autor: Marcin Pietrzyk

Mohammed El-Nawawy, Adel Iskandar, Al-Jazeera: How the Free Arab Media Scooped the World and Changed the Middle East, Westview Press, 2002.

Mohammed El-Nawawy and Adel Iskandar prepared monography concerning television of Al Jazeera: How the Free Arab Media Scooped the World and Changed the Middle East (Westview Press, 2002). Some articles about Al Jazeera television were presented earlier on many internet websites, for example at American Univeristy in Cairo. One of the most famous publication is: Boxing Rings: Al-Jazeera’s Talk Shows, showing phenomenon of popular television programmes in the Arab world. Professor El-Nawawy is also author of other article concerning Jewish-Egyptian peace proccess in the Western media (The Israeli- Egyptian Peace Process in the Reporting of Western Journalists, 2002).

Together with Leo Gher also presented interesting topic about role of media in breaking civilization barriers (Al Jazeera: Bridging the East-West Gap through Public Discourse and Media Diplomacy, TBS). At present M. El-Nawawy works in School of Communication at American Queens University of Charlotte, earlier among others in Stonehill College (Massachusetts). A. Iskandar wrote MA thesis at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, Indiana, have contacts in University of Kentucky or others in the world. Together with M. El –Nawawy prepared also book Al-Jazeera: The Story of the Network that is Rattling Governments and Redefining Modern Journalism (2003).

Chapters of book Al-Jazeera: How the Free Arab Media Scooped the World and Changed the Middle East are supplemented with analysises originated from lettres famous experts of mass communication, journalism and mass media. They are Ali Al-Hail, Joseph Straubhaar, Marwan Kraidy, Hamid Al-Ansari, Edmund Ghareeb. In research were found also voices from Palestine Statistic Centre, Qatar newspaper Al-Sharq, Al-Watan (Al-Balagh Cultural Group for Serving Islam Online) and others. Authors didn`t limit only to the reasearch aspect. Parts of the book are full of rapid turn of actions to stress the most important values. Questions are completed with examples from Arab and Western media, mainly Al Jazeera. There are quoted opinions from following media: Qatar Al Jazeera, Qatar Information Agency, Qatar newspaper Al-Ahram Weekly, Al-Watan, Al-Sharq, Pan-Arab CNBC, Egyptian television Nilesat, Egypt Information Agency, Egyptian magazine Rose Al-Youssef, newspapaer Al-Ahram, Abu Dhabi TV, Kuwait newspaper Al-Rai Al-Aam, American CNN, ABC, PBS, NBC, Fox, Voice of America, American newspaper Wasington Post, Los Angeles Times, British BBC, London Times, Jewish newspaper Jerusalem Post, Lebanese newspaper Al-Anwar, French newspaper Le Monde and others.

The main massage of this book is presenting unique character of station, as well as Western, and Arab media. Important conclusion is conviction that phenomenon has a big influence on many issues in borderland of policy, media and morality. The popular slogan describing station is: „the opinion, and the other opinion”. There are also presented surprising statements: „all this trouble from a matchbox like this?” The author of this statement was Egiptian president Hosni Mubarak who visited Qatar in January of 2000. It is important to stress that relations between Al Jazeera and particular Arab system aren`t proper. Difficulty of phenomenon of Al Jazeera have its roots from unique axiom defining as “asymetrical interdependence”. It is mean that international influence of this station isn`t comparable to political strenght of small country – Qatar.

Describing mentioned examples authors wanted to show evidence that Al Jazeera is similar to one of its cartoons presented in this monography. The hero of autocaricature is a small man living in the tiny island (in Arabic an island its Al Jazeera) on some ocean. What is important this small man has giant trumpet, which sound is directed into remote areas. Range and strength of this sound has bad consequence for its inhabitant and island, which is paralysed by influence of trumpet. What is turned out this image quite accurately shows Al Jazeera and its influence on Qatar and emir of this island Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani. Another intelectual enigma concerns Qatar media market which situation is described as: “media shizophrenia”. It is interpreted that despite of fact Qatar guesting big and free network, similar to other Arab countries is accused of breaking human laws. Free and professional media as in example of Al Jazeera aren`t comparable to local Qatar media, which are more connected with Arab state media, than Al Jazeera. Despite of many progress in introducing democracy, limiting censorship, Amnesty International proved existence repression toward political opponents. Analysis of Qatar station of Al Jazeera don`t restrict only to media issues, but also social and politics as Arab society in the Middle East, the United States, Canada and Europe.

It is written about consequence of growing importance of station and its repercussions on particular Arab states. In reference to interaction with the Western world it mentioned about attendance of Western politician in programmes of Pan-Arab stations. In book was stresed that television Al Jazeera brought to start changes in mentality of Arab world and internationalizing Arab factor in world media dialogue. It was involved with treatment of many topics, perceived as taboo in many Arab countries. Al Jazeera became famous in the world after terroristic attaks in the United States, and in the context of war in Afghanistan. Office chairman in Cairo described Al Jazeera as a „matchbox from which flew fire and this is impossible to stopped it”. And „Al Jazeera may not change yours image otherwise it died”. The most important programmes of Al Jazeera are talk-shows. A big attention was directed to Al Ittijah Al Mo`akis (The Opposite Direction), by Fajsal Al-Kasim. Other popular show on Al Jazeera is Akthar are Men Ra`y (More than One opinion) and Without Borders, which host is Samy Haddad (others – Oula Horoub Al-Qarn (The First war of century) with Mohammad Kreishan, Serri Lel Ghaya (Top Secret), Al-Sharia val Hayat (Islamic Law and Life).

