Thursday, January 28, 2016

Al Jazeera America closure signals a quieter Qatar

From JPost, 27/1/2016, by Tom Finn / Reuters:

Qatar's support for the entire Al Jazeera operation is in question...

An aerial view of Doha, Qatar's capital
An aerial view of Doha, Qatar's capital. (photo credit:REUTERS)
When Qatar announced the closure of Al Jazeera America this month, the decision by its new ruler marked a more cautious approach to public diplomacy by the tiny Gulf state after years of cultivating a high-profile international role.

Departing from a crowded US media market after a foray costing perhaps $2 billion is also consistent with a retreat from confrontation with Gulf Arab neighbors over Qatar's promotion of Islamists in the 2011 Arab uprisings.

While the gas-exporting nation is still determined to remain a power broker in the Middle East turmoil, its use of Al Jazeera as a megaphone in support of that goal appears to be on the wane under the young emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, former Qatari officials and Arab commentators say.

...The [American] channel ...struggled to shake off a perception ...that its corporate parent, Al Jazeera, was anti-American and a source of propaganda, a view articulated in 2004 by then-President George W. Bush.

Sheik Tamim, who succeeded his father Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani in 2013, prefers a different role for Qatar and more conventional forms of "soft power" like trade and investment, diplomats say.
As a result of this, support for the entire Al Jazeera operation, which includes Al Jazeera English and Al Jazeera Arabic in question...


"The era of throwing money at Jazeera is ending," said Hafez al-Mirazi, a former Washington bureau chief at Al Jazeera Arabic who directs the Kamal Adham Center for Television and Digital Journalism at Cairo's American University.

"Al Jazeera fulfilled its mission: making Qatar a household name, influencing politics, at one point it was a powerful tool of foreign policy but all of that is over now," he said, adding that current low oil prices had given the Qatari leadership an excuse to end "the extravagance of Jazeera which has lost credibility in parts of the Arab world."

...Al Jazeera executives and representatives of the royal family or the Qatari government declined to comment on the future of the channel and its funding for this article.

The channel cheered on Doha's bank-rolling of the Arab Spring revolts, particularly a mass uprising in Egypt, but now faces aggressive competition in its home region, and suspicion from many governments over air time given to Islamist groups in Syria, Libya and elsewhere.

Al Jazeera's spectacular growth took place under Sheikh Hamad who, unlike other Gulf Arab leaders, backed Middle East protest movements and played mediator in a host of wars. Expanding into America was conceived under Sheikh Hamad.

Under Sheikh Tamim, Qatar has toned down its foreign policy.

Since taking over in 2013, the Arab world's youngest head of state has adopted more conciliatory and inward-looking policies, analysts and diplomats say.


"Sheik Tamim wants Qatar to remain relevant on the world stage, but he wants to do that without squandering money or angering neighbors ... he doesn't want to be sucked into conflicts in the region," said a former Qatari diplomat, who declined to be named.

"The new approach is less noisy, it's more cautious."...


In the last decade Al Jazeera's bureaus have been bombed, raided, and shuttered and its reporters imprisoned and killed.

Critics of Al Jazeera accused the network of aggressively covering unrest in Syria and Libya, while skirting over protests in Bahrain, Qatar's small neighbor in the Arab Gulf, which Qatar's ruling elite has an interest in seeing remain stable..

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