Kingdom of contrasts

My latest New Matilda… column discusses the new realities of Saudi Arabia:

Watching State-run television one night in Riyadh, I was struck by a one-hour talk show called On the Chess Board. The topic was the recent announcement of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s appointment as Middle East envoy for the quartet of US, UN, EU and Russia — Independent (UK) correspondent Robert Fisk has already expressed appropriate cynicism towards the news. Although the program was fairly amateurish in terms of aesthetics and delivery — and criticism of the Saudi regime was non-existent — the debate went far deeper than most equivalent programs in the West.

Video reports from London, Baghdad and Ramallah gauged public opinion on the Blair job, followed by interviews with analysts in London, Baghdad and East Jerusalem. There was rational discussion about Israel, its occupation of Palestinian land, Palestinian failings, the 2006 Lebanon War and the Iraq debacle. Although the mustachioed host concluded by saying that Blair ”˜should be given the benefit of the doubt”˜ in his new role, there was no overt demonisation of Israel. Zionism was certainly slammed, as were Blair’s lies over Iraq’s non-existent WMDs, but a variety of views were canvassed. Arab satellite channels like Al-Jazeera have undoubtedly changed the equation; viewers now simply expect more from their news programs.

My New Matilda archive is here.

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