Al Jazeera English quietly removed an episode of its current affairs show from YouTube, in which one guest said it would be political “suicide” for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to normalize relations with Israel amid its war on Gaza.
“He would not probably survive as the future king of Saudi Arabia, if he goes ahead and normalizes in this context of war,” said Madawi Al-Rasheed, a visiting professor at the London School of Economics’ Middle East Center, during an interview last week on Al Jazeera English’s “UpFront.” She was invited onto the show, hosted by Marc Lamont Hill, to discuss the risks of escalation in the Middle East amid Israel’s ongoing siege and bombing campaign of Gaza.
Al Jazeera English posted the episode online and promoted it on social media, directing users to watch it on YouTube (such tweets are still live). The YouTube link, however, no longer works; the video is marked as “unavailable” and “private.” The episode no longer appears on the “UpFront” program page on Al Jazeera’s website. After The Intercept reported that it was still available in podcast form on the outlet’s website and in the show’s podcast feed, Al Jazeera removed those versions as well. (Middle East Eye first reported on the episode’s takedown.)
Al Jazeera is owned by Qatar, a small country that at times has had a tense relationship with its larger neighbor, Saudi Arabia. In 2017, Saudi Arabia led a regional blockade against Qatar, citing Qatar’s “embrace of various terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at destabilizing the region.” One of Saudi Arabia’s demands at the time was for Qatar to shut down Al Jazeera; the Gulf states reconciled in 2021 and Al Jazeera continues to exist.
“My guess is that Saudi Arabia complained and they had to stop it.”
“My guess is that Saudi Arabia complained and they had to stop it,” Al-Rasheed told The Intercept in an email. “This always happens. Qatar is angry because the Saudi media is criticising it for hosting Hamas leaders, then they invite a person like me to annoy them and let them know that they have tools to annoy the Saudis in return.”
Al Jazeera English did not respond to questions from The Intercept. Hill told The Intercept that he was aware of the video removal and had inquired with the news organization’s leadership. (Hill, the author of the 2021 book “Except for Palestine,” was famously fired from CNN in 2018 after expressing support for a free Palestine in a speech.)
During the show, Hill asked Al-Rasheed, a Saudi national and government critic, whether she thought Saudi Arabia would move forward in normalizing relations with Israel, which it was widely expected to do ahead of Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel and Israel’s retaliatory war on Gaza.
Al-Rasheed was skeptical of the possibility. “I think, deep down, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia wants to move ahead,” she said. “But he can’t at the moment, simply because of the devastation that every Saudi had seen on their screen on social media. It will be a suicidal move for him to pursue any kind of normalization with Israel under the current circumstances. It means a suicide.”
After Hill asked her to elaborate, Al-Rasheed raised the possibility of MBS’s political demise. “He would not probably survive as the future king of Saudi Arabia if he goes ahead and normalizes in this context of war. He will wait. He will wait and he will continue to have open secrets of relations with Israel,” Al-Rasheed said. “But it is very unlikely to see an Israeli flag raised in Riyadh anytime in the near future. In fact, it is very, very unlikely that Saudi Arabia will go ahead with normalization.”
Al-Rasheed told The Intercept that Al Jazeera Arabic has not invited her onto its programs since Qatar and Saudi reconciled. “For a long time I refused to appear on Al Jazeera English but accepted last week because of the crisis in the region,” she wrote. “Al Jazeera English was under the illusion that they can get away with inviting me but obviously it didn’t work.”
Al-Rasheed tweeted about the video removal and had reached out to the outlet as well, and said she did not hear back. She was joined on the episode by Matt Duss, executive vice president at the Center for International Policy and former foreign policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Duss said he also did not know why the episode was removed, and that he noticed it only after his colleagues pointed it out.
Ali Al-Ahmed, a Saudi journalist and analyst based in Washington, D.C., told The Intercept that Al Jazeera has a history of avoiding criticism of Saudi Arabia in its coverage. He said that the network “ignored, for example, the protests in Saudi Arabia and the eastern border because they still had good relations with the Saudis,” referring to protests by the country’s Shia minority in the early 2010s about the discrimination they face. “They completely ignored it.” The network has in the past removed English-language coverage critical of Saudi Arabia and faced criticism for sidestepping coverage of protests in the kingdom, even as it closely followed Arab Spring protests across the region.
Al-Ahmed was surprised Al-Rasheed was invited to appear at all, noting she is “a well-known critic of the Saudi government.” He added, “The gatekeepers are everywhere.”
After the outbreak of the Israel-Gaza war, Saudi Arabia got to work shoring up its public image in Washington. According to foreign agent registration filings, the kingdom has, in recent weeks, recruited the assistance of Qorvis, a D.C.-based PR firm that represented Saudi Arabia in the wake of the September 11 attacks and after agents for the Saudi government assassinated Washington Post journalist Jamaal Khashoggi.
Update: November 9, 2023
This article was updated to note that after The Intercept reported that the episode was still available in Al Jazeera’s podcast feed, the network removed it from there as well.