A close look at the rapidly transforming Arab media landscape reveals three parallel paradoxes.

First, Jamal Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi Consulate by the Saudi State, far from intimidating, has simply emboldened those who challenge existing autocratic Arab regimes.

Second, the voices of opposition are becoming louder, despite the heightened levels of repression practiced by Arab autocracies. 

Third, increased awareness about the poor human rights and press freedom records in this region has not translated into better accountability mechanisms or improved protection measures for critics of the regimes. 

The First Paradox: Silencing Jamal Has Amplified Voices of Opposition 

The gruesome and barbaric manner in which Jamal’s murder was executed, shocked the world with its unprecedented cruelty and strange circumstances, sending a chilling message to actual and potential regime critics, both inside and outside the Arab World. The intended message, however, was to silence any opposition or risk facing the same destiny as Jamal’s. 

In fact, it had precisely the opposite result, especially among the critics in self-imposed exile from various Arab regimes. Many of  them have taken up the banner of exposing the corruption and human rights violations of their dictatorial regimes, at high risk to themselves and their families.

After Khashoggi’s murder, it became evident that many of the Arab regimes’ opponents, especially those in exile, are becoming less afraid and more vocal, sending a strong message to their Arab rulers that Jamal may be dead, but his message of promoting reform, justice, democracy, and human rights is not. 

One good example is the bold and daring young Saudi regime critic Omar Abdulaziz, who, after he was shaken by the death of his friend, intensified his attacks on the Saudi regime, especially Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman (MbS), demanding justice and asking for accountability

In some of his tweets and vlogs on social media, Omar told the world how his own family was under threat inside Saudi Arabia and the intimidation that he and his family and friends are facing from the regime. However, he also assured his followers and fans that he was not afraid or intimidated. Rather, he emphasized his commitment to complete the same journey which his friend Jamal had started.

Equally bold messages came from young Saudi women activists, who also weaponized social media and used them as their battlefields, while launching their attacks on the Saudi regime which had adopted, under MbS, the double standards of claiming to promote women’s rights, on the one hand, while jailing Saudi women activists calling for these rights, on the other.

The combined power of youth activism with technological savviness, a phenomenon often referred to as “cyber-activism,”  raise awareness about regimes’ corruption and malpractices, while cross-cutting the boundaries of gender and geography. 

These two examples illustrate the power of combining youth activism with technological savviness, a phenomenon often referred to as “cyberactivism,” to raise awareness about regimes’ corruption and malpractices, while cross-cutting the boundaries of gender and geography. 

This is especially applicable in the case of Saudi Arabia, a country which ranks fourth in terms of the number of tweeters worldwide, and where the youth constitutes almost 60% of the population

The Second Paradox: Increased Opposition and Heightened Repression   

Paradoxical also is the increase in these oppositional voices and activities, despite heightened levels of repression in the Arab regimes

Egyptian whistle-blower, 45 year-old actor and contractor Mohamed Ali, emerged and boldly exposed the corruption of those in power in Egypt, including high ranking members of the military establishment, in addition to the Egyptian president himself who admitted to building many luxurious presidential palaces, while his country’s national debt tripled during his rule.

Using social media platforms, such as Twitter and Vlogs, just like his Saudi counterparts, Ali was able to help Egyptians break the barrier of fear, which many thought was unbreakable, or even unthinkable.

His calls for street mobilization, coming from his self-imposed exile in Spain, triggered protests on the streets in various cities in Egypt in September, 2019, which were described in Western media as shocking and rare

However, the Egyptian regime was not taken by surprise this time. It had learned its lessons from the 2011 revolution. It not only cracked down immediately on the protesters, arresting over 3,000 people, it also started searching people’s cell phones on the streets for the very first time, in an effort to curb political activism using social media. 

Just as the activists and regime opponents are  improving their learning curves and sharpening their resistance tools, the regimes are also learning and catching up.

Just as the activists and regime opponents are  improving their learning curves and sharpening their resistance tools, the regimes are also learning and catching up in parallel, leading to ongoing “cyberwars” in the region.

In spite of these measures, the calls for protests are still continuing and Egyptians have escalated their sarcasm, mockery, and political humor in many social media platforms.

The same could be said about other Arab countries, such as Sudan and Algeria, which also have witnessed varying levels of protest recently against their autocratic regimes, and where social media were effectively deployed, despite governmental repression.  

Hence, the escalating tide of Arab dissent is continuing in defiance of the efforts of some of the regimes, such as Egypt, which witnessed the Arab Spring uprisings, to avoid a repetition. At the same time, autocracies which did not experience these uprisings, such as Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, are implementing new strategies to silence dissent everywhere, not just in their countries, out of fear of such uprisings. 

The Third Paradox: More Awareness and Less Accountability 

The third unintended result is an increase in the level of awareness around the World of Arab regimes’ brutality and their crackdowns on journalists, critics, and opponents, as documented in reports by organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists, Freedom House, and Reporters Without Borders.

Ironically, along with this increased general awareness, there is a decreased level of  accountability and an absence of needed protections for those who are risking their lives by exposing their regimes’ wrongdoings. 

For all the reports uncovering shocking facts about various Arab governments’ abuses and violations of human rights, including large scale arrests and killings of journalists and opponents, very little action has been taken by the international community to stop this alarming pattern, as Khashoggi’s case sadly illustrates.

Despite “high confidence” reports from the CIA confirming the intelligence community’s belief that MbS had ordered the hideous crime, later affirmed by the UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, President Trump and his administration failed to take any action against him, putting financial interests above moral authority, and sending a chilling message to regime critics everywhere that they would not be rescued in similar situations.

This overview of the Arab media landscape post Khashoggi reveals the power of continuing opposition efforts, in the face of the Arab regimes’ repressive measures and intimidating strategies and the deafening international silence about these measures. 

It is safe to predict that since young people constitute more than half of the Arab World’s population, and younger generations are always the agents of change, the more technologically-savvy, and action-oriented segments of any society, the tidal change demanding reform and seeking transformation will continue to spread in the region, regardless of escalating repressionor possibly because of it.

As these regimes crackdown harder on their opponents, their targets will be even more emboldened, and their voices will be further amplified. In other words, each action is likely to trigger an even greater reaction on both sides.

As these regimes crackdown harder on their opponents, their targets will be even more emboldened, and their voices will be further amplified. In other words, each action is likely to trigger an even greater reaction on both sides.

The legacy of Jamal’s everlasting message is living proof!