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February 17, 2011 Special Dispatch No. 3596

Saudi Columnist: Will Al-Jazeera Cover the Protests in Iran As It Did the Protests in Egypt?

February 17, 2011
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 3596

In an article in the Saudi daily 'Okaz, Saudi columnist Khalaf Al-Harbi, an outspoken critic of the Iranian regime, attacked the Al-Jazeera TV channel, arguing that it is motivated not by consistent moral principles but by a political agenda and commercial considerations. Questioning the channel's sincerity in supporting the Egyptian uprising, Al-Harbi implied that it had acted less out of love for freedom than out of antagonism for Hosni Mubarak coupled with a desire for ratings. He wondered whether the channel would be as sympathetic in its coverage of the Iranian protests, or would change its tune and side with the Iranian regime against the protesters.

Following are excerpts from the article:[1]

Will Al-Jazeera Support Iranian Protesters, or the Mullahs Who Are Gagging the People?

"Thank you to those who helped the illustrious Egyptian people and its heroic youth, who stood exposed in the face of clubs, horses, camels, and armored vehicles. The people whose men, women, and children filled the streets of Cairo, Alexandria, [Port] Said, and the Sinai in order to say the greatest word in modern history: 'No'. The people whom everyone thought would submit to tyranny forever and would remain forever silent over [its] oppression, [but who instead] leapt forth like a giant of legend and shook the world from end to end, turning the tables on the ruling classes in all the countries of the world – they are the ones who ushered in a new dawn, not Al-Jazeera TV.

"Today, the youth of Iran are taking the same stance, carrying the same desire in their hearts, and standing up to a deceptive regime. Just a few days ago, the turbaned leaders [of this regime] praised the revolution of the Egyptian youth, and [now], only a few days later, they are suddenly [trying] to suppress the revolution of the Iranian youth and calling for the execution of the free people, calling them 'traitors.'

"Al-Jazeera TV must now answer an important question: Did it [champion the Egyptian uprising because] it supported Egypt's freedom, or [merely] out of opposition to Hosni Mubarak? This question can be answered by seeing how the channel covers the events in Iran: Will it use the same tactics it used [in covering the events in Egypt], or will it follow the more expected route and support the mullahs who are suppressing the people's voice? Is Al-Jazeera [guided by] pre-planned political tactics and agendas, or is it grounded in principled views and [a desire to play] a pioneering and enlightened role?...

"There are those who will say that Al-Jazeera views the issue of freedom from the commercial perspective [i.e., from the perspective of ratings], rather than from a political perspective, which is to say that the revolution of the Egyptian and Tunisian youth was a matter of interest to the Arab viewers, whereas the revolution in Iran is unimportant and [therefore] will not be given the same attention. However, this is entirely untrue – the situation in Iran is of interest to all the Arabs, and especially to those in the Gulf, since Iran is an important country in their [region] and the political situation there affects the stability [of their countries]. Moreover, Iran has always had cultural and social influence over the [Gulf] region and over all the Arab peoples, and it intervenes in their affairs, as in the case of the Iraqis, the Lebanese, and the Palestinians. I can assure Al-Jazeera ratings at least as high as those it achieved during the Egyptian revolution, as long as it covers the events [in Iran] in the same revolutionary spirit."

"Al-Jazeera Is Not Concerned with Principles as Much as It Wants to Fan the [Flames of] Frustration in the Arab World"

"There are those who will say that Al-Jazeera TV is not concerned with principles as much as it wants to fan the [flames of] frustration in the Arab world. It defends Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden on the claim that the victory and unity of the Arab nation are more important than the Arabs' human rights; and at the same time, it opposes Zine Al-'Abidine Ben 'Ali and Hosni Mubarak on the grounds that the Arab's human rights are more important than the victory and unity of the Arab nation. It supports the youth of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban's mujahideen because it [purportedly] believes they are the only hope for change, but [at the same time] it supports the youth of Facebook and Twitter, because it [purportedly] believes that they are the only hope for change. Finally, it sides with the free people of Tunisia and Egypt [in their struggle] against tyranny, yet all signs indicate that, in [the case of] Iran, it is preparing to side with the powers of tyranny against its free youth.

"In every issue... [Al-Jazeera endorses] ad hoc principles, and values determined by media interests and research, in an attempt to play on the frustrations building up in the Arab's heart. This media juggling act of Al-Jazeera's proves that the Arab street is leading [the channel], and not the other way around, as [Al-Jazeera] claims. This is a channel without a fixed airwave or frequency. It rides whatever wave the public is riding [at any given moment] and starts selling big words to simple, destitute people, without [bothering] to suit its stance [of the moment] to the principles it preached in the past. Such a role may bring it sweeping success among the public, but it is an irresponsible role that does not befit a pioneering channel like Al-Jazeera. Principles cannot be bought and sold, and it is unbefitting to sell them cheap at the Friday market.

"I say to [my] dear colleagues, the heroic fighting mujahideen of Al-Jazeera: Iran is calling you. The flags of freedom are waving in the east, only 150 kilometers from your offices, from which you [purport to] free oppressed peoples. Will you turn your feet unexpectedly to [protesters in] Tehran, or have they already been caught by someone else, who is dictating your steps?"

Endnote:

[1] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), February 16, 2011.

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