal was killed and I sunk into a dark abyss. Part of me died the day Jamal Khashoggi passed away. In time, the United States granted me political asylum.

My lawyer Randa Fahmy and I now seek compensation for my husband’s death. We are working diligently to obtain Jamal’s electronic devices from the Turkish government. I do not know what the future holds for me, but my once optimistic outlook vanished. I am no longer the woman I once was.

Born in Egypt and raised in the United Arab Emirates, my father’s love for reading heavily influenced my life. With a beautiful library in our home, I developed a keen interest in literature and in the early 1990s, underwent training at the Emirati newspaper Al-Bayan. While I did not pursue a career in journalism, and instead became a flight attendant for the Emirates Airline, I maintained a strong connection to the media industry.

My early training at Al-Bayan put my name in the databases of several cultural institutions and I often received invitations to participate in events. As a result, I established relationships with journalists from diverse backgrounds. At that time, I delved into Jamal’s captivating writings and considered myself a devoted member of his ever-growing audience.

A dark turning point: Donald Trump’s election as the U.S. President

In 2009, a prominent journalist and mutual friend introduced me to Jamal. Our conversation naturally gravitated toward politics. As we stood talking, we exchanged opinions about the situation in the Arab world and American policies in the region. I mentioned Mahamed Sobhi’s play Mama America and offered him a recording as a gift.

We exchanged phone numbers and began communicating regularly. Though we never talked about his personal life, a strong connection and close friendship formed. We shared similar beliefs and a sense of harmony formed between us. In time, I learned about his two previous marriages, both of which ended in divorce.

I often saw Jamal during his visits to the United Arab Emirates to see his ex-wife and children, and at various meetings and events. He eventually fell in love with my steadfast optimism and outlook on life.

In 2016, Jamal’s life took a dramatic turn. It began during a lecture where he bravely expressed his concerns about Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States. He worried this victory by an extreme right-wing figure presented far-reaching consequences. His once stable relationship with prominent Saudi leaders pivoted quickly and they soon placed him under house arrest. During that time, I stood by his side, maintaining constant contact with him.

During the turbulent period of the 2017 Gulf crisis, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain imposed a blockade on Qatar. The Saudi authorities lifted the restrictions on Jamal to encourage him to participate in propaganda against Qatar. However, Jamal did not comply and instead relocated to the United States, promising his then-wife that he would maintain a low profile. Despite this promise, he quickly immersed himself back in the media to condemn the blockade and eventually went through another divorce.

Arrested and interrogated by Emirati intelligence

Depressed and lonely, Jamal’s feelings toward me blossomed, and I received an invitation to visit him in the United States. In March 2018, he postponed his birthday celebration for the week of my arrival. During that wonderful visit, we celebrated together, and he shared his feelings with me. I returned the first week of April and right in the airport, he presented me with an engagement ring and a bouquet of flowers.

Happiness surged through me as I agreed to marry him. Jamal worried, though, that my feelings might change. “You have a very peaceful life,” he told me. “That could change because of me.” I reassured him, “You are a peaceful man and a kind person. You love your country. Your desire to return is what truly matters.”

After the engagement in the first week of April 2018, upon my return from a trip to Canada, members of the Emirati intelligence awaited me. They interrogated me for 17 hours and placed me under house arrest from April 21 to May 5. They prohibited my family from traveling and placed all our names on the blacklist, without any salary or passport.

When the house arrest lifted, I made my first trip to Chicago on May 5, 2018. Meanwhile, Jamal remained in Istanbul. He asked me not to return to Dubai and to seek asylum in America. He offered to send a friend to accompany me to his house in Virginia until his return from Istanbul, and then we would get married.

However, I refused for several reasons. I felt a responsibility toward my family and remained unwilling to leave the Gulf in this manner. It meant I could not return in the future if Jamal reconciled with the Saudi administration. I also did not want to burden him financially.

My marriage dowry: one Saudi Riyal

The following month, on June 2, 2018, Jamal Khashoggi and I celebrated our marriage at the Open University in Virginia, with Imam Anwar Hajjaj officiating. Our two witnesses organized the entire event and Jamal presented me with the dowry. I simply asked for one Saudi riyal [the equivalent of 27 cents in U.S. dollars].

Entering the sacred bond of marriage, I soon discovered while Jamal physically resided in America, his heart and soul remained rooted in the enchantment of Saudia Arabia. Determined to alleviate his longing, I embarked on a culinary journey and mastered the art of Eastern cuisine.

Each dish, meticulously prepared, not only nourished him physically, but ignited the warmth and comfort he yearned for. With each carefully crafted meal from his homeland, I sought to create an oasis where he found solace amongst the challenges of his life.

To protect my family in the United Arab Emirates, I carefully decided not to publicly announce our marriage, aiming for a safe and peaceful environment for everyone. I wanted to shield their lives from unnecessary difficulties. However, no matter what my intentions, Jamal’s predictions came true. Our love and marriage led to the eventual destruction of my life and hindered the lives of my family.

Despite never saying a bad word about the Emirates, and continuing to work for the airlines, back home I faced constant pursuit and investigations. Despite escalations, Jamal did not seek political asylum in America, unwilling to be portrayed as an opposition figure. Instead, he purchased a property in Turkey to enjoy the freedom of movement he gained from a Turkish passport.

The last time Jamal and I entered our home

In September 2018, I met with Jamal in New York for a few days before he departed for Istanbul. We hoped to reunite the first week of October, and if not, we would meet at home on October 20. That reunion never took place. September marked the last time we entered our home together in Washington; the last time I saw him alive.

After my flight to Dubai and a brief nap, I awoke to the news of Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance. His travel itinerary included Istanbul, Berlin, London, and America. He never made it. I stood there in disbelief. Overwhelmed, I could barely stand on my own two feet. A profound void swept over me.

To this day, I cry relentlessly until the muscles in my face ache, constantly gripped by profound sorrow. An onslaught of noise erupted in the media when Jamal disappeared, but I refused to join any campaigns that could exploit him for gain. I was left lacking any sufficient information about his disappearance and death.

In June 2020, I left my life and job behind to seek asylum in the United States. I no longer felt safe in the Middle East. The move marked a turning point. Receiving asylum status signaled the start of a new chapter for me. Yet, my heart and soul yearn for my husband.

I once dreamed of a long life with Jamal. All the problems would end, and we would live peacefully as a family. I dreamed of conversations with my husband by my side. The sense of security and warmth those feelings gave me cannot be replaced.

The word Jamal in Arabic means beauty. He reflected that in so many ways. Jamal believed in democracy, human rights, and women’s rights. He refused to blindly follow extreme opposition against the kingdom and maintained a moderate stance. While I face the consequences of my beautiful life with Jamal, I regret nothing.

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