Protesting against governments for human rights violations, illegal acts, war and other non-socially redeeming behavior can take many forms. Washington, like many nations’ capitals, is no exception when it comes to shaming governments, including our own, for their outrageous, illegal and immoral behavior.
Being creative with bringing a public protest has always been a challenge for any number of reasons. Massive rallies of those wishing to have their voices heard is one form. Being able to place and make permanent a form of protest is the stuff dreams are made of in any aggrieved society as a matter of keeping their issue alive in the public sphere.
In many regimes, demonstrators and activists are beaten, shot and jailed thus placing the incentive to criticize the government beyond the best interests of citizens concerned for their own personal safety. Luckily, in a democracy many forms of protest are tolerated by law and, while they may not be to the government’s liking, are allowed to proceed.
One ongoing protest that has recently taken on a new dimension of permanence is the renaming of New Hampshire Avenue NW that runs directly in front of the Saudi Embassy. Since the brutal 2018 murder and dismemberment of the Saudi American journalist at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, activists here have been honoring his memory through various means.
Initially, activist Claude Taylor and his group, Mad Dog Pac, began by manufacturing official street signs renaming streets by temporarily placing them at strategic locations as a form of protest. Along with the Saudi Embassy, the signs were erected at St John’ Church across from the White House at Lafayette Park, in Georgetown along the busy M Street corridor, and, fittingly, near the then home of Jared Kushner, a good friend of MBS.
And so, it was fitting that on June 15th a month before Biden’s Middle East trip a dedication ceremony was held to permanently rename the street in front of the embassy. Adding to the ceremony was the presence of several VIPs including, DC Councilwoman Brooke Pinto, Nobel Prize Winner Tawakkol Karman, and Executive Director of the Council on American–Islamic Relation (CAIR) Nihad Awad.
The placement of the sign on the street light post at the entrance of the embassy makes it impossible to enter or leave the building without passing it by, while for those working in the building and looking out of any of several windows the sign also acts as a constant reminder of Khashoggi’s terrible fate. The murder that was initially condemned worldwide has taken on a less important role for many countries as time has passed along with recent suspension of the case in Turkey and its transfer to Saudi Arabia.
Biden, who during his campaign promised to make the kingdom a “pariah,” has lost his initial enthusiasm to do so when faced with the reality of higher worldwide gasoline prices along with the reality that we live in a fossil fuel-based world along with new calculations in keeping good international relations with the Saudis.
His initial statement was based on intelligence reports he released in which the crown prince was named as having authorized the team of Saudi security and intelligence officials that killed Khashoggi. Many activists feel betrayed for him not sticking to his promise. It remains to be seen if he even broches the subject during his planned visit.
According to an OpEd by Biden in today’s Washington Post titled, “Why I’m Going to Saudi Arabia” Biden stated that, “In Saudi Arabia, we reversed the blank-check policy we inherited. I released the intelligence community’s report on the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, issued new sanctions, including on the Saudi Arabia’s Rapid Intervention Force involved in his killing, and issued 76 visa bans under a new rule barring entry into the United States for anyone found to be involved in harassing dissidents abroad… I know that there are many who disagree with my decision to travel to Saudi Arabia. My views on human rights are clear and long-standing, and fundamental freedoms are always on the agenda when I travel abroad, as they will be during this trip, just as they will be in Israel and the West Bank.”
(This article has previously appeared Nuzeink.)
Phil Pasquini is a freelance journalist and photographer. His reports and photographs appear in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Pakistan Link and Nuze.ink. He is the author of Domes, Arches and Minarets: A History of Islamic-Inspired Buildings in America.