A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Al-‘Arabiya Chief Resigns, Unresigns

The Gulf media has been busy today buzzing about the resignation of the chief of Al-‘Arabiya satellite television following criticism of the founder of Wahhabism and of Saudi Arabia by a guest on one of the network's shows. But he has since withdrawn his resignation after the chairman refused to accept it. Director General Abdul Rahman al-Rashed admitted that "serious errors" were made. Rashed is considered a liberal by Saudi standards, and also writes a column for Al-Sharq al-Awsat, of which he was formerly Editor. Before it was announced that his resignation had not been accepted, there were unconfirmed reports that he had also lost his newspaper column and that other resignations, in sympathy, were forthcoming at Al-‘Arabiya.

Al-‘Arabiya's own account in English is here, but it never cites what the "serious errors" were. Here's a more straightforward backgrounder.

You need to know that although Al-‘Arabiya is based in Dubai, it is owned by a Saudi media empire and funded by the Saudis; it is generally considered to have been founded to offset the influence of Al Jazeera, which the Saudis see as hostile. One of the most influential Saudi Royals, Prince Salman, the Governor of Riyadh, had openly criticized the anti-Wahhabi remarks.

Rashed has a reputation for provocative comments — he has been one of the few Arab editors to urge that the so-called "Ground Zero mosque" not be built — and the subtle jockeying between Saudi liberals and the religious establishment usually remains below the radar. This time the comments (which were not Rashed's own, so far as I can tell), crossed a red line and brought the wrath of the Kingdom down.

He may keep his job after all, but I think he's probably gotten the message. It's a reminder that the satellite channels, however free they seem most of the time, still have their red lines: Al Jazeera doesn't attack the Qatari government and Royal Family, and Al-‘Arabiya, though in Dubai, doesn't criticize the Saudi system. Or had better not.


aron said...

Since this all seems to have been the result of a senior prince stepping in, I imagine it could also be seen in the context of Saudi succession/internal politics. Salman is one of the big names for the throne, after the near-dead Sultan and Naief, and to be seen to publicly stand up for Wahhabi principles can't hurt his chances. Or maybe he had an axe to grind with Rashid or his sponsors, and seized on the opportunity. Or maybe, or maybe, or maybe.

aron said...

Or maybe: