EXPOSED: Al Arabiya reporter reveals how Qataris harassed him to prevent coverage of BeIN’s Al Kheleifi’s Swiss trial

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Updated 30 September 2020

EXPOSED: Al Arabiya reporter reveals how Qataris harassed him to prevent coverage of BeIN’s Al Kheleifi’s Swiss trial

  • Al-Fridhi can be seen reporting from outside the court in Switzerland when two men standing behind him begin taking pictures and speaking loudly in an attempt to disrupt the coverage
  • The men also hurled insults and used derogatory terms, Al-Fridhi said, before flashing an image of the Qatari Emir Tamim Al-Thani

LONDON: In nearly 30 years of field reporting from across the world, Noureddine al-Fridhi had only twice resorted to hiring personal security in order to do his job - the first being in conflict-hit Afghanistan in 2002.

The second was just last week - far from any dangerous warzone - in peaceful Switzerland where he was standing roughly 40 square meters in front of the court holding the trial of BeIN Sports Chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi.

Al-Fridi, a respected Brussels-based reporter working with pan-Arab news channel Al Arabiya was covering corruption trial of Al-Khelaifi who is accused of corruption in the attribution of World Cup TV rights.

During his live coverage, al-Fridhi can be seen reporting from outside the court in Switzerland when two men standing behind him begin taking images of and speaking loudly in an attempt to disrupt the coverage.

They also begin hurling insults and use derogatory terms, Al-Fridhi explained, before flashing an image of the Qatari Emir Tamim Al-Thani. 

“I realized that in Bellinzona that this is the second time I asked to be assisted by a security man. First one was in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2002 and the second time was here,” al-Fridhi told Arab News.

“You can imagine that since 1991, how many times I have been in the popular suburbs of Brussels and Paris, covering the whole issue of migration in Europe, reporting from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina during the war.”

“This is really with whole humility that I asked to be assisted by a security man thanks to him, he deterred the bodyguard of the Nasser Al-Khelaifi delegation.”

The harassment and disruption had gone on throughout the trial’s coverage, which prompted the correspondent to hire private security given the Swiss Court Police’s inactivity to the abuse, claiming it was “public space.”

“I was not convinced with the democratic rules they invoked; I was not convinced by their explanation,” al-Fridhi said, adding that, “How can he [Al-Khelaifi] allow his bodyguard to behave that way with us? Whatever he thinks of our channel, he is free, but we were doing only media coverage.”

Veteran journalist Abdellatif El-Menawy, who was until 2011 the head of news at Egypt’s national broadcaster, condemned the incident, calling the use of any method of harassment of journalists while performing their work as “unacceptable.” 
  
“The attack on the Al Arabiya team by people affiliated with Qatar and raising the image of the Emir of Qatar is an attack on the freedom of the press, Qatar's responsibility is clear in this incident,” El-Menawy told Arab News.

One of the men seen harassing the team was identified by al-Fridhi as possibly being Jordanian-national Mohammed Abu Ghazala – a member of Khelaifi’s personal entourage.

“The story changes completely, this isn’t just the sort of provocation you face in a popular suburb in Brussels or any crowded area, this is a bodyguard of an official, a state minister. Mr. Khelaifi is a state minister, he is a very rich businessman, he is the owner of Paris Saint-Germain, he’s playing a big role in professional football – business and sport.”

Paris Saint-Germain president Al-Khelaifi and FIFA’s former secretary general Jerome Valcke went on trial in Switzerland on Monday accused of corruption in the attribution of World Cup TV rights.

The two men would each face up to five years in prison if found guilty.

“We know FIFA is a business association, bringing in more than 1 billion dollar income yearly, but you have to think about how there are hundreds and hundreds of millions – if we only speak about the Arab countries – who love football and love to watch the World Cup and for some reason they cannot have that,” al-Fridhi said.

“So, allow me to say myself, I don’t accept that. Football is not only about business and the players in the stadium, football is a very social event, maybe the most social event in a country or a society – mainly the World Cup.”

Al-Khelaifi is charged with inciting Valcke to commit “aggravated criminal mismanagement.”

According to the prosecution, the case relates to a meeting on October 24, 2013 at the French headquarters of BeIN, when Al-Khelaifi allegedly promised to buy a villa in Sardinia for five million euros ($5.9 million), granting its exclusive use to Valcke.


CNN’s Sam Feist on everything you need to know about the US election

Updated 30 October 2020

CNN’s Sam Feist on everything you need to know about the US election

  • Arab News is joined by CNN Senior Vice President and Washington Bureau Chief Sam Feist in a discussion on the upcoming US presidential election

What is the electoral college?

The electoral college is the mechanism by which America elects its president, and it’s unique to the US. In most countries, you either elect a member of parliament democratically and then those members go on to form a government, or there is a popular vote to choose the president. In the US system, the popular vote of each state instead chooses a certain number of electors, and the number of those is calculated by the number of members of Congress and the number of senators in each state. So, if you have a state that has, say, five members of Congress, add in the two senators, and you have seven electoral votes in that State.

This matters because most states in the US pick their electors using a ‘winner-takes-all’ method, so even if a candidate only wins by 1 percent in a particular state, that candidate will win all of its electors. For example, Florida has 29 electoral votes, so if you win that state, even by a tiny margin, you win all 29 of those; it’s not proportional.

On election day, Americans choose their electors, and those electors will typically vote for the candidate who wins that state. Then, later in the year, those electors will come together and vote, and make the results of election day official.

