Al Jazeera As The Strong Factor and Cause of The Arab Spring
Al Jazeera is a television channel owned and funded by the government of Qatar and is currently in various regions in the World. Initially launched as an Arabic news channel, Al Jazeera has been an important source of information for most Arab nations in the Persian Gulf since its establishment in 1996 (Hroub, 2011). This channel has grown to become very influential in the Arab World and in fact, it has been a major force in the recent revolutionary wave of protests and demonstrations occurring in Arab countries.
The wave of Arab revolutions (also known as Arab spring) started on December 17, 2010, in Tunisia after a street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire near a government building protesting against the confiscation of his wares by the police. This sparked a wave of protests which intensified on January 24, 2011, after the vendor succumbed to fire injuries. Ten days later, Tunisia’s president, Zine ElAbidine Ben Ali, stepped down and fled out of the country.
According to Hijjawi (2012, p. 2), Al Jazeera had not been allowed in Tunisia for around two years. Though the channel had no established network in Tunisia, it was the first international media to note the protests in streets in the country (Fromherz, 2011, p. 8). During the initial stages of the protests, Al Jazeera relied on bloggers from Tunisia to gather information, which was then compiled to provide accurate and credible news. As the protests intensified, Aljazeera adopted an open cycle in which it broadcasted live news from Tunisia as they streamed online through blog sites.
The local media had also been transmitting news both locally and internationally about unrest in Tunisia. However, according to Hijjawi (2012, p. 2), its popularity had declined among civilians in Tunisia due to lack of adequate coverage of their concerns. As a result, Tunisians citizens increasingly followed their revolution on Aljazeera which was then hosted by friendly local TV stations. During the protests, Tunisians lifted placards praising Aljazeera. With time, Aljazeera became close to the hearts of Tunisians and as they saw it as a mirror in which they were being represented. In fact, as (Fromherz, 2011, p. 8) explains, Aljazeera became the closest channel to the hearts and minds of Tunisians. Generally, the channel helped them to believe in the revolution they had embarked on, which they succeeded. One remarkable thing Al Jazeera during the Tunisian case was that it did not create deep awareness or solid political culture in the country. Rather, it allowed Tunisians to have faith in their own thoughts, similar to the Egyptian case.
According to Hijjawi (2012, p. 3), prior to the Egyptian unrest, Aljazeera was unpopular among Egyptian households and in fact, it was practically absent in Egyptian screens. This was largely caused by the presence of numerous local TV channels which broadcasted local news with a great degree of professionalism. TV stations thrived under a high degree of freedom of information that used to exist in the country for a long time. However, the freedom suffered a strong and painful blow from the Egyptian government’s security apparatus a few days before parliamentary elections, two months prior to the boycott which began on 25 January 2010. Local television stations were given strict restrictions regarding the channels to host and information to broadcast. During the period, Aljazeera started gaining some ground in Egypt.
According to Schattle, (2012), p. 53), though Al Jazeera had been absent in Egyptian screens it had had been airing Egyptian features for five years prior to the revolution. The government of Mubarak regularly criticized the channel for airing documentaries of torture acts in Egyptian police departments. It also arranged talk shows regularly attacking Al Jazeera, with the intention to discredit it. To be precise, Al Jazeera gave Egypt greatest coverage compared to all other nations in the Arab League. However, given that it was absent in Egyptian screens, it played little role in mobilizing people to the streets. The move to the streets was galvanized by young men and women of Egypt’s middle class who had set January 25 as a date of protest on internet social sites (On Facebook and YouTube).
As protests intensified, the government of Mubarak ordered local television stations to obscure the events of the protests. Aljazeera started broadcasting on NileSat satellite, the only way that the channel was viewed in Egypt. This satellite was interrupted the Egyptian government making it difficult for Al Jazeera to broadcast news in Tunisia. Nevertheless, Al Jazeera managed to resume its broadcast through friendly local stations. As the protests continued, the channel increased its broadcast in country and managed to touch the hearts of many Egyptians. The channel managed to imprint one idea in the minds of Egyptians; that they lived in a shadow of the regime which defied time (Hijjawi 2012, p. 3).
According to Sidlow & Henschen, (2012, p. 272), Aljazeera displayed the image of Mubarak’s after his speech on February 1, 2010 “as an old president telling his people that he wants to die on Egyptian soil.” The channel kept reassuring the protesting Egyptians that it believed in them and in their struggle. Over time, Aljazeera gained much popularity among Egyptians and they started giving much praise to the channel, as Tunisians did. Generally, the channel was very clear in its support for the revolutionaries as opposed to other international and local stations that visibly wavered.
After some time, Al Jazeera’s reporters based in Egypt were arrested and its office’s networks closed. Al Jazeera sent people secretly from Qatar to Egypt to work as reporters. For several days, it was unable to display images from the scenes and when it did, it relied on the work of amateur reporters (Hijjawi 2012, p. 3). It sent reporters in all cities in Egypt, which helped to increase coverage. The channel’s reporters relayed information to Egyptians and to the world in any way they could. It invited studio guests from Egypt whose contributions further inflamed the street protests. The station worked hard to commit to the demands of protesters until the fall of Mubarak on February 12, 2011. The successful revolution was also success to Al Jazeera. Similar to the case of Tunisia, this TV broadcaster did not promote any particular ideology or party but kept broadcasting the events as if it represented the revolutionaries.
Three days after the fall of Mubarak, Libya’s opposition party, National Transitional Council (NTC), led civilians to protest against the dictatorial regime of Colonel Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi. The opposition also called for Al-Jazeera, which responded immediately and took a stance for the people against Gaddafi. The channel started airing news and events from the country and hosted television channels from Egypt which covered the trends of the unrest. The channel managed to mobilize public opinion just as in the case of Tunisia and Egypt. In coalition with other major forces, Al Jazeera led to a successful revolution in Libya, which ended in the death of Muammar Gaddafi.
In more recent cases of Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria, the trend has been the same for Al Jazeera. In these countries, Al Jazeera has made full use of social media by gathering feeds from protesters who take footage on their mobile phones, Facebook postings and Twitter feeds (Hamiyyeh, 2012). In all these cases, Al Jazeera has managed to mobilize crowds, given them the confidence to rise against oppressive rules.
Fromherz, A., (2011), Qatar: A Modern History, I.B. Tauris, New York
Hijjawi, A., (2012), ‘The Role of Al-Jazeera (Arabic) in the Arab Revolts of 2011,’ Accessed 27
March 2012 from, http://www.ps.boell.org/downloads/Perspectives_02-10_Aref_Hijjawi1.pdf
Hroub, K., (2011), ‘How Al-Jazeera’s Arab spring advanced Qatar’s foreign policies’ Autumn
2011, Accessed 27 March 2012 from, http://www.europesworld.org/NewEnglish/Home_old/Article/tabid/191/ArticleType/ArticleView/ArticleID/21877/HowAlJazeerasArabspringadvancedQatarsforeignpolicies.aspx
Seattle, H., (2012), Globalization and Citizenship, Rowman & Littlefield, London
Sidlow, E. I. & Henschen, B., (2012), Govt (with Political Science Coursemate with EBook
Printed Access Card), Cengage Learning, Washington DC
Hamiyyeh, H., “Aljazeera” Channel Merchandises the “Arabic Spring”: From Bahrain to Syria’s,
Accessed 27 March 2012 from, http://www.english.moqawama.org/essaydetails.php?eid=13982&cid=269
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