The Qatari leadership is working overtime to present itself as a target of its neighbours, out to cut its influence down to size and infringe upon its sovereign rights. Unfortunately, prominent western television networks and newspapers are falling for the scam despite the fact that the postage-sized Gulf state’s funding of extremist groups and duplicitous behaviours to the detriment of fellow Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are well-documented.
Qatar’s situation is entirely self-afflicted. In essence, all it is being asked to do by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt is to stick to commitments previously made and turn over a new leaf.
Of course the government should eschew its disreputable friends — among them Daesh (the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), Al Qaida, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood — and deport terrorists featured on wanted lists to their countries of origin to be tried. Surely it is not too much to ask of Qatar that it end its support for seditious organisations throughout the Arab world and quit issuing Qatari passports to known terrorists and criminals.
Expecting Doha to curtail its clandestine dealings with the planet’s greatest state sponsor of terrorism, Iran, whose officials have boasted of their nation’s domination of Arab capitals, and to close a Turkish military base on its soil are no-brainers. Turkey has no business muscling-in to what is being described by the United States as a family affair, unless it sees Brotherhood-loving Qatar as one of its own.
Yet, CNN, BBC, the Washington Post and others not only portray the Arab Quartet’s preconditions as unreasonable, but are going overboard to whitewash Qatar and its Al Jazeera mouthpiece.
Al Jazeera has emerged as the liberal media’s sacred cow, the much-maligned poster child for free media and free speech. Demands by Saudi Arabia and its allies for its closure have been met with outrage. Journalist Daoud Kuttab filled column inches in the Washington Post defending the Qatari-owned network under the heading ‘Why Arab states are wrong to try to shut down Al Jazeera’. He concedes that its Egyptian affiliate [Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr] “focused almost exclusively on continuous broadcasting and rebroadcasting of Muslim Brotherhood protests”, but concludes that “the push by Arab states” for its closure “appears to reflect jealously and internal fighting rather than a demand regarding the network’s content”. Seriously!
Al Jazeera Arabic is a platform for Muslim Brotherhood sympathisers and is a tool used by Qatar to promote its ideology and foreign policies, to which several of its former employees attest. A former Al Jazeera bureau chief Mohammad Fahmy, along with cameraman Mohammad Fawzi, are suing the channel for endangering journalists’ lives by colluding with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Earlier this month, Fahmy told reporters that Al Jazeera supplied the terrorist-branded group with cameras and other equipment to enhance its propaganda. Aktham Sulaiman, the channel’s former Berlin correspondent resigned accusing the network of being a propaganda broadcaster based on “the interests of the Foreign Ministry of Qatar”. Hafez Al Mirazi, a former Washington bureau chief, has quit citing Al Jazeera’s “Islamist drift”.
Almost two-dozen of Al Jazeera’s Egyptian staff walked out of its Cairo office due to its biased coverage, favouring the Muslim Brotherhood.
In recent weeks, Al Jazeera International, that has always worn a more benign mask than its Arabic affiliates for western consumption, has stripped itself of its carefully-contrived fair and balanced facade with open attacks on Qatar’s justified detractors.
However, CNN’s anchors appear to have decided there is no chance of the broadcaster being shut down. Zain Asher seems to believe the international community wouldn’t permit it. CNN has been airing reports sympathetic to Qatar as well as interviews with angelic-looking Qataris studying in the US, fearful of their education being interrupted.
Britain’s National Union of Journalists has characterised demands for the network’s closure as “shameful acts to clamp down on freedom of expression and the media”, vowing to discuss the issue with “relevant diplomatic representatives”. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has adopted a similar stance, which is not surprising considering that Al Jazeera programme host Mhamed Krichen is one of CPJ’s directors.
Wait for the ‘Journalism-is-not-a-crime’ slogan to be regurgitated. Wait for the flurry of indignant columns penned by supposedly independent columnists. Wait for scholars from Brookings Institution, a beneficiary of Qatar’s generosity, to be rolled out in order to provide viewers with their ‘independent’ analyses. Qatar’s sudden thrust to purchase a 10 per cent stake in American Airlines has puzzled the carrier’s CEO. Its deal to purchase US fighter jets to the tune of $12 billion (Dh44.13 billion) is reminiscent of the days when foreign heads-of-state bowed before Ottoman rulers, bearing gifts on silver platters.
Qatar’s game is easily seen through by those with eyes to see. Money talks!
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.