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The revolution in Qatar 7, March 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Qatar.
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No, not that sort of revolution. Not at all. The vast majority of Qataris are a happy bunch. They have one of the most forward-thinking elites in the region, a comfortable life and after Qatar’s recent triumphs and on-going conflict resolution adventures, quite a sense of pride in their country.

So there will be no masses on the streets calling for revolution. Sure, a handful of people have been making all sorts of curious demands on Facebook, but, as I noted before, every country has their share of people on the lunatic fringe (and who is to say that those starting or ‘liking’ the Facebook pages are even Qatari?).

Instead, Qatar’s (mini; micro?) revolution will be played out as a struggle for greater freedom of expression. True, Qatar is the host of Al Jazeera and has no Ministry of Information stifling domestic press. But one needn’t be a Gulf expert to note that Al Jazeera is frequently criticised for not covering stories within Qatar while Qatar’s domestic press is tame to say the least.

But things are changing.

First, Al Jazeera ran a story criticising the Qatari government for holding a Qatari blogger. They quoted an (incendiary as ever) spokesperson for Amnesty International as saying that he is at risk of ‘being tortured’ while in Qatari custody. I personally doubt this very much, but this is not the point; it is the fact that they overtly and explicitly ran a story that criticised Qatari authorities. Though this has happened before, such events are few and far between.

Secondly, there was a surprising editorial in The Peninsula, a Qatari daily newspaper, openly criticising the self-censorship that Qatari journalists employ. It also noted that editors tend to ask for or demand uncritical pieces from their journalists, essentially, for an easy life. Kudos to The Peninsula for running this article.

This, it seems to me, will be how the Spring Revolutions play out in Qatar: as a (minor) battle or simply an argument for greater freedom of the press domestically.

The Qatari authorities have little to fear. As I said at the beginning, it is my honest opinion that the vast majority of Qataris are more then content with how things are currently going in Qatar. If a nation’s press reflects its readership at all, then although there will no doubt be one or two articles disagreeing with official policy here and there, overall, frankly I wouldn’t expect much to change.

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Al Jazeera to broadcast in India 4, January 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Qatar.
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Al Jazeera English is to start broadcasting in India where it has just been granted a licence to operate. This potentially gives Al Jazeera the opportunity to broadcast to 115 million households in the world’s second most populous country, increasing Al Jazeera English’s global audience by nearly 50%.

An excellent article on this subject notes that when ALE launched in 2006 they asked to operate in India but were refused by the Indian Home Ministry citing ‘security considerations’.

 

Egypt & Qatar: a quick background 3, December 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Egypt, Qatar.
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One of thegulfblog’s esteemed readers and frequent commentors asked for a quick background on Qatar and Egypt. So voilà. If anyone else wants any brief background pieces, in case I gloss over things too quickly, please just drop me a line: if I know enough, I’ll give it a go! Thanks:

Nasser in the 50s and 60s made Egypt the most important and leading nation in the Arab world. However, it has been downhill since they were wholly mullered by Israel in 1967 (yanni: beaten very badly). Though nominal pride was restored in 1973, Sadat’s visit to the Knesset in 1977 wholly finished off Egypt as a regional power.

Mubarak and indeed ‘all’ Egyptians long for the time of Nasser; when it mattered what Egypt said and did, when it was the leader. While in recent times they – by virtue of their history and their population size – still try to throw their weight around as if they were preeminent, they are not and what is worse is that they know they are not (and they know that others know that they know that they are not – if you see what I mean);)

So, when little – if not microscopic – Qatar comes along in the late 1990s and hosts a TV channel that repeatedly slams Egypt, they are less than amused. At a profound level, Qatar’s power (growing ever since; at its apogee now) really annoys Egypt as they are in many ways more powerful than ‘mighty’ Egypt. (Why did Al Jazeera repeatedly slam Egypt? Cause it was easy, fun and, most importantly, great, salacious TV).

Egypt’s anger has erupted frequently over Al Jazeera. One of the worst breaks happened in Jan/Feb 2009 when Qatar held parallel peace conferences after Israel’s Cast Lead operation. This was seen by Egypt and other ‘traditional powers’ (Saudi) as this little cheeky state once more trying to usurp the natural order: they didn’t get to call conferences!

(Incidentally, Egypt views Al Jazeera as little more than the publicity department of the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs: which is essentially wrong.)

A couple of interesting snippets emerged from the Wikileaks cables. The Emir or HBJ (I can’t remember) said that he believes that Egypt is purposefully not seeking as fast a solution to the Palestinian question as they want to prolong their time ‘in the spotlight’. He also said that he would close Al Jazeera down for a year if Egypt facilitated peace in Palestine!

Egypt elections, Qatar & Abu Dhabi 29, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Egypt, Qatar.
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An interesting snippet from the Angry Arab.

Husni Mubarak visited Doha, Qatar after years of a feud between the two rulers.  (Of course, Mubarak stopped in Abu Dhabi first: the Emir of Qatar told me that Mubarak receives a blank check from the ruler of UAE in every visit–a blank check, literally).  Mubarak wants to make up with Qatar during the “elections” because he worries about AlJazeera coverage.  Unfortunately, his plan will work: Aljazeera’s coverage softened greatly after the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.  Arab rulers can make up while sharpening knives behind the curtain.

