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memri
August 24, 2006 No.
1262

Tunisian Reformist Intellectual: Al-Jazeera TV – A Mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood

In an article posted July 29, 2006 on the reformist website Elaph, Tunisian intellectual Dr. Khaled Shawkat, director of the Netherlands-based Center for Promoting Democracy in the Arab World, attacked Al-Jazeera TV because, he says, it has become the mouthpiece of the Muslim Brotherhood. [1]

The following are excerpts from his article:

"Al-Jazeera has Become [a Channel] Affiliated With a Political, Religious, and Ideological Organization [i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood]"

"I am convinced that the special status attained by the Qatari Al-Jazeera channel in the Arab and international media is based on the fact that in its early years, it dealt persistently with issues of democracy and human rights in the Arab world, dared to discuss things not spoken of in Arab politics, and exposed the disgrace of the violations and misconduct of the Arab regimes. I am also convinced that Al-Jazeera has in recent years abandoned this direction, for many reasons, and that its current administration is trying to preserve the channel's popularity by distorting Arab public opinion, [which it achieves] by stirring up emotion on sensitive regional issues, such as Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan...

"My renewed interest in Al-Jazeera stems from the fact that, in my view, Al-Jazeera was an historic opportunity for advancing democracy in the Arab world... and that this opportunity is being lost, if it is not lost already, just as many other opportunities have been missed by the Arabs...

"Al-Jazeera's current media direction is no longer to aspire to compete with the BBC or CNN in professionalism, independence, and courage; rather, it has become [a channel] affiliated with a political, religious, and ideological organization that strives to spread its views amongst the Arab public..."

At Al-Jazeera, "Loyalty has Come to Supersede Qualifications"

"Al-Jazeera has been hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood organization - either at the wish of the channel's owners as part of a certain political game [played] by the Qatari rulers, or out of the lack of awareness of the Qatari rulers, who think that the situation is under control and that even though they have given the Muslim Brotherhood a chance to control Al-Jazeera, for local, regional, and international considerations, they can get rid of them or restrain them any time they want...

"Anyone with professional qualifications is entitled to work, to gain prominence, to create, and to become famous, regardless of his personal beliefs. Therefore, I have never had any problem with the fact that media personnel known for their Islamic tendencies work for Al-Jazeera or for any other channel. The problem emerges when the criterion of qualifications becomes less important than the criterion of loyalty [to a particular group], and when the [channel's] editorial and media line... become hostage to an agenda that is not a media [agenda], but rather the party [line] or political [line] of a small group...

"Prior to writing this article, I spoke with a number of journalists at Al-Jazeera, [both] known and unknown, some of whom still worked there and some of whom had been forced, or decided, to quit. Most of them agreed that 'loyalty' [to a group] had come to supersede 'qualifications,' and that journalists with no Muslim Brotherhood background had to choose one of two options: [either] adapt to the new work conditions and swear loyalty to the representative of the supreme guide [of the Muslim Brotherhood] at Al-Jazeera, or leave...

"Many chose to adapt to the Muslim Brotherhood's administrative conditions, and each found his own way to satisfy the imam. There were those whom Allah finally guided to prayer; there's the woman whom Allah guided to don the hijab... and there are those whose [TV] programs became more enthusiastic about the Muslim Brotherhood's slogans... than the organization leaders themselves...

"Those who have followed Al-Jazeera's programming in recent months have undoubtedly noticed that guests from the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood have taken over [the scene], [blocking] guests from the leadership of [other] political movements [from speaking] - to the extent that three or four Muslim Brotherhood members sometimes appear on a single news program, as if it were impossible to properly analyze and assess political events in the Arab world except via the outlook of the leaders of the group that takes the righteous way and is guided [by Allah, i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood]..."

The Producer Did Not Let Me Speak "Because He Felt That I had Criticized Al-Jazeera"

"A few weeks ago, I was a guest on Al-Jazeera's Behind the News program, to respond to the affair of Dutch MP 'Ayaan Hirsi Ali. I was the main guest on the program, because I was the only commentator [speaking] from the scene. But I was surprised that I was the only one stopped from making concluding statements, and also that my name was omitted from the list of the program's guests in the version posted on the Al-Jazeera website. A friend who had been in the program's control room told me that the producer had instructed the host not to let me speak again, because he felt that I had criticized Al-Jazeera in my opening statements...

"At [Al-Jazeera, employees are] no longer appointed based on qualifications, but [based on] agreed-upon selections, or [are selected by] one of the [Muslim Brotherhood] leaders. Based on what I was told by a friend inside the station, nearly 80% of the station's recent appointees - particularly in the production and the editing [departments] - are Muslim Brotherhood members or are close to movements [affiliated with] the Muslim Brotherhood. Appointments based on considerations of loyalty [to the Muslim Brotherhood] are even made in the management bodies of new professional departments which Al-Jazeera has decided to launch in the near future. The appointees have no professional expertise in the [relevant] fields [but are chosen for their affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood].

"Recently, a joke [has been going around] that explains the delay in launching the English Al-Jazeera International channel: The British director is refusing to swear loyalty to the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood...

"I hope that Al-Jazeera will return to its origins [encouraging democracy and human rights], and that the era of being hijacked [by the Muslim Brotherhood] will not last much longer..."

Neither the Arab Regimes nor the Arab Opposition Have Internalized the Essence of Democracy

In an article published several days later, Dr. Khaled Shawkat discussed the enraged responses he had received regarding his article about Al-Jazeera, particularly the responses from Islamist activists. He wrote that the Islamist activists had cursed him roundly and accused him of treason and of collaborating with the Zionist-American attack on the Muslim nation. From the reactions he received, Dr. Shawkat drew several conclusions:

"First... The democratic culture in the Arab and Islamic world is still extremely fragile and superficial, since the accusations of treason and of intelligence collaboration with foreign elements are rooted not only in the existing Arab regimes, but also among the opposition. I do not know how people who have been expelled from their land, or arrested and tortured because of similar accusations against them, can agree so easily, with the stroke of a pen, to direct [such accusations] against anyone who disagrees with their views...

"Second... [Attempts at] self-purification by supporting Iraq, Palestine, and other miserable countries is characteristic not only of the ruling regimes or of the intellectuals connected to them, but is also customary among those who want to lay claim to false acts of heroism. Al-Jazeera, which is no longer capable of courage in the face of many Arab governments, can emerge from its embarrassment only by showing heroism in other arenas that allow free [action]...

"Third... [From the Muslim point of view], when there is a regional or international crisis, life must stop, and the critics and commentators must refrain from engaging in [all other] matters. Anyone who dares to raise an issue not on the agenda... becomes part of the American-Zionist conspiracy... Since Al-Jazeera covers crisis after crisis [in the Arab world]... it is obligatory always to be silent, and never to criticize..." [2]


[1] Elaph.com, July 29, 2006.

[2] Elaph.com, August 4, 2006.