What we know about the ongoing media war across the Arab world

Egypt has banned 21 websites including Al Jazeera Arabic and Mada Masr.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Egypt and Bahrain have joined Saudi Arabia and the UAE by blocking Al Jazeera Arabic website

 

On Wednesday, Egypt blocked 21 websites including Al Jazeera Arabic, Huffington Post’s Arabic website and the Mada Masr outlet.

State news agency MENA cited Egyptian officials saying that the websites were blocked because they “spread lies” and support “terrorism.”

Since the ascendance of former Field Marshall Abdel Fattah al Sissi to power the country has cracked down on media with a particular focus on Doha-based Al Jazeera.

“The Egyptian response is expected as they have had serious political differences with Qatar over their support to the Muslim Brotherhood” a source close to Al Jazeera told TRT World.

Bahrain also joined the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt censorship of the Qatar-backed Al Jazeera Arabic’s website.

 

How did the media war start?

Last weekend, President Donald Trump made a state visit to Riyadh, attending the Arab-Islamic-American Summit.

On May 21 Trump delivered a carefully crafted speech in front of a hall packed with heads of state from a host of Arab, African and Asian nations.

The essence of the remarks was that Muslim nations must stay united against terrorism and counter Iran due to its expansionist and terrorist-affiliated regime.

On May 23, Qatar’s state news agency, QTV reported that Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani had made a series of pro-Iranian statements in addition to criticising the US administration.

The statements went further, highlighting Qatar’s positive relations with Israel whilst maintaining that Hamas was Palestine’s official representative. 

However, the Qatari government and Al Jazeera Aarabic service stated that the Emir's remarks were disseminated as a result of a hack and that the news was completely fabricated.

What was the immediate response ?

The statements were treated as real news by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who proceeded to block Al Jazeera’s Arabic language news website.

“This is not new for the Gulf but their governments have not shied away from censorship in the past. They also have the technological infrastructure to do it whenever they want,” said Hossam Abougabal, a geopolitical analyst at the Dubai-based Middle East Economic Digest.

 


Screenshot from Saudi Arabia trying to access Al Jazeera Arabic.

 

Saudi-backed Al Arabiya news channel tackled the issue through a series of articles on their website stating that there was no hack on Qatar's state news agency.

The articles were followed by edited video footage allegedly claiming that Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani actually made those statements whilst attending an event for army recruits. 

However, many have scrutinised the Saudi block’s response. 

“The narrative was overwhelmingly pointing out that Qatar’s state agency wasn’t hacked, but now it’s been rebuffed by many commentators who sees the flaws in the argument” said a source close to Al Jazeera to TRT World.

 


This is not a first for Al Jazeera that has been at the centre of controversy and censorship since the start of the Arab revolutions in 2011.

 

QTV further defended its position by pointing out that the TV ticker used on Al Arabiya's video was a different font than that used on it's channel. 

“The media war has died down. The news was fabricated, and Al Arabiya has already started to take pieces down” added the source.

Despite these claims there has not been an official response by the Saudi, Emirati or Egyptian governments with regards to the online crackdown.

“The important thing is that Qatar has instantly denied the news and has made supportive statement for the GCC. But we still need to wait for Saudi Arabia and the UAE that have remained silent, at least on a political level” said Abougabal.

Is the war the media war a symptom of a larger regional rivalry ?

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt have stood together since 2013 as an anti-Muslim Brotherhood block.

They have fallen out with Qatar in the past over this issue in addition to other regional controversies such as Libya and the Gaza strip.


Donald Trumps visit to Riyadh reaffirmed Saudi Arabia's intent to lead a pan-Arab and pan-Sunni block across the Middle East.

 

“From a diplomatic [perspective], this is a problem that goes back to 2014 when Qatar was accused of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, drawing the ire of the Saudi-Emirati-Egyptian block,” said Abougabal.

“The question is whether Qatar is stepping out of line against the the post-Arab spring Saudi foreign policy?” added Abougabal.

Evidently, realpolitik and media censorship have both taken center-stage across the Arab peninsula.

Source: 
TRTWorld and agencies