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‘No censorship in UAE’…you sure? 15, August 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Media in the ME, The Emirates.
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UAE’s vice-President and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashin Al Maktoum recently said that

authorities in the UAE do not impose any restrictions on information or news about economic and financial issues.

Which is strange given the blatant censorship in UAE media over various internal matters. Perhaps he was confused. Or it slipped his mind. The pulping of the Sunday Times, leaps to mind as a relatively recent example.

Hat tip: CMD

Brace yourself: Fox News comes to the Middle East 7, July 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, American ME Relations, Media in the ME.
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Rupert Murdoch, the owner of the ‘fair and balanced’ [sic] news channel Fox News is to open a Middle East station in conjunction with Saudi’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.

Fox News, famous for its uncomplicated, gun-ho and pro-Israel stance whilst maintaining a mocking notion of neutrality, does not seem like a likely partner. Their coverage of Middle Eastern issues is far from renowned or competent. Expect flashy, glitzy sets; female Lebanese anchors [probably the ones that left Al Jazeera last month] wearing an inch of makeup and simple coverage of complicated issues.

Their main competition is Al Jazeera and Al Arabiyya.

The former was started in the mid-1990s by Qatar to – essentially – promote themselves. It was a revelation in the region: it discussed sensitive issues in an open and candid manner never seen before in the Arab world. This garnered Al Jazeera and Qatar enemies throughout the region who believed that Al Jazeera was acting as a provocative mouth-piece of Qatar’s Foreign Ministry. Saudi and Bahrain in particular felt that Al Jazeera ‘picked on’ them significantly in the early years. The Saudi Ambassador returned to Doha in 2008 after a 4 year Al Jazeera inspired absence and since then Al Jazeera’s coverage has calmed. Only last month Bahrain banned Al Jazeera from Manama after, it is believed, unfavourable coverage of poverty in the country. Egypt is also perpetually angered by Al Jazeera.

The latter was begun by Saudi Arabia as an alternative to Al Jazeera. Despite looking similar in a modern, Western, professional, CNN style, its coverage is far less controversial and really quite tame.

UAE press censorship 17, June 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Censorship, Media in the ME, The Emirates.
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Here is a perfect example of press censorship in the UAE.

This is the opening line from an article in the Wall Street Journal.

Ras Al Khaimah wants to avoid the financial problems of fellow sheikdom Dubai and reduce its 5 billion U.A.E. dirhams ($1.36 billion) of debt after funding a development splurge with Islamic bonds, a senior official said.

This article was reproduced in Gulf News. But here’s their first line.

Ras Al Khaimah wants to reduce its Dh5 billion ($1.36 billion) of debt after funding development with Islamic bonds, a senior official said.

Surely there are laws about taking such content and changing it? If not there really ought to be.

An excellent hat tip to Sultan Al Qassemi.

Gulf News’ unadulterated anti-semitism 7, June 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Media in the ME, Middle East.
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The Gulf News out does itself in this example of egregiously anti-Semitic sentiment. As if to try to out perform the host of atrocious newspapers across the Middle East, the Gulf News, a hopelessly bland, emasculated and talentless newspaper, really pulls out all the stops with this classic. Yet another triumph for Arab newspapers.

I think and have said that on this occasion – as many before – Israel was mostly, if not vastly, in the wrong. Yet this kind of pathetic demonization of one side is just really so unhelpful. I truly hate this kind of populist (or purportedly populist) pandering of newspapers to the very lowest common denominator in society. The absolute definition of the gutter press.

Iran’s TV channel taken off Arab satellite 11, January 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Al-Jazeera, Media in the ME.
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(Go to 10:23 for the relevant clip)

Two of the Arab world’s biggest satellite broadcasting companies, Nilesat and Arabsat, have taken the Iranian channel Alaam of the air for breach of contract. Needless to say, no specific, verifiable breach has been mentioned. It doesn’t take much of an imagination or much understanding of the Middle East to believe that this was done for political reasons and that this ‘breach of contract’ business is but the laziest of covers. Hezbollah, for example, Iran’s proxy, have come out and decried this change, citing political pressures.

