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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  June 3, 2019 4:30am-5:01am BST

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the headlines: president trump is flying to britain for a three—day state visit. on arrival later on monday, he will be greeted by queen elizabeth. outgoing prime minister theresa may has described mr trump's visit as an opportunity to further strengthen the special relationship between the two countries. the search for eight missing climbers in the himalayas is due to resume. the indian airforce had suspended the operation due to poor weather conditions. four britons, two americans, an australian and an indian are missing. nanda devi is considered one of the toughest peaks in the indian himalayas. the italian transport minister has said the government is ready to ban large cruise ships from the giudecca canal in venice. he tweeted his comments after a giant cruise liner lost control and crashed into a pier, hitting a smaller sightseeing boat. the ship suffered engine failure.
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now on bbc news, hardtalk‘s stephen sackur speaks to human rights activist iyad el—baghdadi. welcome to hardtalk, i am stephen sackur. six months after the saudi journalist jamal khashoggi was murdered in the saudi consulate in istanbul, three of his associates received warnings that their lives could also be in danger. the source was the cia. one of those warned, iyad el—baghdadi, a long—time critic of arab authoritarian regimes, is my guest today. he lives in political asylum in norway, using social media to challenge what he calls the arab tyrants. after the demise of the arab spring, is his a lost cause?
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iyad el—baghdadi, in oslo, welcome to hardtalk. thank you so much for having me, stephen. you live in political asylum in oslo, of course, norway deemed to be a very safe place to be and yet, just a few short weeks ago, you were informed that there were serious threats to your safety. tell me who the warning came from, and what did they suggest might happen to you? well, the warning came from the norwegian intelligence who, over here in norway we call the pst.
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they showed up at my doorstep and they took me to a meeting at a safe location, where they informed me that they were informed — a partner intelligence agency passed a tip to them saying that i'm a target. and, of course, it was later reported by the guardian that confirmed that that partner agency is indeed the cia. you say they didn't describe the nature of the threat except to say that "i had crosshairs on my back." well, without wishing to be too sensationalist about it, that sounds really, very serious. the threat itself was described as unspecified. but the seriousness of this is that, i mean, to me, as someone who is receiving this news, is that i'm a non—us citizen who does not live in the united states.
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and that was the question that rose to my mind. the cia passing a tip to the norwegians about someone who is not — who is neither american and doesn't live in the united states seems to me to indicate a certain level of risk, a certain level of threat. you say you're working on something, and you knew from the get go it was something very sensitive and potentially dangerous. so what is it, and are you continuing to work on it? i've been working with my team at the kawaakibi foundation on a number of projects. i mean, i'm only cleared to speak about some of these projects, because there are other projects that continue to be deeply sensitive and deeply confidential. but i believe the most sensitive of these, and the one that's probably most public, and is most likely to have been the direct cause, the direct piece of work that actually led to the threats, is my work with jeff bezos‘s investigation team in putting together a report that went
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to federal authorities indicating that the saudis have first of all conducted a campaign againstjeff bezos, and also have hacked his phone. yes, you talk about the bezos connection, and of course this is a complex connection. but in essence, jeff bezos owns the washington post. the washington post was the newspaper where jamal khashoggi wrote his columns. after khashoggi's murder, the washington post was perhaps one of the strongest media organisations demanding a complete review of us policy towards saudi arabia. the saudis, i dare say, were very much less than happy with the washington post coverage. sojeff bezos is connected to that whole story. is he financing you today? well, he's not, i mean, and our engagement with jeff bezos‘s investigation team did not involve any kind of compensation for our time
