In response to the banning of Qatari websites by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, Qatar’s Foreign Minister announced that his country is the target of “a hostile media campaign”.
There is no way to definitely prove whether Qatar’s Emir Shaikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani expressed support for Hamas and Hezbollah and Iran or was the victim of hackers, but when it comes to hostile media Doha’s government needs to look in the mirror.
I first visited Doha in 1975. Like all cities in the Gulf it was a very different place then. What impressed me most was the kindness and hospitality of the people. I remember swimming from a beach out to a pier. I climbed up intending to walk back.
The wood burnt my bare feet. A Qatari man noticed my distress. He removed his sandals and handed them to me. Once back on the sand, I placed them beside me. He picked them up without saying a word.
Despite their country’s vast wealth and its capital’s metamorphosis into a modern metropolis, Qataris retain the best of their traditions. However, I’ve long found the stances of their government confusing. Qatar’s official statements that are invariably written in polite diplomatic-speak are almost always at odds with its actions.
Despite the Qatari Foreign Minister’s protestations to the effect his country never has and never will support the Brotherhood, there is no doubt that the tiny Gulf state does back the organisation diplomatically and financially as well as allowing its propagandist outfits to disseminate extremist messages. Chief among them is, of course, Al Jazeera, that has permitted Qatar to punch way above its weight on the world’s stage.
When the state-funded broadcaster first aired in November 1996, I was enthusiastic. At last the Arab World had a platform with a wide reach and political discussions forums, a fairly new concept in this region at a time when most viewers were confined to watching their own state television.
I was appreciative of Al Jazeera’s courageous reporting on the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq that set it at odds with the Pentagon, so much so that its offices came under US firepower in both Kabul and Baghdad. And I was outraged to know that one of its journalists Sami Al Hajj was detained in Guantanamo under suspicion of terrorism.
Nobody was more delighted than me when Al Jazeera International was launched in 2006. I was pleased to be invited to Doha to guest on a pilot programme called Inside Iraq, an invitation prompted by my anti-Iraq War columns. The anchors and editors I met while there were true professionals.
So imagine my dismay to discover that one of its prime functions was to act as a mouthpiece for the Muslim Brotherhood that has been banned by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt as a terrorist organisation.
In the aftermath of the popular uprising that unseated Egypt’s Brotherhood leader Mohammad Mursi, the channel showed its true colours in no uncertain terms. The Brotherhood’s spiritual leader was given his own show and free rein to call for jihad against the Egyptian state.
Its hostility to Egypt became venomous. Its Egyptian arm rolled out pro-Mursi demonstrations and interviewed Brotherhood members 24/7, even showing ‘corpses’ that swallowed and wriggled in an effort to implicate Egypt’s security forces.
The network’s ‘Journalism is not a crime’ campaign launched after the arrest of two of its reporters and a cameraman who entered Egypt on tourist visas only to set up shop in the Marriott Hotel, greatly distorted the country’s reputation. Al Jazeera even succeeded in inveigling BBC and CNN employees to tape their mouths.
One of those tried and sentenced spoilt the show. Upon his release, Canadian-Egyptian Mohammad Fahmy accused his former employer of acting as “an arm of Qatar’s foreign policy” and that the network “was not only biased towards the Muslim Brotherhood, they were sponsors of the Muslim Brotherhood”.
It is worth noting that the numbers of media employees and journalists arrested by Turkey is six times more than those imprisoned in Egypt. Not hard to see why Turkey, whose president is openly supportive of the Brotherhood, does not merit a similar campaign.
This is not the first spat between the Kingdom and its allies with Qatar. In 2002, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman and the UAE accused Al Jazeera of “insulting and slandering” them and in 2014, three of those countries recalled their ambassadors from Doha to protest Qatar’s interference in their affairs.
Qatar should stop straddling a fence and be transparent with its co-GCC members and friends. There is a new mood sweeping the world. Terrorism and extremism must be expunged.
The middle way is cracking under the weight of hardline US policies. Time for the GCC to ask Qatar the 64 million-dollar question: Are you with us or...”
Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British political columnist and guest television commentator with a focus on the Middle East.