There are two exceptions: Nebraska and Maine choose their electors by congressional district, rather than by the winner-takes-all method, so if Donald Trump takes Nebraska, Joe Biden could still get some electors by winning a congressional district in one of those states, or vice versa.

So, the presidential election is not a popular vote across the country; in fact, in several recent elections — 2000 and 2016 come to mind — the winner did not win the national popular vote.

How many votes are needed to win?

There are 538 electoral votes up for grabs, and you need 270 electoral votes for the win.

Which are the swing states?

The states that we have been watching throughout this year at CNN are Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Florida, to which I would also add Ohio. As the year has progressed, we’ve added more to that list: Iowa, Georgia, Nevada and some people even say Texas.

The interesting thing about these battleground states is that, except for Nevada, they are all states that Donald Trump won in 2016. All Joe Biden needs to do in this election is capture the states that Hillary Clinton won, plus three more states, and he will be president. In 2020, Donald Trump will have to defend more states than Joe Biden if he is to win.

These battleground states really fall into two categories. Firstly, you have the so-called Rust Belt states: manufacturing hubs like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. These are states that have traditionally been Democrat states, and they’re states in which Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The second category is comprised of states that have experienced demographic shifts. These states, like Florida, Arizona, Georgia and North Carolina, have seen increasing numbers of Hispanics and, in some areas, African Americans, so the demographic is shifting from a predominantly white population toward a growing minority population. This is leading to political shifts as well: As these states become more diverse, not to mention in some cases younger in profile, that could benefit Joe Biden and the Democrats. They will be hoping that 2020 is the year that some of those states reach a tipping point for Democrats.

In terms of issues, there are always specific ones that motivate certain parts of the electorate. For some evangelical voters, it may be abortion; for other voters, it might be immigration or perhaps gun control.

But in this election, our surveys are showing us that there are two issues overshadowing all others: firstly, the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis and how the President has handled it; and then the economy overall and which candidate is most likely to lead the country back to a strong recovery.

Our surveys suggest that if your number-one issue is COVID-19, then you are more likely to be a Biden voter. If you’re more focused on how best to get the economy back on track, however, then you may be a Trump voter. As we head into the final week, these are really the two key issues across the country. 

When will we know the result?

It is less likely that we will get a result on election night than in other years because more Americans will be voting by mail than in any US election in history.

Put simply, it takes longer to count mail-in votes. There are mechanical things that slow the process. For example, you have to open the envelope (in some states there are two envelopes); most states check signatures against your voter registration card; you have to make sure the registration information matches the ballot and that you have not yet voted.

All that processing takes time. Because of that, and because some states take longer than others to count, we expect that we may not be able to make a projection on election night — but it is still possible. Some states have already started counting mail-in ballots. Florida is one of them; they started the second week of October. 

But even if we don’t get a winner on election night, that’s okay. It doesn’t mean anything is wrong. Remember, in two out of the last five elections we didn’t know the result on election night. In 2000, it famously took 31 days because they had to recount all the Florida ballots. In 2004, the election came down to one state — Ohio — and it wasn’t until noon the next day that we were able to project Ohio for George W. Bush, and he defeated John Kerry.

Everybody needs to be patient and let the states count the votes, open those mail-in ballots, report the votes and we’ll know the winner soon enough. 

Are mail-in ballots fraudulent?

There is no evidence of widespread fraud in mail-in or in-person elections in the US. All sorts of security measures are taken to make sure that people only vote once and that the person who sends in the ballot is the person whose name is on the ballot.

Some states, Republican and Democratic, have had mail-in voting for many years. Utah and Oregon have had almost entirely mail-in ballots for years with no significant evidence of fraud. Mail-in voting frequently has a higher participation rate, so there are some societal benefits in that respect. 

What happens if Trump doesn’t accept the result?

There are paths to legal challenges or recounts in some states if the result is exceptionally close — as we saw in Florida in 2000 — but most elections are not close, so I think the chances are that a clear winner will emerge.

The vote reporting will be carried out in an orderly fashion, and at some point we will project a winner, and states will eventually certify the results. It just might take a few days.

When does the winner move into the White House?

On Jan. 20, at noon, the inauguration takes place. This is written in the constitution. At that moment, if there is a new president, an interesting tradition takes place: When the outgoing president heads to the Capitol for the inauguration, a team of movers comes in and moves his personal belongings out of the White House and brings all the new president’s personal belongings in. You actually see the moving trucks arrive as the dignitaries gather at the Capitol.

After the inauguration, when a new president arrives, all his belongings are in place, his photos are on his desk and everything is ready for him to get to work.

What happens if there is a tie?

That’s highly unlikely, but technically possible. There are a couple kinds of ties. You could have a tie in a state, but that’s next to impossible given the vast numbers of people voting.

A more likely scenario is an electoral college tie, and the constitution has a provision for that: The election is decided in the House of Representatives, with each state casting one vote. Under the current make-up of the House, because the Republicans hold a majority of the delegations, Donald Trump would likely be re-elected in that scenario.

Given their ages, what happens if whoever wins passes away in office?

The vice president takes over, and the new president picks a vice president. This last happened in 1963, when Lyndon B. Johnson took office following John F. Kennedy’s death, and Johnson appointed Hubert Humphrey to serve as vice president.

Are there also elections for Congress?

In 2020, we will elect the entire US House of Representatives — 435 seats — and about a third of the Senate. Senators have six-year terms, so every two years about a third of that chamber is elected. Many states have elections for governors, mayoral races, local elections, and city council races, so a lot of elections will be taking place this year.

Follow the US election on CNN International and at cnn.com/election