I missed this article in ash-Sharq al-Awsat’s Arabic edition, so it was helpful to come across it translated into English! Here, Mshari Al-Zaydi, notes the recent investigation launched by Egyptian security services into the Brotherhood’s domestic and international activities and the subsequent revelations serialised in al-Ahram a couple of weeks ago. I think this is the most important pararaph:
In the documents, which Al-Ahram claims to have looked at, there is an indication that the movement’s theorists and planners were preoccupied with establishing an international media force in the Brotherhood’s favour. It is said that those theorists presented detailed studies and research on the dynamic and political significance of such media projects and how they could benefit the Brotherhood. As I read the detailed reports in Al-Ahram, I wondered why does the Muslim Brotherhood want to have newspapers and satellite television channels of its own when it is already so strongly present through a number of satellite television channels and newspapers, in which they have a strong voice and their interpretation and analyses of events is the order of the day?
The Satellite channel alluded to in the reports is quite clearly al-Jazeera. A recent article in the Jerusaem Post examined the station’s relationship to the Brotherhood, the Emir of Qatar and various employees and presenters:
The meteoric rise of the network and its increasing popularity have led many political and media commentators in the Arab world to wonder exactly who or what was behind what appears to be its main purpose: encouraging opposition and promoting incitement against Arab regimes, exposing the corruption of their leaders and their entourage, while holding to an extreme Arab nationalist attitude against the US and Israel and extolling the values of conservative – and sometimes extremist – Islam. It did not take long for one name to emerge: the Muslim Brotherhood. This hypotheisis is supported by a number of facts. The director-general of the network, Wadah Khanfar, was a member of the organization in Jordan, where he was arrested. Today he is one of the closest advisers of the emir. Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi is also a member of the inner circle of the emir and is known to work closely with Khanfar. Both support Hamas. Arab researchers have succeeded in uncovering a number of other Brothers working for the network, but it is surmised that there are many more. The general consensus is that Qaradawi is the visible tip of the iceberg. In an article published in 2003 in the London-based Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat, Maamun Fendi, a well-known Egyptian liberal thinker today living in the US, wrote that some 50 percent of the network’s personnel belong to the Muslim Brotherhood. He added that their influence in Qatar was rising both in the network and among government circles. According to him, the Brotherhood had intended to hold its world summit in Qatar in 2003 but had to scuttle its plan when it became known. These summits are usually held in a European capital far from Arab countries, in conditions of the utmost discretion, if not secrecy. Fendi believes that Qatar, by embracing the Brotherhood, an extremist Islamic organization quite popular in the Arab world, while hosting American bases, has found the perfect formula against retaliation by Arab leaders and attacks by all other Arab and Islamic extremists including al-Qaida.
In 2003, Khanfar became head of the Al Jazeera Baghdad bureau and shortly thereafter station General Manager. A recent report in Nation Magazine attributes the support by the Al Jazeera television station for Islamic movements to Khanfar’s influence. According to the report, al-Jazeera coverage changed when Khanfar took over in March 2003:
When Al Jazeera was first launched in 1996, it offered the kind of freewheeling, uncensored debate never publicly seen on Arab televisions, and Arabic speakers couldn’t get enough of it. The talk shows brought in guests from across the political spectrum, and the channel featured smartly produced news bulletins and correspondents stationed seemingly everywhere. But 9-11 brought a new anti-imperialist and, many argue, a pro-Sunni Islamist bent to the network. (The observations and reporting in this article apply only to Arabic-language Jazeera; in November 2006 the network opened an English-language counterpart, now called al-Jazeera English, which gives no evidence of sectarian tendencies.)
Al Jazeera’s programming breaks down into roughly four categories: newscasts, which tend to be fairly balanced; talk shows and related programs, to which viewers call in; documentaries; and reports from correspondents in the field. The last category is where the reporting has frequently turned away from international standards of journalism and toward a sensationalistic and Islamist bias. The field reports are overwhelmingly negative, with violent footage played over and over, highlighting Arab defeat and humiliation. And there’s a clear underlying message: that the way out of this spiral is political Islam.
“How things are covered, the prominence of things, what words are used–sometimes you do see that very clear Islamist subtext, depending on the issue,” says Alberto Fernandez, the director for press and public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near East Affairs at the State Department. “We see the unconditional support of Islamic movements, no matter where they are: Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan,” says a Jordanian official who did not wish to be identified because of what he characterized as the deteriorating relations between his country and Qatar. Dozens of hours of viewing Al Jazeera for this article confirm the charge. Whether it’s reporting the Hamas perspective from the occupied territories without mention of the Palestinian Authority’s version of events, or the fawning depiction elsewhere of Islamist parties and militias as the grassroots reflection of Arab sentiment, Al Jazeera has moved away from its ideologically diverse origins to a more populist/Islamist approach.