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or for our work. it wasn't a contractual kind of relationship. i mean, that said, i would simply add to your descriptionjeff bezos‘s situation here, is that i believe at the time ofjamal khashoggi's murder, jeff bezos found himself in a bit of a quandary, in a bit of a complexifier, as he describes it. because this is a man who owned the washington post, for which jamal khashoggi worked, but he's also a man who had business ties and a kind of direct relationships with mbs. so, you know, he had to pick a side. yes, and we should remind everybody when you say mbs, you mean crown prince mohammed bin salman, the defacto leader, power, in saudi arabia today. let's talk more about khashoggi. because you were an associate of his. he was a man who consistently in the media called for fundamental reform and change in saudi arabia. you have done the same thing. your arab tyrant manual website
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and your blogs are consistently targeting saudi arabia as one of the arab countries that is most in need of an end to authoritarianism and repression. were you surprised when khashoggi was murdered inside that consulate building in istanbul? oh, yes. i mean, i think everyone was surprised. i don't think we expected the worst case scenario to be a murder. and to be honest, when i heard the news, i thought that the worst case scenario, the absolute nightmare scenario, would have been rendition. i mean, kidnapping jamal, taking him back to saudi arabia and forcing him to read a statement on video saying, you know, "i returned home of my own — by my own will." we really never expected they would go this far. you have used your significant social media prescence — twitter, various forms of social media and blogging as well,
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to in the wake of the khashoggi murder try and persuade people around the world to change their views of saudi arabia and crown prince mohammed bin salman in particular. would you accept that, here we are seven or eight months on, and you have failed? well, i mean, it's an interesting question, here. i think the world, when it comes to mbs as a reformer, i think that reformer image is just done, it's gone. it's gone. i don't think anyone today accepts mbs as a liberal reformer. the only reason why he continues to wield this kind of... i mean, the only reason why this — he continues to be unaccountable, is because the administration in the world that is most capable of holding him to account continues to be his biggest enabler and of course, i mean, two personalities, two particular
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people — trump and more importantly jared kushner in the united states. why do you say jared kushner is more important? well, i believe jared kushner, of course he's mbs‘s whatsapp buddy. i believe he is the key enabler here, because he has this direct relationship and friendship with mbs, and i think he is the gatekeeper to trump in the end. you would like it, perhaps, to be personal and pin it on donald trump and jared kushner. but isn't it the truth that in the united states, and indeed in london and other western capitals, there is a recognition that fundamentally, saudi arabia remains a key strategic ally in a very turbulent region? you hear that in london. i spoke on hardtalk tojeremy hunt, the foreign secretary, just the other day about this. he was also extremely careful in his comments about saudi arabia, precisely because of that important strategic relationship. absolutely. you're absolutely... this is absolutely correct.
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i mean, this is actually the quandary over here, saudi arabia is a very important country, and it will continue to be a very important country. it's a very important economy, it's a very important population, very dynamic population. and this is why mbs is that problematic. it's because he has dismantled this kind of consultative monarchy, let's say, and really established an absolutist regime. and he's now in the situation where the world needs to continue to engage saudi arabia. saudi arabia, as you mentioned, is an important country. but i think everybody now realises that mbs himself is a problem. well, do they really feel it as strongly as you suggest? because if one looks at what has happened in recent months, and yes, we can talk about donald trump's insistence on partnership, and similar words coming out of the uk government, but also look at the
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corporate activity. some of those big corporations that shied away from the so—called "davos in the desert" investment summit that the saudis were hoping to be such a big success last autumn, well they've now gone back to saudi arabia. i noticed the big entertainment conglomerate in the us amc is back building those cinemas in saudi, john flynn, the boss of hsbc bank, he went back to saudi recently saying it is a privilege to be in saudi arabia. larry fink, the super investor from wall street. he is saying that the changes that he sees in saudi arabia are, quote, "prettyamazing." so the corporate world as well as the geopolitical world is still in there, in saudi arabia, and frankly still backing mbs. well, it goes back to the point of saudi arabia being an important country and being a society that actually needs support.