In numerous fields, Arab Sunni states such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia have, for years now (or for centuries in different ‘formats’), been engaged in what can broadly be described as a cold conflict with Iran/Persia. Occasionally this conflict bubbles to the surface in, say, the form of the Iran-Iraq war or even verbal jostling as to the name of the Gulf separating the Arabian Peninsula from modern-day Iran. Alaam must be seen in this context. As a font of Iranian soft power, broadcasting Iran’s point of view across the Arab world directly into homes.

This kerfuffle is reminiscent of many Arab states’ outrage at Radio Cairo’s pan-Arab exalting, Arab monarchy decrying broadcasts during Nasser’s pomp. These were believed to incite the local populations against their rulers, advocating Nasser’s wholesome, brotherly and lofty pan-Arab ideals against, for example, the morally corrupt, Western supporting, elitism of Saudi Arabia’s monarchical rule.

Al Jazeera’s broadcasts in recent years, often bitingly critical of, well, all Arab regimes at one time or another have enraged Arab leaders. Indeed, so far as I can recall, all Arab states have either sent petitions to Qatar’s Foreign Ministry to demand that they control Al Jazeera or have broken off diplomatic relations with the small, thumb sized Emirate.

(Incidentally, I am sure that there is an interesting article there: comparing Radio Cairo to Al Jazeera…)

Hat tip: A jolly good one from Abstract JK

Poor Arabic journalism and its effects 5, November 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Media in the ME, Middle East.
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You do not have to be able to read or understand Arabic to understand what I’m trying to say with this post. Simply have a look at the Arabic/squiggles below. This is an article taken from the Saudi daily newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat. In bold are the names, titles and roles of the ministers involved in this meeting. As you can plainly see, they take up, what, 80% of the article? This article is, therefore, little more than a list of who attended the meeting. The rest of it is just the usual kind of fluff “met to discuss improving economic relations etc etc etc” that, along with lists of names and titles, plagues swathes of Arab journalism. This is turgidly bad journalism and wouldn’t be tolerated in a University newspaper in the UK.

When people read this kind of thing I fear two things. One, that they automatically dismiss it as government controlled fluff with no real content, analysis and certainly no independence. Two, that this automatic dismissal of ‘official’ newspapers infects peoples’ views about the media as a whole. That they subsequently do not trust other mainstream newspapers and instead seek their information from irregular sources be it on the internet, the local shisha bar or the Mosque. That they grow to automatically reject any kind of media consensus or what any government says.

I wonder how far to push this logic: can it stretch to some notion of it pushes some people to ‘divine their news from religious sources’ which is, after all if you’re that way inclined, the one true truth that there is. Does this embedded anti-establishment antagonism essentially guarantee that instead of reasonable discussion and analysis conspiracy theories take a vicious hold of society? Does this hold true or is the leap of logic and a generalization too far?



استقبل الأمير سلطان بن عبد العزيز ولي العهد نائب رئيس مجلس الوزراء وزير الدفاع والطيران والمفتش العام السعودي، في قصره بأغادير أول من أمس، الشيخ الدكتور محمد صباح السالم الصباح نائب رئيس مجلس الوزراء وزير الخارجية بدولة الكويت، والشيخ خالد بن أحمد بن محمد آل خليفة وزير الخارجية بمملكة البحرين، والشيخ عبد الله بن زايد آل نهيان وزير الخارجية بدولة الإمارات العربية المتحدة، ووزير الخارجية الأردني ناصر جودة، الذين نقلوا له تحيات وتقدير قادة بلدانهم.

وقد استمع ولي العهد خلال اللقاء من وزراء الخارجية لإيجاز عن أعمال الاجتماع الوزاري السادس لمنتدى المستقبل الذي عقدت أعماله أول من أمس في مدينة مراكش المغربية والتي ستسهم في تعزيز التطور الاقتصادي والسياسي والاجتماعي في شمال أفريقيا والشرق الأوسط. وأقام الأمير سلطان مأدبة غداء تكريما للوزراء.

