4 Nations twist Qatar’s arm, to close down Aljazeera

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In a bid completely to return the Middle East to the old system of strict government media censorship, four countries have demanded that Qatar close down the Aljazeera television channel.

Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates made the demands formally via Kuwait, which is attempting to mediate the dispute between the four countries and Qatar. The list also included a demand that Qatar close its diplomatic mission in Iran and largely cut that country off, as well as a demand that it cut off the Muslim Brotherhood.

Aljazeera, from the late 1990s, emerged as a fresh voice on the Arab media scene. Its philosophy was to report all sides of an issue. They routinely interviewed Israeli officials. They brought on US State Department spokesmen.

In 2011 when the youth revolts broke out in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Libya and Bahrain, the existence of an independent satellite television station that reported events relatively dispassionately was important. The Ben Ali regime in Tunisia had secret police fire on people and put them in the morgue or the hospital, and then it lied, denying that there were any casualties. Ben Ali’s son-in-law controlled much of the media that wasn’t directly in government hands.

Even Hillary Clinton, who on the whole did not approve of the youth movement, said she thought that Al Jazeera did a good job of reporting these dramatic events.

Al Jazeera has less independence now than it did in 2011, but it is still a wideranging voice that would be sorely missed if it ceased broadcast. It is accused of abetting the Muslim Brotherhood, but I don’t find that it gives the group much air time. As for Iran, you almost never see Iran news on Al Jazeera.

The revolutions of 2011-2012 in the Middle East unseated Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Moammar Gadaffi of Libya, and (for a while) Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen.

The four hawkish countries that made the demand that Aljazeera be closed are autocracies that enjoyed their previous media monopoly, and who are determined that nothing like 2011 ever happen again.

The joke used to be that Dubai-based al-Arabiya reported on everything but Saudi Arabia, and al Jazeera reported on everything but Qatar, but if you put them together, you could find out almost everything.

That joke would go onto the trash heap of history if Saudi Arabia and Egypt get their way.

Related video:

Bloomberg, “Qatar Crisis”

25 Responses

  1. Despite all their protestations to the contrary, it is now clear that what really bothers the medieval autocrats in the Persian Gulf littoral states most is their citizens’ access to any other form of media, especially in Arabic, that is a little more open to the outside world than their own tightly controlled propaganda outlets. This also shows the hollowness of the claims of the new Saudi crown prince and strongman Mohammed bin Salman that he is a reformer and wants to bring real change to his country, because he and the UAE Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed Al Nuhayyan have been the main drivers behind the move to isolate Qatar and to close down Aljazeera.

    This is no longer a local or Arab issue but goes to the heart of free speech. Aljazeera certainly has many faults, especially in it coverage (or the lack of it) of Qatar’s domestic issues, but it certainly is a breath of fresh air compared to other stale Arabic channels. Aljazeera has been mainly responsible for opening the eyes of young Arabs to the realities in the outside world, and this knowledge cannot be unlearned no matter how hard MbS and his fellow-autocrats try. It is a duty of everyone who relishes free speech to go to the support of Aljazeera and to make sure that a relatively open media operates in the Arab world. MbS’s campaign against Aljazeera will fail in the same way that his barbaric attack on Yemen has failed, and it will only expose him as an over-ambitious, irresponsible and shortsighted dictator.

  2. This is just another example of the state wanting to shut down any form of alternative narrative, especially one that contradicts or exposes the state for lies and corruption. There are plenty of people out there who would like to shut down the RT (Russia today) TV station both in the US and over here in England. As for the internet and blogs like yours professor, the deep state and the main stream media are working over time to close down all this “fake news” as they call it and so stifle any alternative voice or opinion. Whilst TV station like Aljazeera and RT etc are a thorn in the side of middle East states and the West, its the net that poses the most dangerous threat to the power of the state, that’s why its banned or under state control in many countries.

      • If I may, seems like you have no faith in 10000 strong US airbase to protect Qatar, or the Navy to protect Bahrain. Would they be just uninterested observer or tip of the spear?

        • Saudi Arabia sent troops into Bahrain to put down the youth reform movement of 2011. The US mildly deplored it.

  3. I cannot imagine they will get away with this. Ayman Mohyeldin ducking shellfire day and night as he covered the 2008-2009 Israeli carnage from within Gaza was in my view one of the greatest pieces of journalism in the history of media. Surely its international audience is too large and its global respect too great. It may be Qatari but in a meaningful sense it belongs to us all. I hope its supporters get organised and make that clear to the despots otherwise the world comes under their yoke.

  4. The Middle East is going backwards in time, and the US supports, arms, and protects the nations doing it. Is this how we take “democracy” over there? Attacking Arab nations where we cannot control their leader, has also added to this situation. Is this how the Western nations want the ME to be?
    A festering wound, and we keep picking at the scab?

  5. This recent intensity of animus toward Qatar doesn’t seem to add up. Similarly, the Saudis southern flank in Yemen would be more than a passing concern to them. But there must be more at play strategically to account for the scope of these two moves.

    • The neoliberalization of Saudi Arabia proposed by the new crown prince doesn’t need Al Jazeera around playing Naomi Klein. I suspect that neoliberalization was meant to be enforced on all the neighbors as well, which would make it a lot easier for Al Jazeera to document it. Note that I mean neoliberalization in the Pinochet sense; a lot of people will have to be killed for the crime of opposing marketization of a traditional society.

      This isn’t a feudal state leaping ahead to parliamentary democracy, this is a feudal state moving into the next stage of centralized despotism plus markets, like Louis XIV.

