In this article, I present a testimony about my personal experience about Al-Arabiya channel’s coverage of the events that took place in Al-Qatif Governorate, eastern Saudi Arabia, specifically the town of Al-Awamiya, in the years between 2011 and 2017, which were difficult events for the citizens and residents of the governorate, due to the riots and outlandish practices that accompanied them. According to the law, it soon turned into armed actions in which automatic weapons and Molotov cocktails were used, and led to confrontations between youth groups and security forces that sought to impose security in various ways, but the shooting and the deaths and injuries prompted the Saudi government to take more resolute measures, and the name changed. Descriptive of what is happening from “riots” to “terrorism”, especially when it became clear that “terrorist” cells targeted security men, official headquarters and public property, and the appearance of a number of armed men openly in the streets, specifically in the town of Awamiya, a development that was considered dangerous and unacceptable. leniency with him.
According to a follow-up source, the instructions were to “adhere to the highest levels of self-restraint, and not to use weapons, except in one case, if security men or citizens were subjected to gunfire,” the source says, adding, “The orders were that weapons should only be used towards the source from which they come.” Fire from it, in order to preserve the lives of citizens.
Social media battles
The occurrence of terrorist operations in the Qatif Governorate sparked heated debates on social media, specifically the Twitter platform, which became a space for sectarian insults among extremists, through which campaigns of incitement were carried out by “extremists” against citizens in the Qatif Governorate, accusing them of being “traitors” and “Agents of Iran,” an accusation denied by the citizens of the province, and consider it part of the counter-propaganda.
TV channels such as “Safa” and “Wesal” were also promoting sectarian discourse, which was matched by an incitement to take to the streets from “Nabaa” and “Al-Manar” channels, at a time when the terrorist operations of armed cells in Awamiya increased. With each operation, the level of extremism rises, especially since ISIS carried out terrorist operations in Saudi Arabia, targeting mosques and hussainiyas, which made sectarian polarization violent.
Amidst this atmosphere, Al-Arabiya channel was following the events with caution and professionalism by relying on reliable sources. And it was seeking to be more balanced, in the midst of a tense atmosphere on “social media platforms”, in which sectarian strife existed between fanatics and partisans.
At the time, Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed was the general director of Al-Arabiya, and I returned to work on the channel after a hiatus of years, and I worked on following developments in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, and the Arab Gulf states in general, and the “Shia political Islam” movements in particular.
Al-Rashed pursued a policy that relied on accurate follow-up of field developments, especially given the violent fighting that took place in Syria, the participation of Iranian experts, the forces of the Lebanese “Hezbollah”, and Shiite and Sunni militias fighting each other. All of this made the news coverage more sensitive, and therefore it is important to select words and methods of treatment and to choose appropriate guests – as far as possible – away from sectarian language.
At that time, I was presenting a set of recommendations and statistical research, as well as a visualization of the conditions in the files that I referred to above. Therefore, I participated in suggesting suitable guests, as well as less severe, more comprehensive and objective treatment angles.
After that, when Dr. Adel Al-Tarifi took over the presidency of the “Al-Arabiya” channel, it continued the same tasks, before Al-Tarifi became Minister of “Information” in Saudi Arabia in 2015, so that the journalist Turki Al-Dakhil took over the management of the “Al-Arabiya” and “Al-Hadath” channels, in a period that extended until the year 2019. .
Developments in the center of Awamiya
During the intruder period, the field events in the Qatif Governorate, eastern Saudi Arabia, were escalating, due to the increased activity of terrorist groups, which the security forces were pursuing, arresting some of them, or engaging in armed clashes with others.
The terrorists worked to target the security men, and they also intensified the activities of recruitment and recruitment of young men, dozens of whom gathered in the old area in the center of Awamiya, which was known as “Al-Masoura”, where the gunmen were hiding in narrow alleys and small adjoining houses, along with their equipment and hand grenades.
In 2017, the Saudi authorities took a decision to remove the gunmen from “Al-Mosora”, by evacuating the area from civilians and providing them with temporary alternative housing, and confronting the gunmen to arrest them, or death will be the fate of those who resist and shoot.
The complex operation began, and indeed the terrorists were expelled from Al-Musawara, where a number of them were killed, others escaped, the rest were arrested, the old buildings were demolished, the affected citizens and homeowners were compensated, and the implementation of the “Central Awamiya” development project began.
These events were accompanied by “Al-Arabiya” with great accuracy, and I was in contact with colleagues in the newsroom, specifically with journalists in “Al-Raba’a Newsletter”, in order to secure professional news coverage, as I was sending them statements issued by national and religious figures in Qatif, who oppose violence and terrorism. And I communicate with guests in the region in order to host them, and I suggest certain points of interest to public opinion in the Kingdom regarding the course of events in Awamiya, seeking as much as possible to avoid sectarian and inflammatory rhetoric.
After Turki Al-Dakhil left “Al-Arabiya” and became the ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, in the year 2019, Dr. Nabil Al-Khatib came as director of the “Al-Arabiya” network, as the channel continued its interest in the “political Shiite” file, this time from the perspective of the development of events in Iran and Iraq. And Lebanon, and it was the same role it played before, and I continued it with Al-Khatib, who was also, like his predecessors, striving for a balanced news work far from the pressure of convulsive rhetoric.
Subsequently, and after a short period of Al-Khatib’s presidency, the Saudi journalist Mamdouh Al-Muhaini was appointed director of Al-Arabiya Network in October 2019.
Perhaps it is fortunate for Al-Arabiya Network that Al-Muhaini and the previous directors are journalistic personalities with liberal civil orientations, liberated from extremist thought, and have a secular view of the meaning of the state, and believe that the relationship between the various components of society is based on diversity, coexistence and mutual respect, and this intellectual framework The modernist, reflected positively on the policies of the channel, and made it far from extremism, hatred and sectarian rhetoric.
Al-Muhaini also dealt with religiously complex files calmly, away from the influence of fundamentalist discourses. When Mamdouh Al-Muhaini was the editor-in-chief of Al-Arabiya.net, I wrote a set of materials, a number of which contained information published for the first time, related to “Hezbollah Al-Hijaz” and “the current”. Al-Shirazi” and the “religious authority” of Shiite Muslims, and I attended as a political analyst and commentator on several Iranian, Iraqi and Saudi files, such as Pope Francis’ visit to Iraq and his meeting with the Grand Ayatollah Sistani, the assassination of the Lebanese thinker Luqman Selim, and the Saudi forces’ arrest of a number of security wanted persons in the eastern region, all of which are files It was thorny, one of the most prominent of which was a report I prepared about Lebanon’s “Hezbollah” training a group of Saudis in its private camps; Al-Arabiya, in its various files, always sought to be far from incitement and sectarianism.
Starting with Al-Rashid, and after him Al-Turaifi, Al-Dakhil, Al-Khatib, and ending with Al-Muhani today, Al-Arabiya Network worked in its policy, and through my personal experience, and my knowledge of the details of what goes on in its corridors, it worked to be a civil, professional platform, far from sectarian polarization, because it believes that ” Terrorism has no religion,” and that the function of the “network” is to be a platform for enlightenment, modernization, and a space for presenting a civil culture, not a religious one, and this is what it is working on until now, and is continuing to do so.