The son of a jailed Saudi academic sent a letter to Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia (CAS ’79, GRD ’95) last Monday imploring the university to advocate for his father’s release.
Abdulaziz Al-Dukheil was disappeared by Saudi security forces last spring during the month of Ramadan for paying tribute to a deceased Saudi human rights activist. Al-Dukheil taught a class on the political economy of the Gulf region at Georgetown in 1992, according to officials from the School of Foreign Service Department of Faculty Affairs.
“I request your assistance as the President of Georgetown University,” Al-Dukheil’s son, Abdulhakim Al-Dukheil, wrote in the letter, which he shared with The Hoya. “Your intervention in this humanitarian case may help my father come home to his family.”
Al-Dukheil had paid tribute to the late Abdullah Al-Hamid, a vocal Saudi dissident and human rights advocate who prodded for reform in the kingdom for decades.
Al-Dukheil was one of several Saudi writers and academics who was arrested by state security forces for eulogizing the late activist. Such arrests had, by this time, become commonplace in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman — whom Al-Dukheil’s son described to The Hoya as a “baby” — launched a bloody, relentless campaign to crush dissent in his realm in 2016.
Al-Hamid’s demands for change landed him in jail several times over the course of his lifetime. The Saudi reformer died in a Saudi prison last April, languishing in his cell for weeks after suffering a stroke and receiving inadequate medical attention, according to news reports.
“Dr. Abdullah Al-Hamid, the man who was devoted to his homeland and to high values, morals and sincere citizenship, has passed on to his God,” Al-Dukheil wrote in the tweet that supposedly triggered his arrest. “But he did not leave the hearts of the faithful to the homeland of the believers, by providing advice without fear or shame, and without vested interest. May God have mercy on you, Abu Bilal.”
Al-Dukheil dedicated much of his 45-year career to enriching the Saudi regime. He served as the kingdom’s deputy finance minister in the 1970s, though Al-Dukheil’s son said his father quickly grew disenchanted with work at the ministry, which he believed was rife with corruption and malpractice. He later headed the Saudi Investment Bank in 1982 and vouched for the country’s economic interests at a number of international economic summits.
In 1979, Al-Dukheil established Aldukheil Financial Group, a financial advisory company that went on to advise some of Saudi Arabia’s biggest corporations, like petrochemical giant Aramco.
Al-Dukheil later dedicated himself to academia, going on to teach at several prominent universities across the globe, including Oxford University, the American University of Beirut, and Georgetown, according to Al-Dukheil’s bio on his company’s website. He also penned a number of books about the Saudi economy, including a book titled “Saudi Government Revenues and Expenditures: A Financial Crisis in the Making.”
Indeed, his son said, Al-Dukheil became a somewhat outspoken critic of the government he once served. He openly criticized government corruption in his books and his lectures, warning of the dangers of economic inequality in the kingdom and urging the government to wean off oil.
Al-Dukheil’s criticisms landed him in jail once before; his son said he was imprisoned for two years in 2015 for criticizing government economic policy during a lecture.
Al-Dukheil’s son said he has not been able to contact his father since his latest arrest.
“I don’t know what he’s doing now — is he eating? Is he sick? Is he sleeping?” he said. “I cannot call him.”
Abdulhakim Al-Dukheil is currently residing outside Saudi Arabia, away from much of his immediate family. He is afraid, he confessed, that the Saudi government will harm him and his other family members for advocating for his father’s release.
“If he wakes up in the morning and doesn’t drink good coffee, he’ll say ‘this guy dies,’” he said.
But, as the anniversary of his father’s detention approaches, Abdulhakim Al-Dukheil is confronting fears of retribution to campaign publicly for his release; after months of relative quiet, the urge to speak publicly about his father’s detention became overpowering.
“My father is everything in my life,” he said.
He has already taken to Twitter, circulating videos advocating for his father’s release and bashing Saudi government cruelty. He has published op-eds through large media outlets like USA Today in an attempt to drum up the sympathy of the American public. He is now requesting help from the institutions his father once served.
Georgetown did not respond to questions about whether it intended to help advocate for Al-Dukheil’s freedom.
When asked what he plans to do next in his campaign to free his father, Abdulhakim Al-Dukheil responded, “Anything.”