Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Demand Al Jazeera?

Apparently, Al Jazeera wants you to demand it! More specifically, they have been trying really hard to woo you with their Egypt coverage and then demand that your domestic broadcasting networks and authorities will feature their English language international broadcast. So far, they have been heavily promoting this campaign on social networking sites such as Facebook and twitter.

Since I have been following Al Jazeera's live stream closely last week, I think I should weigh in.

First of all, I was very impressed with their coverage. They had a thorough presence everywhere it seems, with constant live feed from Tahrir square, Qasr a Nile, 6th of October Bridge, etc. The studio was professional and kept the discussion alive and engaging. There is no doubt that Al Jazeera is an excellent news network.

That's of course all on the positive side. But there is a different, less benign side to Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera has an agenda. It's the private enterprise of the Emir of Qatar, one of the small but rich Gulf Oil Sheikhdoms. In order to increase his wealth, power and influence in the Arab world, he decided to start a professional news network. Of course there is nothing wrong with that, but we need to understand the full context of where Al Jazeera is coming from.

First of all, it has long unfinished business with many Arab autocrats. Partially it's because Arab autocrats are not fans of international independent media and freedom of speech. Of course Al Jazeera uses this point to win moral points from potential western audiences. However, often these rather noble means are used to garner support of westerners to commit to a path with not so noble ends.

In the context of the Egyptian front, the emir of Qatar seems to be close to the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, The MB spiritual leader Qardawi is in exile over there. Perhaps the best way to get the Islamists in power is the hasty collapse of the Mubarak regime (with its vast and powerful apparatus). For this reason, Al Jazeera has done everything it can to tarnish the name of Mubarak and all of his associates. Yes, they are part of a repressive regimes, but more than once I have encountered cases where ambiguity in a complex situation.

For example, any violence is assumed to be caused by 'pro-Mubarak' forces, unless it's obvious that it is done by anti-government demonstrators. I don't know about you, but I have seen plenty of firebombs flying both ways. Another problem is that they are presenting the situation as millions of Egyptians fighting for freedom against Mubarak and his gang of close associates. They fail to mention that while there may have been a couple of million protesters out over the country, there are millions more who would rather have their country back, stable and functioning.

This all does not mean that Egyptians are getting the best kind of government there is, and that no reforms are necessary. But it will serve us much better to take a more cautious road, look at Egypt's amazing and ancient culture, its complex history. What Al Jazeera wants to do is to use the fact that western hearts warm up to the idea of a democratic revolution in order to push an agenda that they understand the strategic consequences of much better than us.

I am not saying that Al Jazeera is all bad and sinister. They should be watched by anyone who cares to watch them (they have a live stream available in English). But from tuning in to actually giving this network permanent access to the mass western television markets.

If you think Fox is too far to the right, or MSNBC is too far to the left. Well, you ain't seen nothing yet!


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