Arab talk-shows describe a new nature of transnational Arab media creating a democtratic dialogue in the Arab world which have never existed before. As a confirmation Arab audience is interested in these topics. Arab talk-shows turned out to be a good luck for Arab society, esspecially in the aspect of development of civil society. Important for Arab is that people may phone during programmes and discuss various issues. In strict Arab world it was a reason of many scandals. Many Arab leaders told about Al-Kasim that (host of Opposite Directions): „tongue of this man should be cut”. The most controversial topics were: poligamy in the Arab world, opponents of Arab states and people accused of apostate.

Appearance of Al Jazeera was very crucial for many Arabs. For the first time Al Jazeera became a global station linking Arabs around a Palestine issue. How said one of the book heroes living in Canadian Halifax „earlier the Arabic music videos were all the same, and all the singers sounded alike”. 28 september 2000 when Ariel Sharon visited The Mounting Temple started the Second Palestinian Intifada. There was killed 18 of Palestinians, among them 12 years old Palestinian boy Mohammed Al-Durra. What was esspecialy important these events were shown on Al Jazeera in a way that was impossible or difficult for others.

Remittance of Al Jazeera was a response to Western media, where attitude toward Palestinias was slighting, for example describing Palestinians victims as: „targeted killings”. According to authors of these events „the Arabs in Halifax, Cairo, Sydney, Toledo, and Amman together cried due to killed Palestinian boy”. From this reason Al Jazeera became for Arabs tool of unification of Arab world, and also a big experiment of globalization. El-Nawawy and Iskandar undertook a topic of global attendance of Pan-Arab station in a conglomerate of world media.

Al Jazeera was established in the time of new era of satellite stations appeared in the Arab world. Arab media are more independent and professional now. Arab satellite stations gradually were replaced from West (Middle East Broadcasting Center – MBC in London) to the Arab world (The Egyptian Satellite Channel – ESC in Cairo; Emirates Dubai Television -EDTV; Future TV -Bejrut; Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation -Bejrut). But on the account of strong connections with local authorities it is difficult to say about full independence. Only Al Jazeera station could be comparable equal with level of Western stations, not only in technic sphere, but also in editorial independence. Al Jazeera became popular in the world because of its television programme which was seen as controversial in Arab states and among Western politicians.

Negative opinions about Al Jazeera was involved with its role during terroristic attaks on America (Al-Kaida announcement). It is said about cassette form 7 of October 2001, when Osama bin Laden thanked God for striking America. From this reason Al Jazeera was called a media spokesman of terrorists. Nevertheless CNN signed a similar television contract with Al Jazeera to receive some informations. This decision angered many American television stations perceiving it as disloyal. In the Arab world appeared also a accusation of shaking political stability in the Middle East, and destroying Islam. Many Arab ambassadors were postponed from Qatar due to showing a controversial television programmes, as earlier mentioned talk-show Al Ittijah Al Mo`akis. This situation concerns ambassadors from Maroco, Kuwait, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia. These countries also praised a decision of Arab States Broadcasting Union (ASBU) about removing Al-Jazeera participation in this organization. Nevertheless nobody react when Algierian authority cut off electricity to make impossible watching programmes on Al Jazeera, which may give a negative light on Arab states.

In this context Americans and Arabs tried to destroy authority of Al-Jazeera. To achieve this purpose they tried to create alternative version of Arab station, or use it as a tool of political and economic pressure. In response Arabs replied: „you cant use the Backstreet Boys to sell policies in the Middle East”. Similarly some Arabs tried to call Al Jazeera as a agent of CIA, or assistant of Israel but only enlarging its popularity. Case of battle against Western world transformed into a real information war, when Al Jazeera fought the second „Desert Storm”, but on the wave.

Argument that Al Jazeera is communication channel between Western and Arab world is explained by the fact international society is starting process of mutual understanding. This situation existed when American politicians like Collin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, and even former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak wanted to send announcement to the Arab world on Al Jazeera.

To sum up this monography is a book, which in complex way presents many problems concerning Al Jazeera and factors which create its phenomenon. What is important this book in objective way descibes a relations between Arab and Western world, not avoiding some critical notes about Al-Jazeera. After writing series of arguments, finally they formed following conclusion: „Al Jazeera may not be perfect, but it is the only choice for Arabs”, which we may translate as rejection of voices decidedly critical, but quiet appreciation.

Marcin Pietrzyk

Polish review of this book was published [in:] ed. by Janusz Danecki, Bliski Wschód, nr 5 2008, ss. 198-200.