July 30, 2006


First Saudi tabloid survives closure and arrest (Andrew Hammond, July 24, 2006, Reuters)

The fact that he still has a newspaper to edit is proof enough to Khalaf Alharbi that the ceiling of freedom in ultraconservative Saudi Arabia is rising.

His mischievous tabloid Shams, Arabic for Sun, has endured suspension, the arrest of one of its journalists and the carping of Islamist hard-liners who say it embodies the Westernized future they fear Saudi Arabia will face if liberals get their way.

But with a daily print-run of nearly 70,000, and recent permission to print inside the oil-producing kingdom instead of in neighboring Bahrain, Alharbi says the paper for young people aims to set a new standard after its first turbulent six months. [...]

Saudi Arabia is one of the world's most conservative societies, an absolute monarchy which governs through a strict interpretation of sharia, Islamic law. When King Abdullah came to power last year, he promised progress on a range of political, social and economic reforms.

The appearance of Saudi Arabia's first tabloid last December has been seen as another sign of slow, but inevitable, change.

The paper has published sensational features about forced marriage for young girls, premarital relationships, unemployment among women, an official ban on school sports for girls and arbitrary detention by police.

And it managed to survive its most daring act of all -- publishing some of the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad that provoked a global outcry among Muslims earlier this year.

The paper was shut down after running the caricatures, but the Ministry of Information, seen as a progressive force in Saudi Arabia under Minister Iyad Madani, allowed it to return a few weeks later, under its new editor Alharbi, a short-story author who had previously written in Gulf newspapers.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 30, 2006 11:16 AM

But it probably will be a while before you see Alharbi's tabloid following the Rupert Murdoch success foumla and running a headline like "Headless Body In Topless Bar" on their front page.

Posted by: John at July 30, 2006 11:28 AM

What's inevitable other than death and taxes?

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford,Ct. at July 30, 2006 11:51 AM