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Arabic Media Shifts

Robert Worth has a couple of fascinating dispatches in the New York Times from the frontlines of the battle for hearts and minds in the Arab world.

In this article, he reports that Al Jazeera has been muzzled by its owner, who also happens to be the ruler of Qatar—Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani. Before, as part of a Qatar-Saudi rivalry, Al Jazeera used to be fierce critic of the Saudi royal family. No longer. Now, as part of a Qatar-Saudi rapprochement in the face of a common threat from Iran, Al Jazeera is giving the Saudis a pass even when, as with the recent case of a rape victim sentenced to 200 lashes, they richly deserve criticism.

In this article, Worth reports on how Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera’s chief rival, has shaken up satellite television news in the Middle East. Thanks in part to Al Arabiya’s influence, its director, Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, says that Al Jazeera is taking a more neutral tone in coverage that used to be pro-jihad and anti-American:

He runs through a list of changes: the insurgents in Iraq are no longer called the muqaawama, or resistance; instead they are musulaheen, or armed men. Iraqis killed by Americans are not necessarily “martyrs.” Now, they are just civilians who have been killed.

“Three years ago, most of the TV stations — and you can add to that the newspapers and Web sites — were taking one side on most issues,” he says. “They were very much for the resistance in Iraq.” As for Al Qaeda, “it was, if not celebrated by the media, then accepted, and in a big way defended by them.”

Today, that is no longer true. “Now Jazeera is a very soft, reasonable station when it comes to the Iraqis,” Mr. Rashed says, with an ironic twinkle in his eyes.

This might also be seen as evidence of how Al Qaeda’s atrocities have redounded against the terrorist organization, costing it support in the Middle East. Perhaps Al Qaeda’s biggest mistake, however, was to launch an offense against the Saudis in 2003. That changed the Saudi official attitude toward jihadism from being positively encouraging to being more worried about its destabilizing effects on the kingdom. Al Arabiya, in case you hadn’t guessed, is owned by the Saudis. As someone who has been (and remains) pretty critical of the regime in Riyadh, I have to give them credit where credit is due, even if their actions are entirely self-interested.


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