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Saudi Columnist Shobokshi Fired by Papers

August 2, 2003

CAIRO, Egypt (AP) _ A Saudi columnist who has challenged his country’s conservative social and political traditions has been dropped by his two Saudi newspapers, the writer says.

Hussein Shobokshi said the newspapers gave no reason for their action.

Editors for the Arab News and Okaz confirmed they would no longer run Shobokshi’s weekly column, but they refused to say why. Okaz is an Arabic language paper, and the Arab News is published in English.

Saudi newspapers are privately owned but closely monitored by the government. Shobokshi said he did not know whether the decision to drop his columns had originated with government officials.

Shobokshi is one of a growing number of writers emboldened by new openness in the Saudi press following nationwide shock at suicide attacks in the capital in May in which 34 people died, including eight Americans.

In a July 1 column in Okaz, Shobokshi fantasized about a future in which his daughter could drive and he could vote.

In an Associated Press story on the column, Shobokshi described the unusually passionate response _ both in favor and against _ to that column. He was quoted in the AP story as saying Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah ``told me that he liked the article, but that I shouldn’t make so many people angry.″

After his column was canceled, Shobokshi attributed the decision to the AP story, and he denied saying that the crown prince had called him. But the AP reporter who wrote the story said her notes confirm the quote attributed to the columnist. Shobokshi spoke from Cairo where he was vacationing this week.

Arab News editor-in-chief Khaled al-Maeena said, ``We did not drop him because of the AP article.″ He declined to say why the column had been dropped. Editor-in-chief Hashem Abdo Hashem of Okaz refused to comment on his paper’s decision to cancel the column.

Shobokshi also hosts an economic and political affairs program on the private, majority Saudi-owned satellite television station al-Arabiya. He said the program aired as usual Tuesday, and that he had no indication al-Arabiya would drop him.

Saudi Arabia remains one of the world’s most conservative Islamic states. An editor whose Saudi newspaper was in the forefront of a campaign against Muslim extremism was removed from his post weeks after the May 12 bombings.

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