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i mean, i wouldn't want the status quo that ordinary saudis experience to deteriorate in this situation. mbs is using this very point, the fact that saudi arabia is an important economy, is an important country, increase the risk of political — basically increase political risk, increase economic risk and of course, increase instability in the region. so i think this is really the quandary over here that is really posed to the world and, of course, people like me. to people like you, let's be honest, mr el—baghdadi, your message and it's captured perhaps in your own website, the arab tyranny manual, your message is that these — you call them "tyrants" have to go. but the world looks at what happened in 2011 in the arab spring, the arab uprisings and the toppling of authoritarians, whether it be hosni mubarak or whether it be muammar gaddafi in libya,
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and they see the chaos that followed. and eight years on, frankly, many people don't believe that the tyrants must go, because what comes after them might be a whole lot worse. well, of course this is something that, you know, this is a question that i have been asked continuously since 2011. my go—to response, really, is to point to democratic transitions elsewhere. democratic transitions take time, and they're messy matters. you know, this is a 30—year project, 35—year project, ao—year project. we're eight years into it. i mean, if you ask the same question about europe, what did europe's transition to democracy look like? i mean, if you look at the arab region right now, you're going to see certain countries which are in freefall. you're going to see terror groups. you're going to see civil wars. you're going to see proxy wars.
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you're going to see authoritarian consolidation. you're going to see refugee waves. and also you are going to see popular resistance. let's not forget sudan and algeria right now at this moment. what i submit to you is that this is what a democratic transition looks like and these arab dictators are really standing in the way of the future. the whole idea that dictatorship bring stability... you make a hugely important point, but what i submit to you is that hundreds of thousands are dead in syria, half of the country's population displaced, those statistics speak of people who cannot afford for your 30—year experiment, your 30—year gamble on something better, to pay off. you know, the humanitarian cost over the last eight years has been so high that maybe it's better to stick with the authoritarians that we see. well, imagine if we asked this question in 19114 about hitler's germany. i mean, imagine if we asked the question, we say
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came up, imagine if the world said, "this is enough, let's stick with what we have." imagine that. well if you want to use that metaphor, then you have to believe that this is some sort of existential crisis for the arab world, where you're equating mbs and his authoritarianism with nazism. i would say to you that if you look at mbs, and in the round, his commitment to change in saudi arabia, you do see that he is giving new rights to women, including the right to drive, he's opening up the country, there is a different atmosphere, many visitors to saudi arabia comment upon it. so to assume that you can compare that brand of authoritarianism with nazism is frankly, highly questionable. well, nazism is always, of course, used as the extreme example over here. but let me just say there are extremists who persecute religious minorities and behead journalists, and there are other extremists, in this case those who torture
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women's rights activists and run apartheid regimes and dismember journalists. i mean, i don't think we should always be imprisoned in this kind of false dichotomy between worse and worse. i think we can reject both. i understand what you're saying. i'm just thinking about where you sit. through no fault of your own, you used to be a resident in the uae. you were forced out, and you claimed and got political asylum in oslo. but it does mean you can fire off your extremely fiery web blog posts and twitter commentary to the arab world, telling arabs that they should no longer accept, for example, the repression of the sisi regime in egypt. egypt is a very interesting example, because sisi, thanks to what many call a coup d'etat, has imposed a form of military rule in egypt, but he has delivered economic growth. it will be nearly 60% this year. he has won billions of dollars
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in new investment, particularly from china, and he would argue that he has replaced the government, the muslim brotherhood government, that was taking egypt down the path of chaos. well, in the case of sisi particularly, i mean, i've just finished sitting in the oslo freedom forum with a bunch of egyptian activists. and the fact is that, i mean, those figures really do not reflect the reality, the everyday reality, of egyptians. because even though gdp is increasing, and this is not only a problem in egypt, by the way, but in many countries in the world, inequality is still rising. the resilience of society, the resilience of this regime, is really being eaten away by this — you know, by sisi's authoritarianism. but i would also add some context over here. of course, the point that you led with is that it's easy for me to sound off these things from exile. the fact is that the majority of... let me just tell you that,
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for example, listeners on our podcast, the majority, the top two cities, are riyadh and jeddah. the majority of people who consume our material are in the arab world. so what do you do, mr el—baghdadi? you say you are committed to build civil society, to create new institutions in the arab world that will help on the road to freedom and democracy. but in practical terms, in this repressive environment that we're talking about, what can you actually do? yes, so this basically leads us back to our projects. and of course, because we're a small team, we're a small foundation — i mean, maybe the word "foundation" gives this impression of bigness, but truly, we're funded by local organisations in norway, but also by our audience, so we don't have a lot of resources. so we have to be very realistic about what we can achieve. and this is why we always look for,
