"His Royal Highness begins course of physiotherapy," screamed a hard-hitting Saudi newspaper from its front page on Monday, the day WikiLeaks grabbed world attention with a huge dump of classified files. And not without good cause: WikiLeaks may have slipped a firecracker under the seat of the U.S. government but King Abdullah had, after all, slipped a disc.
Doubtless, too, the editor knew what he was doing when he gave second place to the diplomatic dialogue between Egypt and Tehran. But when the nation's foremost paper has no place on its pages for a story that has not only captivated the world but has Saudi Arabia at its center, something is awry. Editorial error, perhaps? But take a look at the Saudi-owned al-Hayat. Here, too, little sign of WikiLeaks. A couple of short paragraphs fail to mention what is perhaps the central revelation, that Saudi Arabia asked America to bomb Iran.
Al-Hayat goes to press earlier than many international competitors, so maybe editors simply ran out of time. But as the paper's homepage continued to update on Monday with other WikiLeaks stories – that Iran's Supreme Leader has cancer, for example – still not a word on Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi-owned broadcaster Al-Arabiyah little different. Lots on the assassination of an Iranian scientist, of course, and even a little on WikiLeaks and Israel. But nothing on Saudi Arabia.
Arabic-speaking readers were forced instead to turn to Iran, where Arabic websites such as al-Aalam and al-Wipak spared no detail – not only on Saudi Arabia but on the revelations of the United Arab Emirates' fears over Iran, also glaringly absent from Saudi reports.
But search Iranian websites in Persian – spoken by the vast majority of Iranians – and a familiar pattern emerges. Blow-by-blow coverage of Ayatollah Khamenei's meeting with the Lebanese prime minister. But WikiLeaks and the calls to bomb Iran? Not a sniff.
Across the region, there was much of the same. Egyptians were treated to speculation on their deplorably predictable election, while Lebanon's papers, as ever, gave pride of place to Hassan Nasrallah.
The Hezbollah leader is threatening to call up a storm over investigations into the murder of Rafik Hariri. An indictment could send the entire region up in flames. But if panic breaks out in Riyadh or Damascus, expect to hear about it from Wikileaks first – and the Arab press last.
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