CPJ Special Report, Saudi Arabia May 2006
July 22, 2006 Leave a comment
Al-Watan columnist Adel al-Toraifi witnessed the change overnight. A day before the bombings, al-Toraifi’s editor had spiked a prescient column warning of the threat from religious fanatics who operate openly in the kingdom. Headlined “To Prevent a Saudi Manhattan,” it discussed the looming terrorist threat in Saudi Arabia and said that religious sheikhs were inflaming tensions and promoting extreme interpretations of Islam. The article ended up running prominently on Al-Watan’s opinion page two days after the bombings. “My editor knew it could be published and that I would not be punished for it,” al-Toraifi said.
In the following months, al-Toraifi and other Saudi writers served up daring columns on extremism that obliquely criticized the government for tolerating Islamist fanatics. Newspapers examined how extremists exploited the education system to indoctrinate youths. Commentators scrutinized Wahhabi restrictions on women and what they called hard-liners’ intolerance of other religions’ beliefs.
“It grew to the point where I wrote that the religious establishment continues to be an obstacle to the war on terrorism,” al-Toraifi said.
By Joel Campagna, Joel is a senior program coordinator responsible for the Middle East and North Africa at the Committee to Protect Journalists.