IslamExpo has held a dinner in honour of the ex-Director General of the Al-Jazeera Network at which Wadah Khanfar was congratulated for his impressive tenure at the Doha-based station. Hosting the event, Anas al-Tikriti of IslamExpo welcomed Mr Khanfar and thanked him for the work that he had done during his time at Al-Jazeera, reflecting on the development of the network under his influence. The host then invited a number of high-profile guests to share their appreciation of Wadah Khanfar's work at Al-Jazeera and his influence on the world of journalism.
Dr Azzam Tamimi of Al-Hiwar Television was the first speaker of the evening to reflect on the achievement of Khanfar and Al-Jazeera. "I first noted the student activist Wadah more than 20 years ago, in Jordan," said Dr Tamimi. "Even then he displayed great potential." He thanked Wadah Khanfar for his commitment to the development of journalism across the globe, especially the training given to Al-Hiwar staff at Al-Jazeera's Doha headquarters. Dr. Tamimi described Khanfar as "a leader of journalism" and predicted even greater tings for and from him in the years to come.
This was seconded by Abdul Bari Atwan, the editor of London's al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper. Reflecting on Wadah's arrival at Al-Jazeera, Atwan noted that he and others had been sceptical, wondering who this "young chap" was, coming from "obscurity" to one of the most sought-after positions in perhaps the most important of news networks in the Middle East. "Happily," he said, "Wadah's strong leadership of the network led us to conclude that we were wrong in our initial assessment."
The global influence of the station was stressed by Dr. Robert Lambert of Exeter University. "Al-Jazeera has provided direct access to the Middle East for those of us in the Western world," he said. This, added Dr Lambert, was down to Wadah Khanfar's guidance at the channel.
Although he still has "many questions" about the Arab Spring, or "uprising" as he called it, despite Al-Jazeera's excellent coverage, Professor Tariq Ramadan acknowledged the important role played by the network in bringing news of the events across the Middle East to a wider audience.
Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, pointed out that Al-Jazeera's distinctive appeal in the media – the ability to provide an "alternative voice" – was made possible by the work that Wadah had promoted and encouraged during his leadership, specifically the bravery of Al-Jazeera's staff during Operation Cast Lead and the editorial decision to remain in Gaza while other news networks stayed away.
When the main guest spoke, the audience of media, humanitarian and political activists and friends of the Middle East were captivated by Wadah Khanfar's thoughts on the future of journalism and the region. After a formal welcome by Ismail Patel of IslamExpo, Khanfar reiterated Patel's point about this being a crucial time for the Muslim Ummah. "Not only are the Muslims in the Middle East undergoing a revolution," he said, "but the Muslim community in Britain and the West must also support the foundations of new societies."
He noted that Al-Jazeera's editorial policy had put people at the heart of journalism and that the revolutions had been led by these same people. Now, he added, the public interest of the people must be at the heart of new communities as they develop. He said that now is the time to ensure that Islam and democracy can find a place for one another as practical steps are taken to re-build the nations of the Middle East. "Some serious discussions and debate about this must take place," Khanfar said, calling on those present to help this happen.
It was the focus on people which was at the heart of Wadah Khanfar's speech, just as it was at the heart of his career at Al-Jazeera. Nobody present at the IslamExpo dinner was left in any doubt that it will also be at the heart of whatever he turns his attention to in the future.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.