How has the Al Jazeera coverage of Egypt’s election been? Anyone..?

Al Jazeera shut out of Morocco 2, November 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, North Africa.
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Morocco is the latest (of many) countries to ban Al Jazeera from operating within its borders. The Ministry of Communication withdrew Al Jazeera’s accreditation for not undertaking “serious and responsible journalism” and following “numerous failures in  (following) the rules”.

The Communications Minister insisted that Al Jazeera systematically refused to be objective and sought to tarnish Morocco’s image.

These claims are strenuously denied by Al Jazeera.

The dispute centers around Al Jazeera’s coverage of Islamists in Morocco and their Western Saharan issues. Since the Casablanca bombing in 2003 killing over 40 people, AFP reports that over 2000 people have been arrested. The long-running saga of Western Sahara and the Polisario Front is a sore topic for the Kingdom and is a firm ‘red line’ over which reporting is all but banned.

Indeed, Al Jazeera was banned in 2000 and the Moroccan Ambassador briefly withdrawn from Doha over coverage of the issue. Relations were mended and in 2004 Qatar even brokered a hostage exchange between the Polisario Front and Morocco for the return of captured Moroccan troops. Releations worsened again in 2008 when Al Jazeera was banned from covering the Maghreb countries from Rabat and Al Jazeera’s Morocco bureau chief was convicted of “disseminating false information” regarding security forces clashes in Sidi Ifni.

Morocco’s banning of Al Jazeera is widely seen as a backward-step for the country which was, at one stage, slowly liberalizing its grip on social and political spaces. Now it joins its neighbors Algeria and Tunisia as countries with closed Al Jazeera offices; not necessarily a group of countries that Morocco wants to join.

Al Jazeera up for International Emmy 15, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera.
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Al Jazeera has been nominated for an International Emmy award for their coverage during the Gaza War.

Such an accolade may go towards bolstering its reputation. In the West it has a reputation, among some at least, for stoking Palestinian flames and an anti-Israeli stance. Those in the Arab world charge either the same or that it is simply an organ of Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Israelis to sue Al Jazeera 15, July 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
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AP reports that a group of Israelis are suing Al Jazeera for $1.2 billion in New York for aiding Hezbollah. These 91 Israelis were wounded by Hezbollah’s rockets in the 2006 war. They suggest that Al Jazeera intentionally broke Israel’s military censorship rules and reported specific locations of rocket attacks in Israel allowing Hezbollah to more accurately aim their rockets.

I don’t like their chances.

Bahrain abolishes information ministry 10, July 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Bahrain.
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Bahrain has announced that it is abolishing its information ministry. Ordinarily, this is a good sign of loosening of press censorship.

Qatar, for example, used the abolition of its information ministry in 1995 to signal a shift in the country’s view of news coverage. Along with the foundation of Al Jazeera, this act was widely seen as Qatar eschewing a staid, authoritarian mindset and entering the twenty-first century. True, Qatar’s domestic press is tame and decidedly uninvestigative, but at least Qatar has some mostly free media in the country.

Indeed, this relatively free media – Al Jazeera – recently ran a story on poverty in Bahrain which prompted their expulsion from Manama. This is hardly an auspicious omen coming in the weeks before it decides to get rid of its information ministry. So, unless there has been some paradigm shift in attitudes in Bahrain – which there hasn’t – this abolition, like in the UAE and to a lesser extent in Qatar, is more of a PR change than a real signal of changing attitudes to press censorship.

Al Jazeera sues Egypt’s Al Ahram 6, July 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, American ME Relations.
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The perpetual battle between Qatar’s Al Jazeera and various other Middle Eastern media outlets has taken another twist.

A Qatari daily reports that Al Jazeera has filed lawsuits against Egypt’s Al Ahram for “false and distorted reports” relating to coverage of the resignation of five Al Jazeera female presenters. They are demanding £5 million damages.

Memri further reports that Al Ahram’s owners along with other Egyptian papers criticised the story in an attempt to fend off Al Jazeera’s suits, to no apparent avail.

5 female Al Jazeera anchors resign 31, May 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera.
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At least five female presenters of Al Jazeera’s Arabic news have resigned. Numerous reasons are mooted for this (relatively) mass exodus. The most prominent reason (seriously…) appears to be (no, really…) issues relating to their clothes and make-up (honestly…). This could be (and I sincerely hope that this is), however, some kind of ‘muddying of the waters’, so to speak, to camouflage more serious issues.

Other rumors suggest that the grievances are more to do with:

  • “the imposition of one political and ideological view” in the newsroom i.e. ‘Islamist’-type views
  • Cumulative “unprofessional policies” over several years
  • Harassment

The anchors in question are Julnar Moussa, Jumana Nammour, Lona Ashibl, Lina Zahreddine, Nawfar Ali. Several others are also voicing their support so that number could well rise.

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