Al Jazeera: Throwing Gasoline on the Fire in the Middle East

In 1996, when the Al Jazeera channel was launched, admiration for Qatar was expressed due to its enlightened opinions. The channel reflected Middle East news openly and 24 hours a day, and I, like many Arab young people was astonished by the courage of Al Jazeera, because freedom of expression had not existed in the Middle East media previously. For this reason, I joined the Al Jazeera office in Cairo in September 2013. However, I observed that Qatar was using Al Jazeera as an effective but dangerous tool to advance its foreign policy.

These are some of the comments made by Muhammad Fahmi, former Egyptian-Canadian correspondent for the Cairo office of Al Jazeera’s English department. He was accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and of publishing news contrary to national security, and was arrested by the Egyptian government. He published his opinions in the form of an open letter to the New York Times in June 2015 in which he criticized Al Jazeera. He stated that the Egyptian court had issued an order to close the Mubashir Egypt channel (live broadcast of Egyptian events on Al Jazeera) on charges of disrupting public security and the protection of the Muslim Brotherhood. However, despite the warning of Al Jazeera reporters about threats to their lives, Al Jazeera officials disregarded the court order and continued the broadcasts until they were arrested.

Al Jazeera’s approach in covering the news in other parts of Middle East has not been free of criticism. For example, Al Jazeera’s constantly broadcasting the protests of the Muslim Brotherhood supporters following the overthrow of Morsi in 2013, did not give tribute to the opponents of the ousted Egyptian president.

Recently, Al Jazeera’s decision to broadcast an interview with Abu Mohammed al-Golani, the leader of Nusra Front, has been criticized by many. Last May the Arabic component of the channel displayed statements made by a person who was introduced as the leader of Nusra Front.

The interviewer asked him about the goals and activities of the group and their military victories in cities in Syria, which flavored the interview with propaganda. The interview was widely covered in the Arab world, and was watched on YouTube 35 thousand times.

However, this is not the first time that the leaders of a terrorist group were afforded a voice on Al Jazeera. Since 2000, the channel has broadcast the speeches and statements of al-Qaeda leaders, such as Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Indeed why is Al Jazeera unwilling to label the Middle East extremist elements as terrorists? The thesis of the clash of civilization by Samuel Huntington may offer an explanation.

Huntington believed that conflict of cultures is the characteristic of our century, especially in the conflict between the dominant culture of the West, led by the United States as the central power, and the Islamic culture in the Arabic countries. He thought this conflict may be reflected and practiced in the public arena.

Based on Huntington’s conclusion, differences relating to Middle East news, including the September eleventh attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and other events covered on the Al Jazeera news channel and other internationally recognized media can be identified. Al Jazeera distinguishes Self (Arabic-Islamic) and the Other (West) within the framework of its discourse. This ideological distinction is that, in such disputes, the Self is always the sacrifice and the Other is always the violator.

From this perspective, the general framework of Al Jazeera news does not reflect the local, regional or national roots of events. Rather, the framework is considered to be an accepted principle, of which the most important factor in Middle East conflicts is external intervention in the national affairs of countries in the region. Therefore, Al Jazeera considers the current terrorism in the Middle East to be a result of hostile attacks, and labels the reaction in Iraq as a mass resistance.