RIYADH — A prominent Saudi journalist is being censored in his home country after speaking critically about President-elect Donald Trump in the media and at a Washington think tank.
Shocked to hear that my former colleague Jamal Khashoggi has been banned from writing. His was a reasoned voice. #saudi
— Rasheed Abou-Alsamh (@RasheedsWorld) December 5, 2016
“Saudi authorities banned journalist Jamal Khashoggi from writing in newspapers, appearing on TV and attending conferences,” Middle East Eye reported on Monday, citing reports from Arabic-language news sources.
“Khashoggi is a well-established Saudi writer and journalist. He has extensive political and media experience and held the position of editor in chief of a number of Saudi newspapers, including the Arab Times and Al-Watan,” the report continued.
Saudi government officials have been generally optimistic about the prospects of a Trump presidency for their country and the region. “We are closer to Republicans psychologically,” Abdullah al-Shamri, a former Saudi diplomat, told The Washington Post on Nov. 15.
But in the same report, Khashoggi dismissed hopes that Trump would bring increased stability to the Middle East as “wishful thinking,” in part due to Trump’s plans to normalize relations with Russia.
“When his advisers show him the map, will he realize supporting Putin means supporting the Iranian agenda? And this is what Saudi Arabia is concerned about, to stop Iranian hegemony,” he told the Post.
On Nov. 10, Khashoggi appeared at a policy forum at The Washington Institute, where he called Trump’s Middle East policy “contradictory” because the president-elect opposes Iran while supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad, an ally of Iran.
“Saudi Arabia should be ready for some surprises, likely in the form of negative rhetoric from the Trump administration,” Khashoggi reportedly said, according to a summary of his remarks published by Breaking Energy.
The Saudi government has been sharply critical of the Iran deal and the subsequently improved relationship between Tehran and Washington, as any improvement to Iran’s economy is seen as a threat to Saudi domination and control of the Middle East. Russia, meanwhile, has supported Iran for decades as a way to reduce the influence of Washington and its allies in the Middle East.
Even before the ban was enacted on Khashoggi working as a journalist, his remarks had already put the Saudi government on the defensive.
“The author Jamal Khashoggi does not represent the government of Saudi Arabia or its positions at any level, and … his opinions only represent his personal views not that of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” said an anonymous Saudi official in a statement to the Saudi Press Agency quoted by Middle East Eye.
The Middle East Eye also noted that Khashoggi’s column in Al Hayat, a regular feature for the past five years, was absent from this week’s edition and that Khashoggi hasn’t tweeted since Nov. 18.
Saudi Arabia remains a vital ally of the United States in the Middle East, and a key member of the U.N. Human Rights Council despite an appalling human rights record that includes the execution of dissidents and LGBT people.
Reporters Without Borders ranked Saudi Arabia 165 out of 178 countries in their 2016 Press Freedom Index. “There are no really free media in Saudi Arabia and all journalists censor themselves,” reported the NGO.
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