حضر الاستقبال ومأدبة الغداء الأمير سلمان بن عبد العزيز أمير منطقة الرياض، والأمير سعود الفيصل وزير الخارجية، والأمير خالد بن عبد الله بن محمد، والأمير خالد بن سعد بن فهد، والأمير سطام بن سعود بن عبد العزيز، والأمير فيصل بن سلطان بن عبد العزيز الأمين العام لمؤسسة سلطان بن عبد العزيز آل سعود الخيرية، والأمير فهد بن خالد بن عبد الله بن محمد، والأمير سعود بن خالد بن عبد الله بن محمد، والأمير عبد الله بن خالد بن عبد الله بن محمد، والأمير محمد بن سلمان بن عبد العزيز، والأمير نايف بن سلمان بن عبد العزيز، والأمير بندر بن سلمان بن عبد العزيز، وعبد الله بن سعد الغريري رئيس مراسم ولي العهد، وحمد بن عبد العزيز السويلم نائب رئيس ديوان ولي العهد، ومحمد بن سالم المري السكرتير الخاص لولي العهد، وعبد الله بن مشبب الشهري رئيس المكتب الخاص لولي العهد، ومحمد بن عبد العزيز الشثري رئيس الشؤون الخاصة بمكتب وزير الدفاع والطيران والمفتش العام، والدكتور محمد البشر سفير السعودية لدى المغرب، واللواء ركن عبد الرحمن بن صالح البنيان مساعد مدير عام مكتب ولي العهد نائب رئيس مجلس الوزراء وزير الدفاع والطيران والمفتش العام، واللواء ركن علي الدحيم الملحق العسكري السعودي في المغرب، والشيخ خالد بن سلمان آل خليفة سفير البحرين لدى المغرب، ووزيرة الدولة في دولة الإمارات ريم الهاشمي، وسفير الكويت لدى المغرب محمد صالح الذويخ، وسفير الإمارات لدى المغرب سعيد الكتبي.

وكان وزراء الخارجية الأمير سعود الفيصل والشيخ الدكتور محمد صباح السالم الصباح والشيخ خالد بن أحمد بن محمد آل خليفة والشيخ عبد الله بن زايد آل نهيان وناصر جودة، قد وصلوا في وقت سابق أول من أمس إلى أغادير، وكان في استقبالهم بالمطار الأمير سلمان بن عبد العزيز أمير منطقة الرياض وعدد من الأمراء والمسؤولين

Abu Dhabi paper’s editor quits 8, June 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Media in the ME, The Emirates.
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The Abu Dhabi daily newspaper, the National, has confirmed that its editor Martin Newland has stepped down and his former deputy Hassan Fattah will take his place. This is undoubtedly a blow for the credibility of the paper. Newland was installed originally with much fanfare in April 2008 and brought with him a number of journalists from the British newspaper the Daily Telegraph. Once he arrived and took up the reins he proceeded to scour much of the Western world for journalists to fill the places to meet the size and circulation requirements.

One of the key sticking points of this venture was always going to be press freedom. Whilst Newland always maintained that he was not there to launch a crusade for media freedom, he nevertheless maintained that he would bring Western standards of journalism to Abu Dhabi. Government press releases, for example, were no longer to be simply copied out as the lead story with little to no context or criticism.

However, these have been exceedingly trying times for Abu Dhabi. The torture issue involving the half brother of the ruler of Abu Dhabi and the mooted introduction of the new Emirati media law giving the authorities power over the hiring and firing of journalists as well as punishing journalists who write ‘disparaging’ comments that may harm the country’s economy, hint that the country is heading down a decidedly authoritarian path. Whether these were the precipitants of Newland’s resignation or not remains, however, to be seen.

t. But it will continue to punish journalists for such infractions as “disparaging” government officials or publishing “misleading” news that “harms the country’s economy.”

Al Qaradawi reaching out to Shia 13, March 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Media in the ME, Middle East.
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Here are some intelligent thoughts from Arabic Media Shack on Al Qaradawi and his apparent desire to try to reach out some kind of olive branch to Shia Muslims.

Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi today issued a statement that’s sort of favorable to Iran.  Seems to me that there is some kind of attempt to improve relations between Al-Qaradawi and the Shia and part of its playing out on a new focus at Islam Online (his extremely widely read site).   Previously, there was a very noticeable lack of coverage of the Shia in the Islamist movements section.   Put it this way: if your site is called Islam Online and you don’t feature any coverage of the Shia I can see how the averge Shia might wonder “Gee, is there some kind of subtle message here?”    Over the past week, however,  there has been a sudden explosion of Shia coverage.  Since I first mentioned this two days, another article appeared on Iran and then this one on the Shia_in_Kuwait.  What other explanation for this sudden interest in the Shia is there than an attempt to repair relations?

