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Is Al-Arabiya Network really a refreshing alternative?

Al-Arabiya Network

Well-known for its desperate attempt to rival Al-Jazeera Network in the Arab world, Al-Arabiya has earned its place in the Arabic saying, "What you are saying is even more bogus than Al Arabiya". In 2013, Saudi scholar Abdul Aziz Al-Tarefe tweeted: "If the channel 'Al-Arabiya' existed in the time of the Prophet [Muhammad, peace be upon him] the hypocrites would only have rallied behind it and the wealth of Banu Qurayzah would only have been spent on it."1

That comment was re-tweeted 130,000 times; it could not resonate any more agreement amongst the Arab mainstream. It was no coincidence that Al-Arabiya was launched on 3 March 2003, a few days before the invasion of Iraq that it would celebrate as a "liberation"; it broadcasts from the United Arab Emirates. According to leaked US cables, its umbrella network, showbiz giant MBC, is owned by the late Saudi King Fahd's brother-in-law (the non-royal Waleed Bin Ibrahim Al-Ibrahim) whereas half of the channel's profits reportedly go to the King's son, Abdul Aziz Bin Fahd.2

The classified leak from "Near Eastern Affairs, US Department of State" summarises that Al-Arabiya is part of a monarchical regulated press, owned mainly by royals and "free to write what they wish provided they do not criticise the ruling family or expose government corruption."3

What is disturbing, beyond its scandalous showbiz gossip, "absurd fabrications" and its uncluttered hostility towards Qatar (showing in one video a Qatar Airways passenger aircraft being shot down by a Saudi jet for straying into the latter's airspace)4 are its slurs against the region's Islamic, cultural and political norms. It is licensed, perhaps ironically, by what is supposedly a Shari'ah-driven establishment, one that has not stopped short of demanding the closure of Doha-based Al-Jazeera as one of 13 sweeping conditions for its siege on Qatar to be lifted.5

Read: We won't shut down Al Jazeera, says Qatar Emir

Half of the Muslim Arab world (53 per cent) still lists Al-Jazeera as the first source of news6 with Al-Arabiya trailing way behind at 9 per cent. According to Fouad Touzani, in an article published in the CEU Political Science Journal, ever since its launch, Al-Jazeera has played a central role in empowering Arab civil society, covering its activities and promoting its agenda, and it has acted as a pivotal "contributor in the democratic transition throughout the region."7 Many will, thus, naturally see Al-Arabiya, as the owner of the "counter-narrative", as nothing more than an intruder, reminiscent of the US invasion of Iraq.

The growing marginalisation of Qatar by the GCC countries and their "new" and "old" rivalries with every manifestation of Islamic orthodoxy and political Islam has, to some extent, offered the opportune moment for Al-Arabiya to try to shove itself down Arab, and now English-language, throats. An opening, for example, to paint Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, the dictator and individual responsible for one of the biggest contemporary massacres in the world, as a "hero"8; to dub Palestinian Islamic resistance groups as "terrorists"9; and to concoct the myth that the origins of "terrorist ideology" lie in the Muslim Brotherhood10. The list could go on.

Some of Al-Arabiya's past "moments" are even more damning in the eyes of the world's Muslims. In August 2008, the channel aired a documentary called "The Human Species" which pandered to the idea of human evolution from apes and four-legged creatures to the extent of completely belying the explicit texts of the Qur'an. In the same year, the channel hosted Basnat Rashad, the author of a hugely blasphemous book that disrespected Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his wife Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her), taking digs at Islam's most authentic collection of Prophetic traditions, "Sahih Al-Bukhari", in the process. The interview did no more than boost the popularity of this "author", only for the pitiful channel to publish a piece later defending the unpopular decision to air it.11

Read: Al Jazeera 'vindicated', as Ofcom rejects all complaints about 'The Lobby'

We can recall the emotions surrounding the Danish caricatures of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and the public demand for an apology at the very least. Al-Arabiya, though, polled its online audience about the issue of "free speech"12. The channel went on to interview the then Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, mistranslating the interview to have the effect of a wholehearted apology13 when in fact it was an obstinate insistence on Denmark's freedom to insult. Rasmussen even complained about Al-Arabiya's mistranslation because it made him sound "weak and apologetic" when he was nothing of the sort.14 Maybe Al-Arabiya did not regard the issue as being worthy of the Arab world's anger.

