On [Nov. 15] I went to a news conference at the National Press Club, where I am a member, titled “His Royal Highness Prince Turki al-Faisal al-Sa’ud of Saudi Arabia.” I asked a tough question at the news conference — a question that dealt with the very legitimacy of the Saudi regime. Before the end of the day, I’d received a letter informing me that I was suspended from the National Press Club “due to your conduct at a news conference.” The letter, signed by the executive director of the Club, William McCarren, accused me of violating rules prohibiting “boisterous and unseemly conduct or language.” After several days of efforts, I’ve been able to obtain video of the news conference. The video shows that I did not engage in any “boisterous and unseemly conduct or language.”
Saudi Arabia has basically been a center of counter-revolution in Arabic countries. The Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, as did the Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh for a time. The Saudi regime reportedly tried to prevent the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak from stepping down. Saudi Arabia moved into Bahrain to stop a democratic uprising there. And of course it oppresses its own people, maintaining control through a combination of intimidation and in effect buying off much of the population. When major protests were attempted earlier this year, they were quickly put down and garnished little attention from most media. The Saudi regime arguably represents one of the narrowest of elites — it is not the 1%, it is perhaps the global 0.001% — and with hardly a pretense of merit. The Saudi regime continues to get weapons from the U.S. — see: “U.S. announces $60 billion arms sale for Saudi Arabia,” further preventing the possibility of peaceful change.
Prior to the event, I skimmed some material from Human Rights Watch on Saudi Arabia: “Saudi Arabia: Stop Arbitrary Arrests of Shia,” “Saudi Arabia: Free Islamic Scholar Who Criticized Ministry,” “Saudi Arabia: Women to Vote, Join Shura Council — But Reforms Exclude Other Forms of Discrimination.”
Toby Jones (Rutgers University, author of Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia) recently wrote of Saudi Arabia: “the absence of public protest has little to do with the legitimacy of the ruling family, the uncertain popularity of an aged autocrat or the purported conservative nature of Saudi society. Many Saudis, whether pious or not, harbor deep frustrations with the country’s rulers. They share the same grievances about injustice, oppression and stifling corruption that have mobilized protesters elsewhere.” See also Madawi Al Rasheed “Yes, It Could Happen Here: Why Saudi Arabia is Ripe for Revolution” and Christopher M. Davidson “Lords of the Realm: The wealthy, unaccountable monarchs of the Persian Gulf have long thought themselves exempt from Middle East turmoil. No longer.”
In the course of his over 30 minutes of remarks, Turki took issue with the term the “Arab Spring” — not because he thought a term like “Arab Uprisings” would be more appropriate, as others I know have argued — rather, he said, he preferred the term “Arab Troubles.” I found it quite distressing that someone would openly say that moves toward democracy were “troubles.”
Peter Hickman, the moderator for the event, called on me for the first question. Here is the exchange:
[Transcript and more after the jump.]