The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged jazeera
Al Jazeera sues Egypt for $150m

Clever strategy by Qatar, and an interesting case – might go further than simply claiming censorship, although a state's ability to retain control of broadcasting or to control what it sees as hateful or incitement speech on its airwaves is unlikely to be challenged. One might also ask why al-Jazeera has not filed suit with other governments that have temporarily banned it, such as Morocco: 

Lawyers for Al Jazeera on Monday notified the Egyptian government that they would be seeking compensation under the investor/state dispute mechanism included in a 1999 investment treaty between Egypt and Qatar.
The lawyers argue that by arresting and attacking Al Jazeera journalists, seizing the broadcaster’s property and jamming its signal, the Egyptian government has violated its rights as a foreign investor in the country and put the $90m it has invested in Egypt since 2001 at risk.

Read the rest at the FT.

Ahmed Mansour interviews Youssef Nada

MB-watchers may be interested in Al Jazeera's Ahmed Mansour interviewing, in two parts, Muslim Brotherhood financier Youssef Nada. Not exactly a hostile interview considering Mansour's pro-MB leanings, but some interesting tidbits including on Nada's role in the MB, his views of Saudi Arabia ("how can entire people be named after one family?") and Sisi (his followers are "slaves").

Part two of the interview here.

Arab Spring Overdose?

✚ Arab Spring Overdose?

Countering Sultan al-Qassemi's argument I posted this morning, the new blog Moniraism agrees about the bias of al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya but says it's nothing new, and the same bias was evident during the Egyptian uprisings — so why the fuss?

"Another interesting point was how Sultan claims that Al Jazeera was a more reliable source of news before it began reporting on Syria. Though I’d like to believe it, this idea itself is far removed from reality. Since its inception, one can safely say that Al Jazeera was the most controversial, provocative news channel on the Arabian satellite airwaves. In its regular broadcast it referred to Jerusalem as ‘occupied Jerusalem’, had analysts and politicians screaming at each other with occasional fist fights on its ‘opposite direction’ talk show, and it was the first station to exclusively air Osama Bin Laden’s videos post-911. In Kuwait in the late 90s, we also had a conspiracy theory circulating that it was being funded by Saddam Hussein, so many Kuwaitis boycotted the channel altogether.

During the Arab spring, Al Jazeera’s popularity exploded because it was the only channel that continuously broadcast the entirety of the revolution from Tunisia to Egypt to Yemen to Libya. Its dramatically edited inserts between news segments about events that were taking place was something new to see in a news channel broadcast. It was sensational, moving, and shaped the imagination of its viewers about current events (Al Arabiya was also quick to copy these inserts to catch up on the ‘drama’ that it was missing out on).

In other words, the agenda was already there for everyone to see."

The case of Sami al-Hajj

I've been traveling for the last few days and have not been able to blog much. Here's a contribution to the blog by Arabist reader Paul Mutter, on the case of Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj. Normal activities will resume next week. 

Sami al-Hajj, Al Jazeera Cameraman Held at Guantanamo Bay for Six Years, Detained over His “Intelligence Value” as an Al Jazeera Employee

By Paul Mutter

(Photo © Al Jazeera English, 2008)

Sami al-Hajj (pictured), a 42year old Sudanese man, was an Al Jazeera journalist detained by Pakistani authorities on December 15, 2001 when he and a colleague attempted to leave Afghanistan. The Pakistanis then turned him over to U.S. forces as a suspected “enemy combatant.”

He was eventually sent to Guantanamo Bay, where he arrived on June 14, 2002. He then spent the next six years there, until he was cleared of all charges in 2008.

Al-Hajj was considered an “enemy combatant” whose “access to senior terrorist leaders demonstrates his probable connections to the al-Qaida network and other militant jihadist organizations . . . . Detainee is a member of al-Qaida who is an expert in logistics with direct ties to al-Qaida leadership.”

However, new evidence has come to light that shows the U.S. government hoped to use al-Hajj as a source of intelligence, perhaps even an informant, on Al Jazeera’s work, either to spy on the network’s operations, or to track down Taliban and al Qaeda leaders.  

al-Hajj was, in actuality, also viewed as a valued asset in the U.S. government’s efforts to keep tabs on the news outlet and, according to some, send a message to the agency over its allegedly anti-American coverage of the “War on Terror.”

His dentition was symbolic of the way many in the U.S. policy establishment viewed Al Jazeera. al-Hajj’s imprisonment was only one aspect of the wider contention between the U.S. government and the news network.

Donald Rumsfeld, former Secretary of Defense, told reporters in 2004 that “I can definitively say that what Al Jazeera is doing is vicious, inaccurate and inexcusable.” “Al Jazeera’s real transgression during the “war on terror” was a simple one: being there,” wrote The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill in 2005. al-Hajj’s, according to the AL Jazeera interviewer who spoke to him recently, was someone “in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Although al-Hajj won his freedom in 2008, no documentation surfaced regarding his arrest and imprisonment. But, in April 2011, Wikileaks released “The Guantanamo Files” to several news outlets. The 779 internal memos in the documentary collection are profiles of detainees produced for Department of Defense and Joint Task Force Guantanamo officials. They chronicle multiple instances of mismanagement, abuse and other questionable actions taken towards the detainees.

