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Al Jazeera is no longer Qatari

posted on: Jul 15, 2017

By: Abdel Nasser Salama
Source: Middle East Monitor

Angry global reactions regarding the demands to shut down Qatar’s Al Jazeera channel confirm that the channel is no longer Qatari, except in the understanding of us Arabs. It has gained the attention of viewers across the world, not only with its news coverage in Arabic, or even through its well-known sports coverage, but through Al Jazeera English. Therefore, the world considers demands to shut down the channel to be a further set back suffered by the region in terms of freedom of press, human rights and dictatorships in general. These dictatorships are no longer limited to the governments of ruling families, as the republics have become no less of a dictatorship, even exceeding them at times.

No one can deny that since its inception in 1996, Al Jazeera has impacted Arab media life, and even political life, to a large extent. This is because most of the Arab world television stations did not portray other opinions live on air, which occurred on Al Jazeera for the first time, after CNN’s role in the war on Iraq in 1990. Moreover, Arab television stations did not have correspondents in conflict areas before Al Jazeera was brought to life. Before then, we as an audience were accustomed to following global events, even our own Arab events, through foreign news agencies, such as Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, United Press, Deutsche Presse-Agentur, etc. This was until all of these news agencies would frequently broadcast Al Jazeera’s footage, after it achieved overwhelming superiority for several reasons.

The Arab television stations and official news agencies should have sought to develop themselves in order to keep pace with what was happening, but unfortunately they didn’t. Instead, during Al Jazeera’s early years, the governments in the region began causing political crises with Qatar, matters even reaching embassies and foreign ministries at times, and the Arab League at other times. However, these efforts were unsuccessful in reigning in the stubborn news station, which forced some to change their tactics in recent years by founding new, parallel television stations working in the same manner as Al Jazeera in an effort to steer viewers away from it. Meanwhile, Arab news agencies continued to consider themselves mouthpieces for the official governments, only reporting the news of his Majesty, the activities of his Excellency, or the statements of the Honourable.

Indeed, several news channels affiliated with certain regimes came into existence, including Saudi Arabia’s Al-Arabiya, the UAE’s Sky News, and before that, Egypt’s Nile News. However, Al Jazeera launched documentary, sports and English channels, making it more accomplished in many instances than the US’ CNN and the UK’s BBC. French, Russian and even Korean channels were launched to participate in the battle of media viewing, but the Qatari channel had gone beyond its media role to play a major political role in the events known as the Arab Spring, playing a role bigger than just a television channel.

It is strange that both the governments and nations welcomed Al Jazeera’s role, such as the role it played in Egypt, specifically during the January 25th Revolution in 2011. The channel found cooperation from those responsible for governing the country at the time and was also welcomed by the people. However, it was clear that the interests were no longer mutual in many capitals. This is what the Western public opinion and international organisations do not understand. This is also what made the UN in particular criticise the calls to shut down the television station and describe it as an unacceptable attack. Robert Colville, spokesman for the UN’s human rights commissioner, issued a statement objecting to the demands for its closure, in which he said “to insist that such channels be shut down is extraordinary, unprecedented and clearly unreasonable.”

All of this suggests that the demand to shut down Al Jazeera had not been properly studied by the countries making the demand, like the other demands that hit a snag in the face of simple things. In this instance, such a demand hit a snag because it is against a sovereign country that is international recognised, and this will not be acceptable by the international community. This has allowed a country with a population of less than half a million people to strongly challenge these demands with the support of major countries as well. This has affected the calculations of the countries boycotting Qatar.

I believe that the political mistake made by the four boycotting countries regarding this crisis is their repeat of the media mistake they made over the past 21 years, i.e. as long as Al Jazeera exists. It would have been a better media choice to make an argument based on reasoning through the hundreds of Arab channels available at the moment for no actual reason. Daily condemnation and arguments are the biggest evidence of failure.

Moreover, the four foreign ministers were not persuasive or even up to the challenge of discussing their issue, compared to a young man who carried his country’s cause on his shoulders. The secrets of the crisis lie in the visit of President Donald Trump to the region, while the secret to the truce lies in his latest telephone call to Cairo.