  6. Any chanve the news network could go to a crowd sourced type of model i.e. PBS or some new model?

  7. No news media is perfect but despite initial expectations and more recent setbacks, Al Jazeera remains one of the very few top news organizations in terms of accuracy, neutrality, timeliness, and scope. It must also be said that during Al Jazeera’s life, other news sources traditionally ranking high in the above traits have been debilitated with that of US media most pronounced. I rank Jazeera globally in the top ten, and probably in the top five. Jazeera’s loss would be a condemnation of the Arab states seeking its end. Killing off the best of the best in favor of state propaganda is a threat to all humans. Again, this in the context of accurate global news reportage that has shrunk in the past twenty years.

  8. The attack on Al Jazeera is terrible by itself, but with the other demands it’s also a giant step towards war. No sovereign state can tolerate being ordered to cut off diplomatic relations with another state (Iran) or close its major news organization. If Qatar accepts these and the other demands, it loses its independence and becomes a puppet of Saudi Arabia.

    • Having reflected more on the Saudi list and their geopolitical positioning, I think this may be what they really want. It’d also be consistent with the otherwise excessive investment they’ve made in Yemen. Salman is young enough and rash enough to perhaps think of the local politics as being as manageable as a simple chessboard.

  9. All freedom-loving people and all rightly guided Muslims should rally behind and support Al Jazerra and the progressive state of Qatar. As a Muslim I sincerely lament the actions of the rulers of our beloved Haramayn towards a small Muslim country

  10. Why does this remind me of Israel? Hmmmm. Could be that in the Good ‘Ol Day’s if a big, strong country coveted another that couldn’t really defend itself, it would just straightforwardly conquer them.

    Now they’ve world opinion and PR considerations. Drat.

    Take a look at the full list of conditions: really nothing more than Qatar forfeiting its sovereignty. Kinda like the sort of sovereignty Israel would allow a Palestinian state.

    Anyone notice what Israel is up to at the moment? Making moves, predictably enough, while people’s attentions are diverted by other things.

  11. So where does the US stand here?
    Rex Tilliotson seemed last week to be standing firm with Qatar, while the sword- dancing- buffoon- in- chief just loved the reception given him by the Saudi royals.
    While the Saudi military may possess many billions of dollars worth of hardware – do they have the military or airforce personel to match Iran’s?
    I would think not – Juan?

  12. I’d say even if you did put the Gulf based Al-Arabiya and Al Jazeera together, you’d still wouldn’t get the right news in regards to Iraq, Syria and Iran, particularly about their host countries roles with those nations. Still, despite what I thought were issues of sectarian bias, Al Jazeera is much better than most media outlets on global news, including Western outlets and you have to respect their journalists who put their lives on the line, be it in Algeria, Yemen, Iraq, even being deliberately targeted and killed by US military.

    After the Shouting in the Dark documentary by Al Jazeera about Bahrain’s crackdown on the protesters there, Al Jazeera got curtailed quite a good deal by the Qatari govt.

    link to aljazeera.com

    Considering the recent bad press the other countries are getting, like the UAE has, I’m not surprised that censorship is one of their top demands.

    link to bbc.com
    UAE princesses guilty of servant abuse in Belgium

    link to thestar.com
    In Yemen’s secret prisons, the UAE tortures suspects — and the U.S. interrogates them

  13. I haven’t heard of censorship as part of an ultimatum of war since the Austro-Hungarian empire delivered its harsh terms to Serbia after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, including the demand that Serbian school curricula silence their anti-Austrian tone.

    Note that those demands were basically encouraged by the German Army high command because it expected Serbia to reject them and go to war; it was certain that now was the time to go to war with Russia, which was the real goal, but it needed to use the existing alliance entanglements to justify it.

  14. It is somewhat strange that 4 countries want another country to close one of its newspapers. It down right weird. What would we say if some countries had G.B. mediate with the U.S.A. to close Fox News or the New York Times. Regardless of what we may thing of what Al-J. its an organization which provides news and its called free speech. from time to time I read the English version on line. I don’t agree with every thing it writes, but hey I don’t have to read it then. My opinion, it ought to continue to operate. It provides an alterative view point with the news and that is always a good thing.

    Given Saudi Arabia is involved in this it does make one wonder if the U.S.A. is behind this action to censor the news.

    and who is Saudi Arabia to dictate to Qatar who they can speak with. Now Iran is no bastion of liberty and feminism, but I’ve always had the opinion it was a tad more “liberal” than Saudi Arabia.

    Lets leave Iran and Qatar alone. What are they trying to do, provoke a war with Iran? Perhaps this has more to do with Trump’s dislike of Iran than anything else.

    They accuse Qatar of “exporting” terrorism, well so do the Saudi’s with their brand of Islam. Let each country clean up its own act internally before going to try to clean up another country. They all look like hypocrits.

  15. Is there any country where al-Jazeera could go, any nation that would not hamstring or compromise their reporting?

    • Lots of places to go. But unlikely they could survive financially. They don’t take in a lot of advertising, and you have to get a slot on the satellite networks; some are Egypt-controlled.

  16. my immediate reaction is dismay at the fear the 4 countries have, as you mentioned, should their citizens have a news resource that is recognized internationally, for quite awhile, as being a real source of information which lets the population form an opinion.
    This is a step or two backwards not just for the middle east but for us all. it is happening everywhere as we, the world, slip further and further back in history and development stops and most shocking, for me, is they got away with it. Information is the fuel that makes many things possible…..as we look around these days, especially toward Trump ‘s America with its urge to censor even the internet. I would say, beware, we have lost something that was very important to the slow development of the feeling of responsibility for decisions and even interest among a wider segment of the population and which would have influenced very much the political picture of the Middle East.


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