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you know, projects or investigations or things to work on which have — which are, you know, very sensitive, very damaging to dictators, but also within our reach, within our capacity as a small team. can you give me some examples? well, a lot of these projects, as i mentioned, i've been instructed not to talk about, because they are sensitive and because there might be a reason why i am under threat. but one example, of course, is the bezos investigation, where we're helping the richest man in the world, a man who has been targeted by the saudi regime, by mbs himself, to put together a report which would go to the fbi and would actually lead to some kind of institutional action, because this is, as you can imagine, a national security matter. there are other projects like that, that we're working on, of course, and the majority of them are things we cannot disclose. but it's just — i'm very mindful, because i lived in egypt in the 1990s, and even then,
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i'm mindful of the degree to which there was suspicion, perhaps fuelled by the state media, it has to be said, but suspicion of ngos, many of which received funding from outside the country, particularly the united states, but countries like norway as well. you know, you could think about the national democratic institute, and other organisations, which were portrayed as somehow being, you know, tools and puppets of western influence. how do you avoid that? well, i mean, this is a question, of course. there is absolutely a question that we think about very deeply, because we don't want to be integrated in this kind of think—tank kind of ecosystem. and this is why our — the backbone of our support continues to be our audience, i mean, the people who consume our material and the people who donate to us, you know, online. this is the backbone of our support. this continues to be the main funding source that we have.
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i'm mindful that, not just in the middle east, but around the world, we are in a sense in an era of strongman rule. you know, one could look at the examples of china and russia and say that perhaps sisi or mbs are looking more to them for their political inspiration than they are to the democracies of western europe. do you believe that you can win this battle against strongman rule? i think the wind in our sails is history itself, let's say. i mean, as a dearfriend says, history is in good hands. i think the fact is that these dictators — since 2014, when we had this rise of a counterrevolution, an axis—of—arab counterrevolution, we were really concerned that, you know, what are they going to do at this point? because the arab spring represented a vision. it represented certain values, certain convictions, that people really went down
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to the streets and died for. i mean, when people actually go down to the streets and take bullets, and then go down to the streets again and chant again for liberty and for dignity, these are convictions, these are no longer slogans. we thought, you know, now that they're back in control, they're going to actually work on presenting an alternative vision, and they have failed. they have not presented a vision, or whatever vision they presented, really, or whatever social contract they put on the table, is really something which does not inspire the average arab citizens. this is why you see a continuation of the arab spring. you see it in sudan, you see it in algeria. so this is not over, the story is not over at all. interesting you say the story is not over. one running through theme through this interview has been the importance of saudi arabia. are you seriously saying to me that you can imagine revolutionaries on the streets of riyadh and jeddah? you can imagine the monarchy being toppled in saudi arabia? and, if you can, what do you think replaces it? well, i mean, let me
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qualify that first. i think there's an arabic saying, and i'm going to say it in arabic and then loosely translate it. speaks arabic. it means the last remedy, the last cure, is cauterisation. it means — what this means to me is that revolution, popular uprising, is really the last remedy. in an ideal world, you don't want to go there, you don't want to get there. it's really when all avenues of change have been closed in your face that you actually go there. ideally, we would have a change, you know, a more controlled change. we would have actually, you know, serious reform, where the ruling elites in certain countries realise that this is not good even for us, this is not stable, this is not sustainable. that's what we would like to see happening. because, you know, let's face it, popular uprising is a very, very dangerous gamble in the end, and you only go there when all other avenues are closed. and, talking of danger, we must end,
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but i want to ask personally — we talked about the perceived threat to you. i happen to know you have at least one child in school in norway, and that created some fuss when the warnings first hit you a few weeks ago. what would it take for you to feel that this fight you're in is no longer worth it? this is a really, really difficult question, stephen, because this is very personal. and you brought up my son, and i want to raise a son who realises that dignity is worth our life. our dignity is worth our life, and this is a message i sent him when i first arrived in 2014 in oslo, in a speech i gave for the oslo freedom forum. our dignity, or we die trying. our liberty, or we die trying. and, again, this is not a slogan. this is our life's mission. not for me — i am only one person, i am only one voice here.
