Al-Khazen Says Western Media Over-Reporting Qatif Unrest

Jihad al-Khazen is unhappy about Western media coverage of Saudi Arabia. He says the country is getting more coverage than it deserves. Trying to explain the alleged Western media obsession with Saudi Arabia, al-Khazen writes:

I can perhaps argue that this is because of envy from a wealthy country with limited problems, but one must not underestimate major international news sources as such. What is more proper is to say that they chose to make mountains out of molehills, and overlooked the most important aspects of the issue.

In particular, he does not seem to understand why Western media outlets like the Washington Post would publish “lengthy” articles about Qatif. Shia are a minority in Saudi Arabia, he says, and if one or two of them were killed, what’s the big deal?

“There is no massacre taking place there,” al-Khazen writes, “and the number of those killed in traffic accidents is much more than that.”

He says he is “not writing to justify or downplay the killing, but only to say that the incidents in the Eastern Province are extremely limited in scope.” The Western media must have ulterior motives to report these killings.

Al-Khazen accuses Iran of standing behind the unrest in Qatif. The Saudi government has accused protesters of serving the agenda of foreign parties, but never mentioned Iran by name. He also accuses detained cleric Nemer al-Nemer of “inciting against the regime, and encouraging and supporting armed confrontations.” He goes on to say that he knows the Eastern Province better than “these tourist reporters do,” citing his knowledge of efforts undertaken by the governor and his former deputy, both members of the royal family.

Those who follow the Arab press will probably not be surprised by al-Khazen’s views. The Lebanese columnist does not hide his close ties to the Saudi royal family. The pan-Arab al-Hayat daily where his columns appears is owned by Prince Khaled bin Sultan, the Saudi deputy minister of defense.

Khaled bin Sultan bought the paper in 1988 from the Lebanese Mrowa family who founded it in the late 1940s. “Its ownership by Prince Khalid has meant that the paper treads softly when it comes to disquieting news about Saudi Arabia,” the New York Times reported in January 1997.

Last year al-Khazen pulled an article because it was said to threaten the political future of Prince Khaled. The article about the first Muslim caliphs led to a backlash by Saudi conservatives and reportedly prompted some readers to end their subscription to the newspaper.

But let’s go back to al-Khazen’s most recent column, where he claims that the Qatif unrest story is being over-reported by Western media. The unrest there has been ongoing for over 18 months now. 15 people has been reported dead since March 2011. Has it been over-reported?

A search in the LexisNexis database for stories on Qatif returns a total of 55 articles from the past 12 months in US, UK, Canadian and Australian media.

Another important factor to consider here is access. How often are foreign journalists allowed to visit Qatif and report on the ground from there? Based on conversations with journalists covering the region, not very often. Actually, several correspondents for major international outlets have been kicked out of the country because of their reporting on Qatif.

Toby Matthiesen, a research fellow in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at Pembroke College, University of Cambridge, called the unrest in eastern Saudi Arabia “the Middle East’s most under-reported conflict.”

So, just out of curiosity: when was the last time Jihad al-Khazen visited the Eastern Province? How recently did he speak to the people there? Probably al-Hayat should ask him to visit Qatif as, you know, a journalist, not a tourist or a guest of their royal highnesses.