By Sam Cohen
Qatar might present itself as an ally of the United States in the Middle East, but on Wednesday, panelists at a Washington, D.C., conference detailed how the emirate’s state broadcaster, Al Jazeera, has undermined America and its partners at every turn.
“The greatest problem with Al Jazeera is that it has mainstreamed and normalized an Islamist grievance narrative that has served as mother’s milk for many Islamist movements,” said Alberto Fernandez, a former American diplomat and president of the Middle East Broadcasting Network. “Al Jazeera is the worst thing with a large audience.”
Fernandez, along with Islamist Watch’s Samantha Mandeles, former Al Jazeera bureau chief Mohamed Fahmy and Middle East Forum President Daniel Pipes, appeared Wednesday at the Middle East Forum’s “Qatar: U.S. Ally or Strategic Threat?” gathering, which examined various facets of the Persian Gulf emirate’s malign influence in the region and throughout the world.
The panel addressed Al Jazeera’s role as a promoter of various terror groups and its surreptitious influence in the West. Mohamed Fahmy, who was imprisoned when he served as a bureau chief for Al Jazeera in Egypt during the Arab Spring, detailed how he had become disillusioned with the network upon discovering its strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Al Jazeera, I am after you,” he thundered from the stage. “Often, we judge Al Jazeera by what we seen on the screen. But often what angers regional officials is what happens in the news gathering process,” said Fahmy. He said that he had learned while imprisoned by Egyptian authorities that Al Jazeera had stirred up protests in order to cover them and sow political instability in the country.
Al Jazeera has faced a bevy of accusations in recent years that it has promoted the activities of a range of terror groups, including al-Qaida, Hamas and Hezbollah, and that it has acted as an agent of Qatari subversion around the world. The network is headquartered in Doha and operates services in English and Arabic.
Mandeles, the expert with the Middle East Forum’s Islamist Watch, exhorted American lawmakers to force the network to register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act in order to “strip [its] veneer of legitimacy.” “Al Jazeera’s core ideology is Islamist and the fundamental evil of Jews, Christians and the West in general,” she said.
She homed in on Al Jazeera’s millennial brand, AJ+, for particular criticism, citing its success in subtly promoting the emirate’s agenda through its catchy videos on social media, which have attracted billions of views. AJ+, she said, “peddles anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism to a millennial audience under the guise of minority rights.”
There is some precedent for coercing Al Jazeera to register under FARA. Russia Today, the Kremlin’s state broadcaster, was required to sign up as a foreign agent under FARA at the behest of Congress. The Middle East Forum’s conference discussed a number of Qatar-related topics, including the next World Cup to be held in Doha and the emirate’s relationship with Iran.
Sam Cohen is a freelance writer based out of the Washington, D.C., area.