The document “Recommendation for Continued Detention Under DoD Control (CD) for Guantanamo Detainee, ISN US9SU-000345DP (S)” is Sami al-Hajj’s prisoner profile. The first reason given for his detention is as follows:

The relationship between UBC [United Beverages Company, a suspected front company for mujahedeen organizations] and al-Haramayn [a Saudi charity that is as of 2004 a “specially designated global terrorist organization”], to include specifically the role played by UBC Director Abdul al-Latif al-Imran. 

His overall guilt and association with al Qaeda’s logistics arm is demonstrated, in the eyes of the analyst writing the memo, partly by being “knowledgeable about certain illegal activities such as weapons and drug smuggling . . . he is careful not to implicate himself as a member of an extremist organization, or to have had any dealings with extremists beyond performing interviews as a journalist.” Most of the evidence for his supposed terrorist ties was circumstantial and based on testimony from other Guantanamo prisoners or unnamed foreign intelligence sources in the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan.

A second reason was also given:

The al-Jazeera News Network’s training program, telecommunications equipment, and newsgathering operations in Chechnya, Kosovo, and Afghanistan, including the network’s acquisition of a video of UBL [Usama bin Laden] and a subsequent interview with UBL.

The second reason is significant because the anonymous analyst writing the document, signed off on by then-Guantanamo commander Rear Admiral Mark H. Buzby, rated al-Hajj’s “intelligence value” as “high” because “during his employment with UBC and al-Jazeera, he made numerous contacts with high-level extremists to include leaders of al-Qaida and the Taliban” and “He can probably provide information about al-Jazeera Media’s possible support to al-Qaida, the Taliban, and other Islamic militant groups.”

The conclusion was symbolic of the Bush administration’s mistrust and dislike of Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera, founded in 1996 in Qatar, has had a troubled relationship with the U.S. government since its inception, particularly over its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. However, the relationship took a turn for the worse after 9/11, when the U.S. government accused it of airing “terrorist propaganda” and lies, and in actively collaborating with al Qaeda. Their coverage of civilian causalities from U.S. military operations (the Battle of Fallujah was a particularly contentious example) and showing of footage from videos by al Qaeda and other terrorist groups drew sustained criticism from the Bush White House, the State Department and the Pentagon

Relations have improved, with the U.S. eager to demonstrate support for the movements that have toppled the Mubarak and Ben Ali regimes, writes Politico, “the Arab Spring has brought Al-Jazeera in from the cold,” for now, anyway. Relations are still frosty (and stirred up by anti-Muslim sentiment: Al Jazeera’s entry into the U.S. media market has been torturous).

 And, perhaps more significantly, Guantanamo Bay, as well as the legal system and logic behind it, are still operating.

Ayman Mohieldin on Colbert

Our friend Ayman Mohieldin, TV superstar on the Egyptian revolution because his stellar coverage on al-Jazeera English, was on the Colbert Report. He did not lose his cool. Kudos for that almost makes us forget about our resentment of his newfound heartthrob status.

Reassessing al-Jazeera

This is an important piece on al-Jazeera. Olivier Da Lage starts off noting the commonplaces about al-Jazeera's pioneering role in Arab satellite TV and the political impact of its hard-hitting reporting and interviews. And then he makes this crucial point:

But Al Jazeera was launched in 1996 and this is 2010, 14 years later. We cannot be satisfied repeating the same clichés, however true they may be, about the pioneering role of Al Jazeera. In the course of these 14 years the media and political landscapes around Al Jazeera have profoundly changed, largely due to the role it played in disrupting the traditional media system in the Arab world. But these changes, in turn, affected Al Jazeera for two main reasons. The most obvious reason is that, in 1996, Al Jazeera's style of reporting was unchallenged in the Arab world. This is no longer true. By setting the standard, Al Jazeera created the conditions and the framework for real competition and pluralism, and everyone had to more or less adapt to the Al Jazeera model. As a result, Al Jazeera is still a figurehead and a major actor, but it no longer has a monopoly on professional and independent reporting in Arabic. The second reason might be less obvious but it is linked to the reason for which Al Jazeera was originally created. Irrespective of the sincerity of the new Qatari Emir regarding freedom of the press, Sheikh Hamad had set himself a major objective: put Qatar on the geopolitical map well beyond the size of its territory and population. Al Jazeera was instrumental in achieving this goal, as the subsequent years have proven.

