Saudis move to take over critical Arab press: Now you see it . . . prince's newspaper makes sure that leaders' wives lose their taste for wine

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The Independent Online
SAUDI Arabia is negotiating to take control of at least three Arabic-language publications in Europe, raising fears that it is trying to gag them following publication of anti-Saudi material, Arab sources say.

One of the publications, the London-based al-Arab, has been serialising an Amnesty International report detailing oppression of Shia Muslims and Christians in Saudi Arabia. The other two are the London-based fortnightly Sourakia, and the Paris-based Muharar magazine.

The initiative is said to be conducted by a Saudi official recently appointed to supervise the Arab press abroad, Ali al-Mussalam - a Jeddah-based adviser to the royal court with a background in publishing.

In addition, al-Jizir-al-Arabia, an opposition journal run by exiled Shia Saudis in London, was recently closed down as a result of a deal brokered by an envoy of King Fahd, diplomatic sources say. The Shia opposition leaders were given an audience with the King last month, and the publication was closed down as the price for their being allowed to return permanently to Saudi Arabia. Another part of the deal was the lifting of restrictions on Shias in Saudi Arabia.

In another indication of the Saudi policy on freedom of expression, the managing director of Tehama, the Saudi advertising and public relations agency, is reported to have been arrested after criticising the recently established consultative council, or Majlis al-Shura.

Muhammad Said al-Tayyeb, a poet, used to be the link between Saudi Arabia and editors of non- Saudi Arab newspapers abroad, ensuring that they did not publish material offensive to Riyadh.

Al-Arab has profited from being one of the few Arabic-language newspapers in Europe not already controlled by Saudi Arabia. It took a pro-Iraq stance during the Gulf war.

Restrictions on the content of Saudi-controlled publications can sometimes verge on the farcical. Recently Shawq al-Awsat, a London- based newspaper owned by Prince Salman, King Fahd's brother, airbrushed out of a photograph the wineglasses held by people at a reception. This week al-Hayat, a rival newspaper owned by Prince Khaled, did the same.

(Photographs omitted)

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