25 February, 2011 — MRZine
Al Jazeera received a lot of kudos for its exciting coverage of the intifadas in Tunisia and Egypt. Many of us in the West in particular found it to be a useful source of information, since the Western media’s coverage of them, largely shaped by imperialist preferences as always, was quantitatively lesser and qualitatively worse than Al Jazeera’s.
Al Jazeera’s coverage of the Arab Revolt began to deteriorate, however, when revolutionary sparks started to fly in the direction of the Gulf states, which would eventually ignite an unprecedented (and very politically promising1) uprising in Bahrain, made up of 100,000-strong demonstrations in a nation whose population is only about 800,000. Having paid close attention to Al Jazeera’s role in the Arab Revolt, As’ad AbuKhalil criticized its about-face in his blog Angry Arab News Service:
GCC met and issues a statement in support of Bahrain. The people of Bahrain are on their own now: there is no Aljazeera to support their cause and expose the regime, and the US and EU will do their best to rationalize and support government repression. Shame on Aljazeera Arabic for abandoning the people of Bahrain, and for even invoking a sectarian element in their coverage, implying that only Shi’ites are protesting. (17 February 2011)
At about the same time, an uprising erupted in Libya. The Gaddafi regime’s violent repression of it, plus the continuing spectacle of seemingly endless defections of high-ranking officials and military men from the regime, has proved a godsend to anyone whose biggest concern is what may become of the headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet — and more importantly its neighbor Saudi Arabia, whose own Shia population not only share the same grievances as their Bahraini counterparts but are also concentrated in one of its oil-producing regions. Forget Bahrain, let’s focus on Libya!
Or so went the directive, one suspects, from Al Jazeera’s owner Sheikh Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with talking about Libya if the purpose is to convey accurate information about it. But there is everything wrong with making propaganda about it in such a way as to put its people at risk. And I’m afraid that’s exactly what Al Jazeera has begun to do. Both in Arabic and English, it has been featuring leading members of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya, an outfit funded by the CIA and Saudi Arabia during the Cold War, as credible sources of news and views, much as the Western media have been doing.2
That is bad enough. Yesterday, Al Jazeera hit a new low: it gave the self-styled “Crown Prince” of Libya — Muhammad as-Senussi — a platform from which to call on “the international community to help remove Gaddafi from power and stop the ongoing ‘massacre’.” By the “international community,” of course he doesn’t mean those of us who might organize protests at Libyan embassies or that kind of thing. He means the great and not-so-great powers that may be persuaded to deploy their armed forces in Libya.
“Crown Prince”: What I try to do to stop the massacre — I try to put pressure and call the international community to stop this killing. Gaddafi — he must leave. And that’s what I try to do every day.
Barnaby Phillips, Al Jazeera: So, what should the international community do and what can the international community do?
“Crown Prince”: The international community — they know the way to stop the massacre.
Barnaby Phillips: But are you in favor of military intervention from the international community?
“Crown Prince”: I think, anything [that] stops killing, I will support it.
And the Al Jazeera interviewer lets the “Crown Prince” leave it at that, without challenging him on this point at all. (Needless to say, he doesn’t ask a question that upsets the narrative frame for foreign military intervention: since sections of armed forces have already joined the revolt, isn’t what’s going on in Libya now less the regime mowing down unarmed protesters than a civil war between two armed camps, each controlling large territories with valuable resources?)
Seriously, what is the point of rising up to take back the country from its current ruler — and in fact having already successfully taken over large parts of it — if foreign powers get to enter the country at the urging of its would-be king, to take it all away from you again? Is Al Jazeera for revolution . . . or counter-revolution?
Now, no one on the Left should lose sleep over the fate of a man who has pitched too many tents in too many contradictory camps. But we have every reason to be concerned about what the empire, aided by mass media, might attempt in Libya, from getting its assets to take advantage of an uprising for which, being safely in exile, they made no personal sacrifices themselves, to wresting control of Libya’s oil-producing regions, or perhaps even the whole country, from the hands of not only its soon-to-be-former regime but also its people.
2 E.g., “Deadly ‘Day of Rage’ in Libya” (quoting “Mohammed Ali Abdellah, deputy leader of the exiled National Front for the Salvation of Libya,” Al Jazeera, 18 February 2011); “Libya’s Lucrative Ties” (interviewing “Dr. Mohamed al-Magariaf, the co-founder of the National Front for the Salvation of Libya,” Al Jazeera, 22 February 2011); “Libya on the Brink” (interviewing “Ibrahim Sahad, the secretary-general of the National Front for the salvation of Libya,” Al Jazeera, 23 February 2011); AlJazeera (Al Jazeera, 21 January 2011); AlJazeera (Al Jazeera, 14 February 2011).
Yoshie Furuhashi is Editor of MRZine.