The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Links for 11/15/07 + al-Jazeera

I went up the tubes that make up the internets and found these:

Letter from Iraq: Inside the Surge - The New Yorker - The new US strategy in Iraq
Hidden Costs' Double Price Of Two Wars, Democrats Say - WaPo - Bush lied about that too
Good news from Gaza - Haaretz - Hamas getting more like regular army
An African crisis worse than Darfur - Al Jazeera - Good reporting on Somalia, but they don't back their headline
The Threat Of Islamic Fascism - Newsweek - Akbar Ganji has an intelligent piece on fascism in the Muslim world
For Young Libyans, Old-Style Marriage Is a Dream Too Far - WaPo - Frustrated youth
Libya changes tourist entry rules - BBC - Yet another example of Libya's arbitrariness
Cairo farmers fight army for land - AFP - Interesting piece on little talked about military-business nexus
Behind closed doors - Comment is Free - Muslim Brother reproaches Western double standards on rights
Dissent Magazine - In Defense of Academic Boycotts - Part of a Israel debate, follow links for other side
Ajami's Voice - The New York Sun - Neocon paper calls for Fouad Ajami to lead US Public Diplomacy
Tomb raiders - Guardian Unlimited Arts - King Tut exhibit gets demolished in this review
The New Face of Al Jazeera - The Nation - Al Jazeera getting more Islamist

If you read the last piece on al-Jazeera, it comes up with some interesting testimony of how al-Jazeera has changed its tone to become more "Islamist" (that can mean a lot of things, but let's let that pass for now). Anyone who regularly watches has noticed this, and their coverage of Iraq can be a little disturbing at times. I also hate how they always respectfully refer to religious imbeciles advocating the most moronic and dangerous types of ideas, notably using using honorific titles such as Sheikh. However, part of this article is about how al-Jazeera has failed to achieve that much in terms of democratizing the region. From the conclusion:

After years of a near-monopoly in the televised Arab media, Al Jazeera has inspired countless imitators throughout the Arab world. The only competitor that has come close is Al Arabiya. Jazeera still holds a majority market share, a remarkable accomplishment after more than ten years. And Jazeera has forced the Arab governments to at least consider the possible media consequences of their actions, something that would have been unthinkable before the network's 1996 launch.

Jazeera's pandering to the so-called Arab street feeds off and into the anger of a part of Arab society that is spoiling for a fight--people who are angry about what they consider Western decadence and the oppression of Muslims. It may also offer solace or diversion to the many who are poor and politically powerless, and who feel that their government does not address their concerns in any way.

What Jazeera misses is the middle-class Arab population that isn't angry, that has given up on politics and doesn't have time to call in to these programs. They try to ignore their governments, which have so little to offer. And when such people turn on the television, says Nidal Mansour, they expect entertainment. For those who regularly watch Al Jazeera, the constant parade of blood and guts may even have an inuring effect. "Al Jazeera turned death into yet another boring soap opera," says Mansour.

In a region so controlled for so long, Al Jazeera created a mainstream, Arab-centered narrative for the Israel-Palestine conflict and others in the region. But for all its achievements, the grip of repressive Arab regimes seems to be as tight as ever. Ten years of breaking taboos, promoting reform, exposing corruption and rigged elections has meant those governments have to work a little harder to cover up their abuses. But power is still very much centralized. Jazeera has a tangible impact on public opinion, but that public has--so far--failed to mobilize and seriously challenge the dictatorships.

"Arab governments saw this kind of [free] media change nothing," says Faisal Yassiri, Al Jazeera's former Baghdad bureau chief. "It's just coffeehouse talk."
A lot of problems here. That al-Jazeera still holds a majority share of the market is not surprising, it is the incumbent channel everyone must challenge and has excellent and wide coverage of Arab issues. Only al-Arabiya comes close in breadth. On the question of "pandering to the Arab street," I find that concept rather useless. If anything al-Jazeera is trying to shape public opinion on certain issues, and does so with a populist touch. But this article suggests that it is giving people what they want. I am not sure that any public anywhere knows what it wants from a TV station. Even if it has provocative programming, describing the channel as all blood and guts is ridiculous. There's plenty of variety on al-Jazeera. And finally, who ever said al-Jazeera's mission is to bring down dictatorships in the Arab world? ?The author of the article is addressing a certain discourse, prominent in the West, that al-Jazeera is somehow the great white hope of the Arab world. Not it's not: it's just a TV station, and one owned by an absolute monarch. But overall it's a pretty good TV station -- just don't expect its job to be overthrowing dictators. That's just silly.

Also read this post at Abu Muqawama on Al Jazeera English and why it should be more widely available. By the way I love their YouTube page.