Finkelstein on the Israeli-Palestinian situation: it’s not complicated 26, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Media in the ME, Western-Muslim Relations.
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The soft spoken Norman Finkelstein took the stage some 15 minutes late: not so bad for a visiting lecturer. For the next two and a half hours he gave a professional and persuasive lecture entitled ‘Israel and Palestine: the roots of the problem and the prospects for peace.’ He was, of course, preaching to the converted. This event was the last of a five stop UK tour which began in Manchester and ended last night at the George Square theatre in Edinburgh. It was organised by the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) and had the typical adornments of such events: the pro-Palestinian pamphlets, the selection of hippies, and the communists – literally – outside in the cold.

He began with the almost iconoclastic phrase that the Israeli-Palestinian situation was not, in any way shape or form, complex. It is not – he continued – controversial; too difficult to understand or comprehend; it does not defy analysis; and it is, above all else, quite simple. This was the theme throughout the lecture, and it was well argued.

He cites the four issues of the conflict, which are often said to be the most intractable:

1) the question of the legal borders of Israel and Palestine

2) the question of the legality of the Israeli settlements

3) the questions of East Jerusalem

4) the question of the Palestinian refugees

These are the four questions which are the kernel of the problem, he maintains, which are consistently portrayed as being so complex as to be nigh-on insoluble. However, they are not at all that controversial and this confusion is sowed specifically to muddy the issues, he continued.

Finkelstein explained that in July 2004 the highest judicial body in the world, The International Court of Justice (ICJ) gave an advisory opinion as to the legality of the wall that the Israelis were (and are) constructing. In order to render this opinion, the court had to consider preliminary questions which correspond to the first three questions above.

On the question of Israeli borders the ICJ was unequivocal. Since, according to international law, land may not be acquired by force, and since Israel acquired land in Gaza and the West Bank this way, it is, ipso facto, illegal. There is, therefore, in effect, no dispute regarding the disputed territories: international law is clear and straight forward – the land does not belong to the Israelis. Therefore, following on from this judgement, Israeli settlers are settled on land that was obtained illegally, and are thus in flagrant violation of international law.

On the question of East Jerusalem the court is similarly unambiguous. It was acquired during the 1967 war and thus, again, because land may not be seized by force according to international law, this is Palestinian land and Israelis have no title to it.

However, the crucial aspect is how many judges voted on or for the above arguments? The final tally was a resounding 14:1. This is where Finkelstein gets his ‘there is no confusion or complexity’ notion from: it has already been overwhelmingly decided upon by the ICJ. Even the one vote against the motion from the American judge was not a rejection but a more neutral lack of acceptance, and furthermore, he did accept the notion that the wall that the Israelis are building was illegal because they had acquired the land illegally and thus, on that specific question, the vote was 15:0.

The second theme that he addressed was around the issue of terrorism semantics. A crucial difference, it is often claimed, is that the various Arab terrorist groups strive to maximize civilian fatalities, where as the Israelis, whilst killing three or four times as many people, at least do not have this as an avowed aim. Finkelstein defines terrorism as ‘the targeting of civilians to further a political end’ and retorts that if the Israeli army launch artillery into a town or spray a crowd with bullets then the “inevitable and foreseeable consequence” of this is the deaths of civilians and therefore, these actions are ipso facto purposeful and intentional. Israeli actions are thus the intended targeting of civilians. The stated Israeli aim of many such actions (eg. the shelling of a village) is to put pressure on the leaders to do x and y, which is wholly political. Thus, Israel are pursuing a political end by the specific targeted killing of civilians, which is terrorism.

In order to answer the fourth ‘intractable’ question, he used his own situation as an analogy to good effect. When he was denied tenure at his former university, he firmly believed that had he gone through the court system, he would have won eventually. However, he was told that this would take around six years and would cost an exorbitant amount of money. He said that whilst he will always believe that he does have the right to tenure at the university, just as the Palestinians have the right to return, in terms of practicality, for him it was just not feasible to pursue it, just as he believes, the Palestinian right of return is not feasible.

