Analysis

Saudi Arabia, Reeling From Khashoggi Scandal, Battles a New Front: Arab Media

Qatari network Al Jazeera is providing the color and the harsh analysis that is roiling the Saudi royals

The Khashoggi case being reported by Al Jazeera.
Screenshot from Jelena Glusac's Twitter.

Over the past two weeks, the nightly news on Al Jazeera has become a fount of reports on the Khashoggi affair. Evidently the Turkish authorities have chosen to use the Qatari network to dribble out new sensational bits of information daily.

Al Jazeera was the first to show pictures of the killers who dismembered Khashoggi’s body; it knew how they arrived and what they did; it reported on the Saudi consul’s actions in the room and that Khashoggi was injected with a drug to stop him from screaming in pain. It almost seems that the network’s correspondent in Turkey was present at the scene when it all happened.

While the Turkish government maintains proper restraint, stating that it is cooperating with the Saudi authorities or announcing that an investigation has been launched, Al Jazeera is providing the color and the harsh analysis that is roiling the Saudi royals.

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The Saudi regime, which controls most of the major Arabic-language media outlets, has no answer for the narrative being laid out in the Al Jazeera reports. All it and its allies can do is attack the network and its owners.

“Qatar crossed all boundaries and its rulers crossed every red line as Doha ignores the demands of the Qatari people and the country’s internal problems and has instead become a puppet in the hands of Iran, the Zionists, the world regime and the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood. All of these are using it as a tool to achieve their desires… and to minimize the central diplomatic and security role played by Saudi Arabia for the benefit of the Arab nation and regional stability,” Egyptian journalist Dina al-Husseini wrote in the Youm7 newspaper.

Al-Husseini is best known for two particular moments in her journalistic career: One when she began her interview with deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak by saying “I love you and I’m crazy about you,” and then congratulated him on his recent vindication in court on corruption charges; and the other when she posed as a doctor and went undercover in Cairo’s Qasr Elyni Hospital to report on the corruption and chaos there.

Al-Husseini is certain she knows who is funding the propaganda campaign designed to blacken the name of Egypt’s close friend, Saudi Arabia, and who is profiting from Saudi Arabia’s humiliation. And it is equally clear whom Al-Husseini got her talking points from and who is dictating the media narrative in some of the Arab papers.

Under the headline “The Ugly Arab,” Saudi publicist Saud Al Rayes wrote a scathing indictment of the Arab journalists and media outlets, chiefly Al Jazeera, charging that they are hurting the Saudi kingdom while disregarding the fact that in so doing they are hurting the entire Muslim world. But Al Jazeera is not the only target in Al Rayes’ sights.

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A man holds Yeni Safak newspaper with a headline that reads " (To the Saudi consul) Shut up " in Ankara, October 17, 2018.
Burhan Ozbilici,AP

Muslim Turkey, which joined ranks with Qatar and thereby put itself on a collision course with Saudi Arabia, has also become an enemy: “Right now it seems that the Turkish state prosecutor is working as an emissary of Al Jazeera in Turkey,” Al Rayes wrote. And what about the Western media that have “ganged up” on Saudi Arabia?

Western media 

“The West doesn’t care if the controversial reports are correct or not as long as they can be used to accuse the Arabs and Muslims of savagery and barbarity.” Al Rayes also has a warning for his readers: “Saudi Arabia will overcome this crisis and come out of it stronger than before… And mark my words… What comes after the Khashoggi affair will be nothing like what came before.” Whoever needs to be wary of the Saudi crown prince’s expected revenge is quite well aware of that. The message couldn’t be any clearer.

The American media had been quite fond of the Saudi crown prince before the incident.

Last year, Thomas Friedman wrote in The New York Times that the crown prince was leading the true Arab Spring, but this week he said, “I do not believe for a second that it was a rogue operation and that Saudi Arabia’s effective ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is very hands-on, had no prior knowledge, if not more.”

It’s unlikely that the American press will be treated to an interview with the crown prince anytime soon, but that doesn’t matter right now. The damage to the crown prince’s “good” name goes far beyond how he is perceived in Western media.

Judging by the critical articles that have been written against his detractors, the problem is Saudi Arabia’s standing vis-à-vis Qatar and the harm done to “the Arab world” and “the Muslim world” by the stain that has been collectively imposed on them.

The Arab media paradox is that the need to defend Saudi Arabia’s reputation as the protector of Arabs and Muslims is making it seem like a collective offense against them is being committed akin to a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed that requires them all to wage a holy war against the offenders.

An equally big problem is the message that Arab press outlets and human rights activists in Arab countries are getting from the West's reactions. If world leaders, especially the president of the United States, accept the farfetched story that says Jamal Khashoggi died in the course of a brawl in the consulate and are satisfied with just seeing some of bin Salman’s top aides dismissed (though they are sure to be shifted to other top posts), it will deal another serious blow to those media outlets that still dare to criticize their countries’ governments.

For just as bin Salman has now come to symbolize the Arab victim who is attacked by a Western-Turkish-Iranian-Israeli coalition of evil, Jamal Khashoggi has come to stand for a critical press and human rights activism. The victor in this symbolic war will determine the standing of his adherents.

Jamal Khashoggi at a news conference in Manama, Bahrain. Dec. 15, 2014.
Hasan Jamali,AP