Meet Saudi journalist Othman al-Omair, a ‘friend to kings’

He is known as a “friend to kings”, since he has strong relationships with many Arab royals and leaders

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Othman al-Omair is a Saudi journalist and former Editor-in-Chief of the London-based pan-Arab newspaper, Asharq Al-Awsat, publisher of the Elaph news site, the first Arab newspaper to be go online in 2001, and the owner of “Maroc Soir,” a major publishing company in Morocco.

He is known as a “friend to kings”, since he has strong relationships with many Arab royals and leaders, among them Saudi Arabia’s late King Fahd Bin Abdulaziz and current king, Salman Bin Abdulaziz, as well as Morocco’s late King Hassan II and Jordan’s late King Hassan Ben Talal.

Omair’s is known for his liberalism, as well as his adherence to the principles of journalistic practices based on professionalism and impartiality. He has interviewed many leaders and has published these interviews in a book titled “Interviews from the End of the Century.”

Al Arabiya News Channel met with the Saudi journalist in his Marakesh home, and journalist Hassan Moawad interviewed him for the channel’s current affairs program “Point of Order.” During the interview, Omair shared his experiences in journalism, talking about his relationship with Arab ministers and expressed his views on regional matters.

Saudi liberalism

Omair’s bold stances and thoughts have been described by many as “liberal,” a description that he also believes is fitting.

“I’ve been liberal since my early childhood and this has never prevented me from adapting to Saudi society. [Living in] Britain was simply an addition to my life, it is not what changed me.

“My thoughts and liberalism do not change according to the countries I visit, but they adapt to the different societies,” the journalist said.

He clarified what he believes the concept of liberalism means.

“Liberalism is different across the world. We cannot state that American and British liberalism are reflective of each other. We also cannot pinpoint a controversial sense of liberalism in, say, Saudi Arabia since I believe that there is no actual liberalism in the kingdom, but there are liberals.”

Omair criticized some liberals in Saudi Arabia, saying: “When a Saudi liberal adopts an idea and thinks that others are wrong, he cannot be a liberal. Some liberals think that rejecting the ‘other’ is a form of liberalism. This is the reason behind my disagreement with them. We cannot say we are right and the others are wrong. This applies to all ideologies, whether emanating from Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood or Shiites.”

Omair aid that being a “Saudi liberal” was not a contradictory identity.

“Politically, I am a Salafist because I am a monarchist who supports the Saudi royal family and believe in the State, which does not contradict with me being liberal. I think that the Kingdom may become liberal some day because liberalism is not blasphemous and is not anti-religion as some might think. It is way of life.”

The Muslim Brotherhood

The Muslim Brotherhood’s exclusion from the political scene across many countries in the region is something that Omair does not support.

“I do not encourage the elimination of any religious or social component, unless it is a source of terrorism.

“A person or a party should not be persecuted for their words,” he said, adding that “the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always been open-minded since the era of King Abdulaziz. The King had liberal, Christian, Alawite and Shiite advisors from across the Arab world.”

Dialogue with Iran

Amid increasing tensions between Tehran and Gulf states over Iran’s intervention in conflicts in the Arab world, including Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, Omair was asked about the future of diplomatic relations.
“Iran is a very close neighbor and we are partners in history, culture and religion, despite animosity from some in the Iranian regime towards us. Aiming for peace and cooperation is in everyone’s best interest.”

He criticized what he described as “the voices of incitement and propaganda against Iran,” saying they are harmful for both countries.

Omair, who once interviewed former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani, said: “Iran is no angel. There are racist and extremist parties there, especially the Revolutionary Guards, and they are leading the hate battle against the Gulf.”

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