Top Saudi Editor Fired After Publishing Critical Articles

The founding editor of Saudi Arabia’s newest daily newspaper was fired Tuesday according to local media reports. Qenan al-Ghamdi, a veteran journalist who has previously held the top editor post at two other Saudi dailies, was fired from his job as editor-in-chief of al-Sharq, the Dammam-based newspaper he helped to start less than 15 months ago. The decision to fire al-Ghamdi was made by the company’s board who appointed Jasser al-Jasser to replace him.

The decision to fire al-Ghamdi came on the same day on which he published an article criticizing Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, accusing them of plotting to destabilize the Kingdom. In Saudi Arabia, top editors of national newspapers must be approved by the government. But the Ministry of Culture and Information has denied that they have ordered the sacking of al-Ghamdi. “The Ministry has nothing to do with this decision,” Minister Abdulaziz Khoja told Sabq. “This is an internal decision made by the board of al-Sharq.”

After the announcement of his firing, al-Ghamdi used Twitter to bid farewell to the newspaper. “Goodbye beloved al-Sharq,” he wrote. “Hello to the already written future.”

It is unclear why al-Ghamdi was fired, but many on the social network said it was strange considering many recent staunchly pro-government articles that he penned in the newspaper. “I can understand firing someone who is against the government or against the religious conservatives,” Saudi journalist Ahmed Adnan said on Twitter. “But I can never understand firing someone who is pro-government.”

While it is true that most of al-Ghamdi’s own recent articles have been written in defense of the government, its policies and officials, it is important to note that many columnists in the newspaper have taken the opposite direction and used their columns to scathingly criticize the government. These columns probably were not as critical as some of the stuff you can find online, but they were stronger than what is usual in the local newspapers.

Blogger Fouad al-Farhan, who led the team that built al-Sharq website before leaving the newspaper few months ago, said on Twitter that it was these outspoken critical articles by columnists like Abdulaza al-Dekhayel and Abdullah al-Fowzan that resulted in the sacking of top editor. Al-Farhan explained that Qenan al-Ghamdi’s strategy was to write strongly pro-government pieces in order to allow his columnists to write daring columns criticizing the government. That strategy did not work. Al-Ghamdi was questioned several times by the government over these critical columns.

“Firing Qenan al-Ghamdi was a matter of time,” al-Farhan said.

Another confirmation of this theory comes from Ali Makki, a columnist in the paper who said that a “senior source familiar with the matter” has told him that the reason behind the sacking is this article by Abdulaziz al-Dekhayel that was published yesterday. In the article, al-Dekhayel paints a grim image of Saudi Arabia’s uncertain future due to the abnormality of our present.