Gulf Crisis the Reason of Discorde: al-Jazeera Intrudes Again
Why were the U.S. officials and the Arab regimes concerned about al-Jazeera? This is strange since they were dreaming to democratize the Arab world and launching reform processes.
By Abdennour Toumi
Al-Jazeera is the Arab network that has caused a lot of noise in both the Arab world and the West due to both its on-the-ground coverage and the debate that took place on the network’s plateaus.
First, let’s introduce the network to Western viewers: in Arabic al-Jazeera means “the Island.” It was founded in 1996 by the Emir’s father of Qatar Sheikh Hamed Ben Khalifa al-Thani, who gave the station a free editorial line. It was the first independent, informative news network in the Arab world.
Second, the TV network shifted the mentalities and thoughts of millions of Arabs in MENA region, and also broke political and cultural taboos and ways of thinking across the region.
For instance, in covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it showed both Israeli and Palestinian viewpoints. With well-documented programs and constructive political talk shows, it covered all major stories from the Afghan and Iraq invasions to military siege of Gaza and recently the covering of the so-called Arab Spring.
It was the first time an Arab network took such a role in any war and waves of political change that happened in Arab and Muslim lands.
This story leads to the dialectic and problematic point created in regards to the network.
In light of the sensless discorde that is taking place with in the GCC members and Egypt — the shut down of the network is one of the reason or the password of the crisis, al-Jazeera has condemned the call for its closure as “nothing but an attempt to end freedom of expression in the region, and suppress the right to information.”
Al-Jazeera didn’t intrude the Arab regimes, but even leaders of old democracies, during the pre-and-post Iraq invasion in 2003. At that time, the U.S. officials considered al-Jazeera as a mouthpiece for al-Qae’eda and the insurgents in Iraq with a Palestinian bias.
The station’s bureaus in Kabul and its reporter in Iraq were bombed and killed respectively in 2001 and 2003. Former President W. Bush once gave a simultaneous interview with two other Arabic networks in competition with al-Jazeera: al-Arabia based in Dubai and al-Hurrah based in Virginia, sponsored by the Pentagon, and created to counter al-Jazeera’s coverage.
Apparently former the U.S. President W. Bush had bombing al-Jazeera’s headquarter in Doha Qatar in mind according to a Downing Street memo and an al-Jazeera reporter; this silly idea came from a fallen former Arab leader, who jokingly suggested it to President W. Bush.
Al-Jazeera has been becoming TV non-grata in most Arab countries such as Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Egypt, Sudan and the new Iraq. Its correspondents are either suspended, expelled, or jailed, like Mr. Taisir Alouani, the al-Jazeera correspondent in Madrid, Spain. However the network is a real catalyst for change in the Arab World.
The journalists and reporters, who work for al-Jazeera believe in change and in informing their people, not only to provide them with news, but to give them analyses concerning it. Most of the journalists worked for the official (and sole) State TV in their respective countries prior to working for al-Jazeera.
They know what censorship and State control are. They joined al-Jazeera to change their societies not by radical agendas or military invasions, but by information and the power of the free press.
Why were the U.S. officials and the Arab regimes concerned about al-Jazeera? This is strange since they were dreaming to democratize the Arab world and launching reform processes. Here is an opportunity for them to do so, to help to build that bridge, which is now under troubled water caused by decades of militarized U.S. foreign policy in the region and socio-political turmoils as a result of the Arab revolts some Arab political leaders and media pundits argue.
Would a different behavior towards al-Jazeera radically change the U.S. prestige in the region, and the Arabs life? True acceptance of the principle of free speech in the Arab world by allowing al-Jazeera to broadcast freely would be an efficient means to approach the hearts and the minds of the Arabs and to fight the fanaticism that occurs in their societies.
Arab street looks at this opportunity as a chance to receive credible news. Let them watch and decide if they wish to. If the network reaches millions with new pictures and comments of what is really going on in their lands, from corruption to wars against their fellow Arabs and Muslims in Egypt, Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Afghanistan; then the people can talk about understanding others rather than talking about their elimination.
Let have true competition in the marketplace of ideas, and maybe the idea of free speech, a necessary component of democracy and reform in the Arab world, will win.
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