In March 2008, the network ran a long story titled, "International Remove the Hijab day" that it dubbed a move made in "solidarity" with a Lebanese singer. It illustrated the article with an offensive image of a half-dressed woman covering her face with niqab.15

The just nature of the Palestinian struggle is usually an area of agreement between Arab broadcasting networks. However, even in Gaza's bleakest times, pressed under a then decade-long siege, Al-Arabiya gloated that the Palestinian government run by Hamas was finally "in a dilemma: [to choose] between Tehran and the Gazans."16

Its use of language has been even more interesting. In September 2010, Al-Arabiya reported that, "Hamas and 13 factions forge an alliance to launch attacks against Israel"; the Al-Jazeera headline for the same story was, "13 Palestinian factions create joint cell in order to strengthen resistance against the occupation".17

After Israel's military offensive against the people of Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, Al-Arabiya thought it fitting to conclude that the "war on Gaza will create a generation of severe extremists",18 if such an emphasis even exists. It rephrased the assessment by child psychologists that Palestinian children in Gaza have grown up hoping to fight the occupation after witnessing its onslaughts.

One of the network's weekly commitments is a 30-minute segment called "manufacturing death" that almost exclusively paints Sunni groups and scholars as the creators and sponsors of "terrorism" with complete contempt for the "manufacturers of death" either planted on Palestinian soil or part of coalitions from further afield.19 Whilst its editorial board categorically refuses to dedicate a slot to a "religious" programme of any sort, it has no qualms about interviews and time for "entertainers".20

Imposing Al-Arabiya as the Middle-East's "alternative" whilst demonising that which echoes the aspirations and objectives of the region much better — Al-Jazeera and its host country — as "propagators of Daesh thought"21 is but part of a campaign of intellectually disempowering the Middle East. Not all forms of colonisation need to be tangible. Maybe what is worse is that the oligarchs running the show are given the benefit of the doubt when pandering to the conservative and religious mainstream, and when claiming that they are the champions of Islam and the "Custodians of the Two Holy Sanctuaries".




3 http://web.archive.org/web/20101211205522if_/

4 http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/saudi-arabia-row-with-qatar-spreading-fake-news-aeroplane-passenger-jet-media-a7908386.html

5 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/23/close-al-jazeera-saudi-arabia-issues-qatar-with-13-demands-to-end-blockade

6 2008 Annual Arab Public Opinion Poll. Survey of the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland (With Zogby International). Professor Shibley Telhami, Principle Investigator. Survey conducted March 2008 in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

Touzani, Fouad. 2010 The role of Al-Jazeera in empowering Arab civil society. The Free Library (April, 1), https://www.thefreelibrary.com/The role of Al-Jazeera in empowering Arab civil society.-a0284754451 (accessed January 07 2018)

8 https://english.alarabiya.net/en/perspective/profiles/2014/03/27/Hero-to-many-Egypt-s-Sisi-faces-formidable-task.html

9 https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2017/05/10/Has-Hamas-just-changed-its-stripes-.html

10 https://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2017/11/24/The-Muslim-Brotherhood-and-the-origins-of-terrorism.html

11 https://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2008/04/09/48066.html

12 Dr. Sami bin Khalid al Hamoud – Author of 'Islamic Broadcasting Networks and their Conformance to Shar'ee Principles' (PhD) in a paper titled: "the Reality of Al Arabiya Channel" available on his personal blog

13 https://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2006/02/03/20801.html

14 https://www.alaraby.co.uk/medianews/2017/9/8/ رئيس-وزراء-الدنمارك-السابق-العربية-تلاعبت-بحوار-أجرته-معي

15 Reference purposely not provided

16 https://www.alarabiya.net/ar/arab-and-world/2016/10/04/ -حماس-في-ورطة-إما-الشارع-الغزّي-أو-طهران.html

17 Dr. Sami bin Khalid al Hamoud – Author of 'Islamic Broadcasting Networks and their Conformance to Shar'ee Principles' (PhD) in a paper titled: "The Reality of Al Arabiya Channel" available on his personal blog

18 https://www.alarabiya.net/articles/2009/01/08/63791.html

19 https://www.alarabiya.net/mob/programs/death-making.html

20 Dr. Sami bin Khalid al Hamoud – Author of 'Islamic Broadcasting Networks and their Conformance to Shar'ee Principles' (PhD) in a paper titled: "the Reality of Al Arabiya Channel" available on his personal blog

21 https://www.alarabiya.net/ar/arab-and-world/gulf/2017/06/05/ لهذه-الأسباب-تقطع-أربعة-دول-علاقاتها-بقطر.html

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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