Published on Friday, November 18, 2011 by CommonDreams.org
Journalist Questions Legitimacy of Saudi Regime, Is Suspended from National Press Club
by Sam Husseini
On Monday 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."
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 (
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:
Husseini: There's been a lot of talk about the legitimacy of the Syrian regime, I want to know what legitimacy your regime has sir. You come before us, representative of one of the most autocratic, misogynistic regimes on the face of the earth. Human Rights Watch and other reports of torture detention of activist, you squelched the democratic uprising in Bahrain, you tried to overturn the democratic uprising in Egypt and indeed you continue to oppress your own people. What legitimacy does you regime have -- other than billions of dollars and weapons?
Hickman: Sam, let him answer.
Unidentified speaker: What was the question?
Turki: [motioning Husseini to the podium] Would you like to come and speak here? Would you like to come and speak here?
Husseini: I'd like you to try to answer that question.
Turki: I will try my best sir. Well sir, I don't know if you've been to the kingdom or not?
Husseini: What legitimacy do you have, sir?
Turki: Have you been to the kingdom?
Husseini: What legitimacy does your regime have, other than oppressing your own people?
William McCarren [Executive director of the National Press Club, who had come up to Husseini and was literally-face-to-face]: Put your question and let him answer, we have a whole room of people.
Husseini [to McCarren]: He [Turki] asked me a question. He asked me and I responded.
Turki: No you did not respond.
[off audio, some back and forth continues between McCarren and Husseini, see below]
Hickman: Go ahead [Turki] --
Turki: Anyway ladies and gentlemen I advise anybody who has these questions to come to the kingdom and see for themselves. I don't need to justify my country's legitimacy. We're participants in all of the international organizations and we contribute to the welfare of people through aid program not just directly from
Husseini: -- So are you saying that Arabs are inherently backward? --
Hickman: Sam, that's enough -- this lady to the right, you're next.
I was very glad to get the question in and and I was happy that Turki responded. I think his response opens the door to a lot more serious reporting. For example, Turki's response that
Turki ignored the general question of authoritarianism and human rights abuses, but he cited reforms that the Saudi regime is allegedly going to implement, like allowing women to vote for the first time in the Shura Council elections, slated for 2015. This raises a lot of other questions: Would these reforms, that he seems to take credit for and pride in, have had a chance of happening were it not for what he calls the "Arab troubles?" And how meaningful are they? Does that mean
The point that I was trying to follow up on -- this notion by Turki that somehow because the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibiting the right to vote on account of gender was not passed until 1920 -- that this somehow excuses
I should note that there have been tensions at the Press Club before, some with me, some with other journalists. See "Banned from First Amendment Room." Several years ago, McCarren and I were in the elevator together at the
Another issue is that tough questioning seems to be done selectively, and of course this is an issue not just at the National Press Club. When individuals who seem at odds with the establishment, like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Jeremiah Wright have spoken before to the Press Club, they were very critically questioned. Others, however, are treated rather reverentially. I have participated, and at times benefited from some of this. When the Austrian Neo-Nazi Jörg Haider came to the Club, Hickman, the same moderator at the Turki event, allowed me to give him quite a grilling with several followups -- at least four or five, much to my joy -- and congratulated me for my efforts afterwords.
During the beginning of Turki's reply to my question, McCarren continued speaking to me, he had walked right up to me and spoke in a rather obnoxious tone, telling me to let Turki answer the question. I told McCarren that I was simply responding to Turki's question to me. McCarren continued speaking in an obnoxious manner to me and I said to him "are you threatening me?" He responded: "Absolutely." We had an exchange after I left the news conference as well. After the event, I sent an email to Hickman asking if he knew where I could get video of the news conference and he replied cordially but could not help provide the video, which I was finally able to obtain after several days.
Later that afternoon, I got an email with the notice of suspension signed by McCarren. The letter states: "We are suspending your membership for two weeks, effective immediately, due to your conduct at a news conference held at the National Press Club on Tuesday, November 15, 2011. Your action was in direct violation of House Rule 4 and grounds for immediate suspension.
"House Rule No. 4 states: 'Boisterous and unseemly conduct or language in or about the Club premises or in connection with any Club-sponsored event is prohibited. Any member so offending shall be liable for immediate suspension by any Member of the board or the manager or his designee pending investigation by the board, which shall render final action.'
"This matter will be reviewed by the Club’s Ethics Committee. A meeting will be scheduled prior to the end of your two week suspension to discuss your conduct and the violation. The Chairperson of the Ethics Committee will contact you to schedule the meeting.
"In the meantime, you should not come to the Club or use its facilities for any reason."
Sam Husseini is a writer and political activist. He is the communications director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, a D.C.-based nonprofit group that promotes progressive experts as alternative sources for mainstream media reporters. He's the founder of WashingtonStakeout, his latest personal writings are at http://husseini.posterous.com and tweets at http://twitter.com/samhusseini
Source URL: http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/11/18-7
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