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Leading Saudi Critic of Ground Zero Mosque Fired from Newspaper, Television (Updated)

7:18 AM, Sep 20, 2010 • By IRFAN AL-ALAWI and STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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The Egyptian newspaper noted that Al-Rashid’s colleagues at Al-Arabiyya television have expressed their solidarity with him and may resign in protest. Under the rule of Saudi King Abdullah, who has sought political reform in the country, restrictions on media have been relaxed, women have been employed as television hosts and commentators, and new, Western-style programs have been introduced.  The media is therefore a major battleground between the king and his opponents in determining the destiny of Saudi Arabia. Whether for his forthright opposition to the Ground Zero mosque, or for his satellite network’s criticism of Wahhabism, Al-Rashid may be a casualty, at least temporarily, in the collision of the past and future in the kingdom. 

UPDATE (September 21, 2010): According to sources inside the Saudi-owned and Dubai-based Al-Arabiyya satellite television channel, the resignation of general manager Abdul Rahman al-Rashid has not been accepted, and al-Rashid continues in his post.  The news site, quoted Sheikh Waleed Bin Ibrahim Al-Ibrahim, head of Al-Arabiyya’s owner, MBC Group, saying he would comment further on the matter when he returns from a trip abroad and that “if he decides to retain, or resign, his current administrative role in Al-Arabiyya, I would like to confirm that al-Rashid will remain a prominent part the MBC group for any position he holds, both in the present and the future.”  Al-Rashid himself told the Arab daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat that he “will remain with MBC group in any appropriate capacity.  Accordingly, I am postponing my resignation for the time being, to have more time to think, ponder, and work.”

In the same report, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat’s editor-in-chief, Tariq Alhomayed, “clarified” that al-Rashid had not been dismissed from writing for the daily, but “himself had taken the decision to stop sending articles to the newspaper.” This morning, however, a column by al-Rashid was published by Al-Sharq Al-Awsat.

Irfan al-Alawi is executive director of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, based in the UK. Stephen Schwartz is a frequent contributor. 

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