The trouble with Asharq al-Awsat, beyond its disturbing acquiescence to Arab regimes, is that it claimed a liberalism that was patently false.Every journalist working in the Middle East has had to pull punches, no matter who they work for -- Arab papers, American papers, British papers. When it's not the Saudi royal family, it's a Hariri or an Emad Eddin Adib or a Rupert Murdoch or a Conrad Black, or indeed a Sulzberger. Of course with the Saudis it's chronic and non-negotiable. But hey, come on Mona Al Tahawy, they gave you a place to start and now I'm sure you'll do fine in the IHT and elsewhere. I look forward to reading your devastating columns on Saudi Arabia, perhaps?
Before my ban, Asharq al-Awsat launched a Web site in English. Designed to show Western readers how liberal it was, the site suffered from Yasser Arafat syndrome. Just as the late Palestinian leader's statements in Arabic and in English were sometimes contradictory, the newspaper in Arabic would abide by the red lines that govern criticism of Arab leaders while in English it ran roughshod over those very same lines.
A column I wrote tearing into the Egyptian regime for allowing its security forces to beat peaceful protesters and to sexually assault female journalists and demonstrators was spiked from the Arabic newspaper and Web site but appeared in its entirety on the English Web site.
One good question in the column though: how do your reach Arabs with a liberal message (if you are a liberal columnist/thinker/broadcaster etc.) when the press has so many red lines? Since these regimes are not changing their ways anytime soon, I suspect the answer will be partly TV (as Al Jazeera has already done) and, for a smaller but quickly growing audience, the internet, which is capable of being much more transgressive than TV.