Showing posts with label Arab Spring. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Arab Spring. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Qatar's weakening foreign policy following the coup in Egypt and changes on the ground in Syria

 Interviewer: Chris Arsenault, a reporter with Al Jazeera online based in Doha
Subject: Qatar's weakening foreign policy following the coup in Egypt and changes on the ground in Syria, September 24, 2013.

Do you think Qatar has overplayed its foreign policy hand in the last few years?

I don’t think Qatar has overplayed its hand with its foreign policy. The rulers of Qatar simply overestimated the durability of assets (Aljazeera and the Muslim Brotherhood) and underestimated the Arab public’s skepticism of politicians and governments. Clearly, the outgoing Emir, who came to power by overthrowing his own father, was very aware of the disconnect between the Arab masses and their leaders. He engineered Aljazeera as a tool to capitalize on that trust deficit and befriended a religious and political movement that was very popular among the disenfranchised segments of Arab societies but shunned by all Arab regimes—the Muslim Brotherhood. That worked for a while. What they did not anticipate is that the Arab masses’ capacity for authoritarianism was rapidly declining, ironically enough thanks in part to Aljazeera, and the public support for the Muslim Brotherhood was mathematically limited (40% support max.). In other words, the people wanted the old system gone, not replaced by a new brand of authoritarianism. Egypt’s events highlighted that: Egyptians equated secular authoritarianism (Mubarak’s) to the new emerging religious authoritarianism (The Muslim Brotherhood). As for Aljazeera, taking side of one party over another irreparably damaged its reputation; and once the link between Aljazeera editorial decisions and Qatar’s foreign policy became obvious, Aljazeera-Arabic became another partisan agency, not as the fiercely independent channel it marketed itself to be when it first started.

Do you think there is any link between the former Emir stepping down and Qatar's decision to focus on domestic priorities rather than foreign policy endeavors?

The outgoing Emir needed to step down one way or another. He needed to do that because he put his personal credibility on the line when he supported all uprisings and civil wars that removed (or threatening to remove) the regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Syria. The Emir and his Prime Minister insisted that the Arab world must be ruled by governments chosen by the people. Of course for that position to remain consistent, he (and the other rulers of the Gulf States) needed to make political concessions, too. Stepping down was the best way to accommodate that rhetoric. But he would not have stepped down when he did if it were not for the crisis in Syria. Egypt’s events (which happened after the handover) was just another reason that forced the new ruler (Tamim) to take a step back. I don’t think there has been a planned total shift from foreign to domestic, it is just the complexity of the situations in Syria and Egypt that are forcing the new ruler to take a more measured positions than that of Saudi Arabia for instance.

Qatar spent nearly 4% of its GDP propping up Mohammed Morsi's government in Egypt. Why do you think the country hasn't condemned the military's actions more forcefully?  

The crisis in Egypt was unexpected and the removal of Morsi took place just 8 days after the handover. Moreover, the change in Qatar was necessitated, in part, by the Emir’s failure in Syria, which meant that a new strategy was needed. That strategy was not in place when Morsi was ousted. Based on (Arabic) Aljazeera coverage, and when compared to Alarabiyya’s, Tamim’s foreign policy regarding Egypt is still pro-Muslim Brotherhood, just not as forceful at the moment. 

In terms of Qatar's large ambitions - its desire to try and mediate regional conflicts and its hosting of high-profile conferences - how much of this is linked to security concerns following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait? And how much of this is linked simply to egotism and a desire to be noticed?

Indeed, the outgoing Emir was a very ambitious person. I am not totally convinced that his disproportionate foreign policy was dictated by his concern for foreign threats. If there was a serious threat to his rule or his country, it must have been domestic, especially given the way he came to power. His personal ambitions, however, are present in every endeavor from hosting global conferences to hosting the World Cup (still a controversial decision), he wanted Qatar to be known around the world. He was able to achieve many milestones because he had run the country like a corporation and his foreign policy was more like Public Relations than Diplomacy.


* The reporter expressed regret that not all the comments (especially those deemed controversial) could be published on Aljazeera due to legal restrictions. The full conversation is published here to provide full context.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Arab Spring 2.0: Why did Morsi lose the presidency and why did the Muslim Brotherhood lose a revolution?

Many Arabs, thirsty for real change, look at the events of the Arab Spring positively. Liberal, secular, conservative, and ultraconservative groups and individuals in the countries transformed by the Arab Spring who supported the overthrow of the old guard agree that these revolutions were necessary. They disagree on the post-revolution arrangement. The Arab Spring 2.0 that took place in Egypt on June 30th is a good example of the disagreement between former allies about the future of the new Arab World. Analysts and observers of Middle East affairs are trying to make sense out of something that does not operate according to common sense. All that can be done is a sound analysis of the facts. I have received several inquiries for comments about the events in Egypt. A summary of these comments might provide some legal and historical context.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Hitched to Qatar's rising star, Al Jazeera takes a bumpy ride skyward

Al Jazeera's relationship with Qatar's emir, who founded the channel in 1996, has drawn more criticism as Qatar takes an increasingly prominent role in the region.

To some viewers, the coincidence of Qatari policy and Al Jazeera’s aggressive reporting on Libya and Syria seemed too close for comfort, particularly when other revolutions – those that hit closer to home for Qatar and its Gulf allies – got less attention.
As daily reports streamed in from the Libyan capital of Tripoli and the Syrian border, Al Jazeera “forgot there was a country called Bahrain for three or four months,” recalls Mehran Kamrava, director of the Center for International and Regional Studies at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in Qatar.

Others are more measured in their criticism. Ahmed Souaiaia, a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Iowa who has written extensively about Al Jazeera in the Arab Spring, says he believes the Qatari-friendly glaze was evident mostly on the Arabic channel, which is geared toward a regional audience.

Anstey and Khanfar have defended their Bahrain coverage, noting that the station was trying to cover five revolutions in a limited amount of time. “We did not give the same weight to the Bahrain story,” Khanfar admitted in the forum at MIT, explaining that he believed Bahrain was not a revolution but a sectarian conflict. “[Bahrain] did not end with a majority – and overwhelming majority of people – who could revolt against the regime.”

That explanation will hardly allay criticism, however, since the government's campaign of sectarian repression also played a key role in tamping down protests, which were predominately Shiite – reflecting the country's large Shiite majority, who have long felt sidelined by the country's Sunni leaders.

Arabs 'very adept in flipping channels to find truth'
For the moment, Al Jazeera appears to be going nowhere but up. It plans to open a Balkan channel and a Swahili channel soon, the first language channels since English was introduced in 2006. Other languages, such as Spanish, may follow.

Anstey knows it’s the audience who will ultimately decide the broadcaster’s fate. “Yes we are headquartered here, [but] we are wholly independent from the state of Qatar,” he maintains. “Our coverage absolutely demonstrates to our viewers that we are impartial.”

Mohamed Nanabhay, head of online at Al Jazeera English, told the February panel at MIT that the channel has already proven itself able to ask hard questions of Doha; the channel broadcast several reports questioning Qatar’s readiness to host the 2022 World Cup.

If viewers perceive a bias, real or imagined, Al Jazeera and its critics alike know the stakes.

“The Arab peoples are used to state-controlled media and it will not be a shock for them to see Al Jazeera sliding back into that category,” says Prof. Souaiaia. “They are very adept in flipping through the channels to find the truth.”

Source: The Christian Science Monitor

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