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Even as piracy moves from the sea to the media, Arab consciousness will not be decreased

Fans raise the Qatari flag during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifying group A football match between Qatar and South Korea at the Jassim Bin Hamad stadium in Doha, Qatar on 13 June, 2017 [Mohamed Farag/Anadolu Agency]
Fans raise the Qatari flag during the 2018 FIFA World Cup Asian Qualifying group A football match between Qatar and South Korea at the Jassim Bin Hamad stadium in Doha, Qatar on 13 June, 2017 [Mohamed Farag/Anadolu Agency]

The diplomatic curtains parted recently to reveal the source of the hacking that ignited the current Gulf crisis and led to the air, land and sea blockade of a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Qatar. An FBI investigation in the US has demonstrated the UAE's involvement in the hacking of the Qatari News Agency and falsification of statements attributed to the Emir of Qatar. The terms used to describe the operation revolve around internet piracy and infiltration, both of which indicate aggression within the framework of military operations carried out by one state against another.

Infiltration is the violation of sovereign territory by illegal means, usually in order to undermine a state and achieve hostile objectives. It is a process that disregards the law. Piracy also implies illegal activity and is nowadays not restricted to acts on the high seas, such as we have witnessed off the coast of Somalia in recent years.

The seriousness of the hacking of the Qatari News Agency lies not so much in the action itself, although that alone is certainly an act of aggression that violates the sovereignty of an independent state. Rather it is in the serious repercussions, which may lead the region into a disastrous military confrontation. The statements that were attributed to the Qatari authorities were the grounds upon which the blockade was based and the starting point for a project of which Qatar is just one of the axes.

However, the greatest concern is the involvement of the media in the blockading countries, especially the UAE and Saudi; the Bahraini media is negligible while Egypt's can no longer be properly termed media as its organs are simply tools for inciting sedition and demonising political opponents of the regime.

The media was at the heart of the Gulf crisis from the very beginning, because the hacking targeted an official media organisation. This is an important point. The launching of the crisis through the media reflects the strategy of appealing to Gulf and Arab public opinion. The reports and articles published within hours of the hacking confirm that the process was planned and coordinated in advance, and aimed at a Gulf audience first and foremost. The UAE mobilised massive media resources in the process.

US praises Qatar's fight against terrorism and calls for blockade to be lifted

The second point is that there is no real basis for the crisis. All of the accusations against Qatar – supporting terrorism, financing terrorist groups, instigating conflict and interfering in the internal affairs of neighbouring states – are meaningless because the source of the crisis was false media claims.

What's more, as well as being part of the crisis launch, media was also a target, with the closure of Qatar's Al-Jazeera Network being one of the demands made of the government in Doha. It is the first time that a group of countries has demanded the closure of a television channel as a condition for lifting a siege imposed on its host country. We may disagree with Al-Jazeera and its editorial line, but it is uncommon for relations between countries to require the closure of a TV channel.

It is true that the channel represented a real nightmare for authoritarian Arab states before, during and after the Arab Spring, but it did not step beyond the regulatory framework for freedom of expression and respect for differing views. This is confirmed by the respect enjoyed by Al-Jazeera internationally, as well as the number of prizes its journalists and journalism have won during its short existence compared to other Arab media.

It is also well known that channels targeting the Arab audience hope to entice viewers away from Al-Jazeera, which is a rare international success story in the Arab media environment. Sky News Arabic, Al-Arabiya, Russia Today, BBC Arabic and France 24 all emerged after Al-Jazeera in order to reduce the level of awareness raised by the channel, the openness of which is a threat to the existence of the Arab authoritarian governance model itself.

Media is, therefore, a major axis of the current crisis in the Gulf. It is thus possible to say that the main target of the crisis is the consciousness of the Arab citizen who relies on the media for his or her information about current events.

The demonisation of Qatar and the false accusations against it represent an attempt to hack into the new Arab consciousness, which arose after the initially peaceful revolutions of the Arab Spring. Qatar has refused to recognise military coups and refuses to join the counter-revolutions. Al-Jazeera provides space and a platform for a new consciousness and the expression of opinions freely, regardless of background. This is what has mobilised the regional authoritarian deep state, which is today trying to strangle it.

Read: The embarrassment of Saudi and the UAE exposes regional misfortunes

The scale of the crime is not about absolving the state of Qatar from all of the charges levelled against it. It is about revealing the fears of Arab regimes and their crimes against the peaceful revolutions that demanded freedom and social justice. Consciousness does not decrease with the closure of a channel or the siege of a state. It remains alive and strong, and is renewed constantly until the demands for which it emerged are realised.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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AfricaArticleBahrainEgyptGCCMiddle EastOpinionQatarSaudi ArabiaUAE
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