He also eloquently argued against several other perceived injustices surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Returning to his central theme, he pointed out that every year the UN security council vote on a resolution on a peaceful settlement of the conflict. The vote is typically utterly one sided. E.g. 1981: 151:3, 1997: 155:2, 2002: 160:4, 2007: 161:7. Although the numbers of dissenters appears to have been rising in recent years, it must be forgotten that one is always the US and the other Israel, whilst the others are states such Nauru, Palau, Tuvalu, the Federal States of Micronesia, and the Marshall Islands.

Another interesting point that he made was about the comparison of the conflict with others in the past. Whist to some there seems to be an apt comparison between Israel and apartheid South Africa, such notions, if they make it to mainstream media are drowned out in a sea of vitriol and outrage. This was the case when former American President Jimmy Carter released a book titled ‘Palestine: Peace not Apartheid’ to considerable opprobrium .Those defending Israel from this comparison, inevitably end up discussing the holocaust and using it to garner sympathy and obfuscate generally. However, the list of people who do think that such a comparison is warranted is lengthy and impressive, including Jimmy Carter, Haaretz the leading Israeli newspaper, Israel’s former attorney general, education minister and even Ariel Sharon.

Finkelstein concluded by saying that all is not lost. Much or even most public opinion is against Israel in this situation and that while the Israeli lobby may be strong; those fighting for the Palestinians have truth on their side.

Overall, Finkelstein was impressive, but there are, without doubt, several points to be raised with Finkelstein’s argument. The ICJ is a famously toothless body, rendering opinions for those that want to hear them. There is no coercion there whatsoever. Israel can ignore their injunctions and motions continually. They will have to be made to adhere to such motions by some other source. Also, in his section comparing Palestinian and Israeli terrorism, he defined terrorism in a self-serving manner, referring to it as ‘targeting of civilians for a political end.’ Whole books (and not small ones) have been written discussing the difficulties of defining terrorism. However, the vast majority these definitions include some notion of a sub-state actor in the definition. This would, thus, exculpate Israel from committing terrorism in a semantic way. I am not sure if simply glossing over this is the way to deal with this particular argument. Israel will simply refer back to the semantics which are in their favour. However, if – somehow – a concerted effort could be made to change the definition to one that included actions of states against civilians for political ends, then this would be enormously fruitful.

Saudi reforms: one step forward, many back 25, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Media in the ME, Saudi Arabia.
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In recent weeks, there have been promising signs emanating from Riyadh suggesting that the countries’ draconian policies towards women were being relaxed. Firstly, as reported here, there was the small announcement that women may stay alone in hotels in the Kingdom, so long as they have some kind of photo ID which will then be registered with the local police. Whilst this may not seem like much of a victory for women’s rights, it is certainly a start. Furthermore, later on that week there was the unconfirmed and then apparently conformed story that Saudi Arabia will let women drive ‘by the end of the year’. Needless to say, this would be a large step forward for women’s rights in the country.

However, it has just been revealed by NPR news that that there was a meeting last autumn between Saudi and Qatari representatives where Saudi officials demanded that AL-Jazeera be ‘brought to heel’.

Since Al Jazeera’s inception in 2001, it has been a breath of critical and relatively even-handed fresh air in a region traditionally full of news outlets bought and paid for by parties and governments. Al Jazeera, therefore, was a shock to governments around the region and especially Riyadh, where they were seen to be particularly critical.

However, Mustafah Alani, a UAE based analyst comments that since the growth of Iran as a potential regional problem, the Sunni countries across the Gulf have, to a greater or lesser degree, banded together to counter Iran. One casualty of this has been the Qatari based and funded Al Jazeera. Alani maintains that the Qatari government, at the behest of Saudi Arabia, has lent on Al Jazeera to tone down its criticisms of the Kingdom.

Peter Kenyan of NPR also refers to the imprisonment of one of Saudi’s most famous bloggers, Fouad al Farhan, as another example of a crackdown on free speech and the media. In an interview with Professor Bin Hashim, he describes his arrest as a ‘hot stove policy’ which is to say that by arresting one blogger, the authorities hope that this will act as a warning to others not to cross ‘the line’.