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there are thousands of people like me, even millions of people like me, who simply don't have this kind of platform, and don't have this voice, and i have to channel that voice. iyad el—baghdadi, we have to leave it there, but i thank you very much indeed forjoining me on hardtalk. hello. sunday was a real mixed bag of weather right across the british isles. for some, it was rain and puddles. elsewhere, particularly at weybourne in norfolk, 28.8 celsius was recorded, making it the hottest day of the year so far, and as ever, our weather watchers were right on the spot. now, that weather front eventually has dragged what was left of the rain into the near continent and up into scandinavia, leaving behind the big area of low
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pressure which will dominate scotland's weather for the next day or two. a lot of isobars on that chart, as well, so some pretty gusty conditions there. now, that weather front will have had the effect of dragging the heat away from the british isles, shovelling it into the continent, and our air will be coming from the atlantic, so a fresher feel to start the new day on monday. and showers right from the word go, gusty showers at that, with the odd rumble of thunder in there, i don't doubt. and that's going to be the case for northern and western parts of scotland, northern ireland too. further south across england and wales, a dry enough day, but a speckling of afternoon showers running along on the breeze from wales and the south—west up towards the midlands and east anglia. from monday into tuesday, as the low pressure centre drifts just a little bit further north, away from scotland, isobars opening out, so we'll bring in this little secondary low pressure in towards the south—western approaches, spreading the threat
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of showery bursts of rain through the south—west, wales, the western midlands, eventually to northern ireland, northern parts of england, central and southern parts of scotland, too. and it's only really the far south—east and maybe the north of scotland that during daylight hours escapes the heaviest of the rainfall. now, i think we'll complete the journey of that weather front towards the north of scotland overnight from tuesday into wednesday. and then, if we've got the sums right, we'll be looking down towards the near continent, because it could well be that some really moist, muggy air eventually drags the threat of some heavy, thundery downpours into this far south—eastern quarter of the british isles. elsewhere, it's a decent enough day, showers in the south—west perhaps, and still the remnants of that front a bit of bother across northern scotland, rather murky fare here. but in between, it's a pleasant enough day. then through the evening and overnight again, as i say, there's some doubt about this. it could well be that we drag meaningful rain through parts of the midlands up across eastern england. the bulk of it, i think, will be found out in the north sea. but there's just the chance that it
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could come a little further west. it's a pretty neat call, as you can see. so thursday could turn out to be a wet day. across the eastern half of the british isles, the best of the sunshine, i would have thought, for northern ireland and perhaps the north of scotland.
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this is the briefing. i'm sally bundock. our top story: coming, ready or not — donald trump is en route to the uk for his much—anticipated state visit. i'm philippa thomas, live at buckingham palace where the president will have lunch with the royal family. he is also expected to put more pressure on the uk to stop huawei being part of the country's 5g infrastructure. we'll look at that in the business briefing. in other news, the search for eight missing climbers in the himalayas is to resume after being suspended due to bad weather. germany's chancellor merkel is dealt a political blow as the head of herjunior coalition party resigns.

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