By its constant interviewing of political opponents, Al Jazeera infuriated virtually all Arab heads of state, and western leaders alike. Some of its bureaux were closed, and diplomatic relations were (temporarily) severed. Throughout this turmoil, the Qatari Emir stood by Al Jazeera's management in the name of democracy and freedom of the press. Whether his interlocutors were convinced by his stance remains to be seen, but they had to accept it, and, usually after a few months, the bureaux were reopened and ambassadors sent back to their posts. The trick was not to alienate every Arab government at the same time, and one must admit that Al Jazeera did a good job of taking them on one by one, making it easier, if not easy, for the Qatari government.

Meanwhile, as Sheikh Hamad had planned, Qatar had developed a reputation for itself. Its diplomacy became active in mediating between Arab or Muslim factions, a role that previously had been the domain only of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Despite numerous misgivings, most Arab states - notably Saudi Arabia - had reluctantly come to terms with the existence of Al Jazeera, and had normalised their relations with Qatar. Several high-level meetings between the Qatari and Saudi leadership marked this reconciliation after long-standing strains in their relationship. (In 1992, there were even armed skirmishes on their border, resulting in three deaths.)iii

Mohammed Jassim Al Ali had been Al Jazeera's managing director since its inception, and he had embodied the new brand of journalism, and its resistance to government pressure that was represented by the channel. Needless to say, he was not very popular with the Saudi or American authorities. So, when his replacement was announced in May 2003, it was difficult not to see a connection. Since then, no one disputes the fact that Al Jazeera has retained its professionalism, but many observers contend that its programmes are less offensive to Saudi Arabia or the United States than they previously had been. Many point out that the first Al Jazeera was a curious blend of Islamic conservatives, Arab nationalists, and, to some extent, free thinkers. The new Al Jazeera has definitely a more religious and conservative flavour. In a nutshell, many have the feeling that Al Jazeera has been normalised along with the normalisation of Qatar's diplomatic relations.

Al Jazeera's conservatism is indeed becoming more and more obvious — even when they interview secularists, they often counter them with several opposing points of views from the religious perspective. And it's obvious to anyone who knows some of their staff in Doha that the channel is basically infiltrated by Muslim Brothers (Egyptian and otherwise) as well as other Islamists. It's still very good, because it's professional, but it's been sad to see its leftist/nationalist side eclipse, not just for political diversity and the religion issue, because one suspects some of these old secularists were also the people most willing to be critical of state policies. 

Links for Jan.05.10
akhbare-rooz (iranian political Bulletin) | List of organizations considered "subversive" by Iranian ministry of inteligence [in Farsi].
The Daily Star - The Gaza scorecard, one year later | Rami Khouri.
Israel approves east Jerusalem building project | Yet another new settlement.
Library of Congress on Islam in Early America « Anonymous Arabist وين الناس | Fascinating.
Tweet freedom | On Twitter activism in Egypt, unfortunately confuses arabawy.org for arabist.net.
Cairo's US Embassy is Worse by Far | Mamoun Fandy: "The embassy has become an embodiment of the meaning of disgracefulness in Cairo, in terms of people's behavior, rudeness, and impoliteness."
gary's choices - The Decade's First Revolution? | Gary Sick on Iran.
لا لحجب الإنترنت بالجزائر - Non à la censure de l'Internet en Algérie - No to Internet Censorship in Algeria Petition | Petition.
Egyptian minister slams Al-Jazeera for 'instigating civil war' - Ynetnews | Over Gaza wall.
Video: Gaza war: One year on, Palestinians struggle to rebuild life from the rubble | guardian.co.uk |
CIA Bomber a Jihadi Blogger? — jihadica | Interesting background on Abu Dujana, as the bomber was allegedly known.
Dear Metallica | Letter asking the metal band not to perform in Israel.
Free Barghouti Now - Haaretz | OK.
The Daily Nuisance | News From The Frontier | New online site from Israel/Palestine
Three days in Iran - The Big Picture - Boston.com | Great pics of Iranian protests.
Links for 09.14.09
Why I Love Al Jazeera - The Atlantic (October 2009) | Robert Kaplan. Incidentally, while some of what he says about al-J (here he means the English channel) is interesting, he does not seem to be conscious that The Atlantic is one of the most biased publications among the mainstream pseudo-highbrow mags in the US.
Osama bin Laden: in it for the long haul | World news | guardian.co.uk | Ian Black on the new Bin Laden audio tape.
Middle East Report 252 contents: Pakistan Under Pressure | New issue of Middle East Report, Getting By in the Global Downturn," with selected articles available online.
A la Mostra, le déroutant voyage d'Ahmed Maher - LeMonde.fr | Success for Egyptian director Ahmed Maher at Venice Film Festival.
The five ages of al-Qaida | World news | guardian.co.uk | Infographic.

Links February 17th to February 19th

Links for February 17th through February 19th:


Links January 29th and February 3rd

Automatically posted links for January 29th through February 3rd:


Links December 19th and January 5th

Automatically posted links for December 19th through January 5th: