Leading Saudi editor sacked

Less than two months after taking up the post of editor at the Saudi Arabia newspaper Al-Watan, Jamal Khashoggi was sacked Tuesday for allowing criticism of the religious establishment, say journalists of the daily.

Al Watan increased criticism of
Saudi Arabia’s religous circles
following the 12 May bombings

Khashoggi, one of the kingdom’s most prominent journalists and political analysts, was informed on Tuesday that his services had been terminated with immediate effect.

Sources close to the daily told the AFP news agency that the order to dismiss Khashoggi came after he allowed open criticism of the country’s influential Islamic religious circles.

Criticism increased following the 12 May triple bombings in Riyadh where 34 people were killed. Al-Qaeda was blamed for the attacks.

The information ministry confirmed Khashoggi’s post only last month. Prior to that, he was deputy editor of the English-language Arab News.

Although Saudi dailies are privately owned, they are closely monitored and controlled by the government through the Information Ministry.

In Khashoggi’s short time at the helm of the newspaper, Al-Watan became the mouthpiece of Saudi writers who supported reforms and openness in the conservative kingdom.

Al-Watan recently broke a taboo topic in Saudi Arabia by allowing criticism of the religious police, a government authority monitoring morality in public places and markets.

But the risky actions did not go unnoticed. Khashoggi himself was summoned two days ago to meet with the chief of the religious police chief, Ibrahim al-Ghaith, to discuss reports published in Al-Watan.

Khashoggi is Al-Watan’s second editor to be sacked in a year; Geenan Al Ghamdi was forced to resign in May 2002 for similar reasons. Khashoggi is also the fourth Saudi editor to lose his job in the past 15 months.

Al-Watan was established two and a half years ago in Abha, the capital of the southern province of Assir, and is owned by a group of shareholders headed by the governor of the province, Prince Khaled Al-Faisal Al-Saud.

The daily quickly became one of the liveliest on the news-stands with a refreshing editorial line.

Saudi Arabia has eight Arabic-language dailies, a business daily and three English-language newspapers.

In addition, Saudi-owned Al-Hayat and rival pan-Arab daily As-Sharq Al-Awsat, both published from London, have a wide circulation in the kingdom.