My column, “Clinton and Obama on Aljazeera,” is just out in Salon.com.
It is based in part on an interview I did with the editor-in-chief of Aljazeera during my recent trip to Qatar.
‘ Many Americans incorrectly think of Al-Jazeera’s Arabic-language network as al-Qaida Central because it occasionally broadcasts excerpts from videotapes of the terror organization’s leaders. Nowadays, however, viewers are far more likely to see images of the American presidential candidates on the channel’s screens. As the United States, always an interested party, has become a dominant on-the-ground player in the Middle East, residents of the region increasingly feel that their own fate depends on the outcome of this election. I was in Qatar earlier this month and stopped by the office of Ahmed Sheikh, editor in chief of Al-Jazeera’s Arabic service, to ask him about his network’s coverage of the campaign.
Al-Jazeera’s Arabic service studios in the rapidly growing metropolis of Doha have been expanded but are still relatively modest. The facilities at the new English-language Al-Jazeera International across the street are far more state-of-the-art. The correspondent who welcomed me said that when Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak visited, he was taken aback by how small the studio was, remarking, “So this is the matchbox that has caused all that trouble!”
Safely delivered to Sheikh’s office, I was plied with strong Arab tea. Soon our conversation turned to the U.S. presidential campaign. Why, I asked, give such distant events air time? “Because the United States is occupying Iraq and it is an ally of Israel and a power broker in the region,” Sheikh replied. “The United States is the only superpower on the planet. Events in Iraq and Palestine affect this area.” ‘
Qatar, by the way, is a fascinating country, and is taking on some of the attributes of Dubai, though it isn’t as swinging a place as the latter. It is opening its first Catholic church soon!