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Times have certainly changed in Saudi Arabia comments ()

By Tod Robberson / Editorial Writer 5:38 pm on October 9, 2012 | Permalink Back in 1980, when I served briefly and disastrously as sports and economy editor of Arab News in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, there was one very clear rule about what could be published in our daily English-language paper: the word “Israel.” If we, the largely American, British, Lebanese and Egyptian editors, didn’t delete or alter the word in our copy, the top editor would do it for us. And he would almost always change it to read: “the Zionist entity.” Across town at the Saudi Gazette, the same rule applied, so it was safe to say that the edict had come down from the royal family that Israel was not to be acknowledged or recognized in print in any way. Saudi Arabia at the time was a close friend of PLO leader Yasser Arafat. It was trying hard to acquire AWACS planes from the United States. And Israel was working hard to thwart the AWACS deal and label Arafat a terrorist at every turn. My, what a difference 32 years can make. Saudi Arabia and Israel still don’t have diplomatic relations, but their regional interests have converged to the point that, even if their leaders don’t say a word to each other publicly, they are almost in compete sync when it comes to their position on the threat from Iran. There are still points of stark disagreement. But at least there’s a conversation going on. And the best example of how much things have changed is a column that ran in Arab News Saturday by Abdulateef al-Mulhim calling on the Arab world to stop obsessing on Israel as the enemy. “The common thing among all what I saw is that the destruction and the atrocities are not done by an outside enemy. The starvation, the killings and the destruction in these Arab countries are done by the same hands that are supposed to protect and build the unity of these countries and safeguard the people of these countries. So, the question now is that who is the real enemy of the Arab world?” al-Mulhim writes. “The Arab world wasted hundreds of billions of dollars and lost tens of thousands of innocent lives fighting Israel, which they considered is their sworn enemy, an enemy whose existence they never recognized. The Arab world has many enemies and Israel should have been at the bottom of the list. The real enemies of the Arab world are corruption, lack of good education, lack of good health care, lack of freedom, lack of respect for the human lives and finally, the Arab world had many dictators who used the ArabIsraeli conflict to suppress their own people.” He notes all of the attention Arab leaders paid in the past to the abuses of Israeli occupation troops in the West Bank and, formerly, in Gaza. But he correctly notes the kinds of abuses those same leaders and their

successors have inflicted on their own people across the Arab world. Witness, for example, the destruction and death Bashar al-Assad continues to rain down on the Syrian people. Al-Mulhim comes to a bit of a strange conclusion, apparently reasoning that because the Arab Spring hasn’t spread to the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinians must be better off than their Arab brothers: “The Arab Spring showed the world that the Palestinians are happier and in better situation than their Arab brothers who fought to liberate them from the Israelis. Now, it is time to stop the hatred and wars and start to create better living conditions for the future Arab generations.” We can argue about that last part. I don’t think many Palestinians would describe themselves as “happy” under Israeli occupation. But what’s truly notable is that this column ran in a Saudi Arabian newspaper. Back in my day there, this would have been treated as blasphemy. The newspaper would’ve been closed for three days or a week, and the author would find himself on the next flight out of the country. For Saudi Arabia, that’s a significant step forward.

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