Tag Archive | "Al Jazeera"

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The Consequences of Saudi Intervention in Bahrain

Posted on 10 May 2011 by hashimilion

A lot of people were overjoyed when Saudi Arabia’s military intervened in Bahrain and saved the Al Khalifa regime from collapse. Some even considered the intervention a Saudi victory over its regional rival Iran.

The real reason behind the Saudi intervention (or occupation) was to stop democracy from spreading in the Gulf, especially the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. The Saudis were prepared to intervene with or without the invitation of the Al-Khalifa family. They could not bear the sight of democratic revolutions encircling them from every side.

The Saudis have succeeded in manipulating the Bahraini revolution, which was a conflict between an authoritarian family  and pro-democracy movement, to a regional and sectarian conflict between the persian shiites and the arab sunnis.

The Saudis helped the Al-Khalifa regime militarily, politically, economically, and by raising the issue of sectarianism in their media. Saud al-Faisal travelled to Egypt, Turkey and Moscow in order to get support for repressing the Bahraini democratic movement. An agreement was made between Washington and the West, whereby the West overlooks the events in Bahrain in exchange for unlimited Gulf support in Libya. The Gulf countries provided the political cover for Western military intervention, which was then followed by support from the Arab League and the Security Council. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE must pay the full costs of overthrowing Gaddafi, as well as financing and arming the rebels when necessary. On the media front, both Al-Jazeera and Al Arabiya channels neglected the repression in Bahrain and concentrated on Libya. The media coverage in the Gulf had a sectarian stench to it!

On the economic front, the Gulf states announced their readiness to support the government in Bahrain with billions of dollars. The Saudis told the Al Khalifa that they were prepared to compensation Bahrain for all its loses if the international financial institutions decide to leave the country.

The Saudi support provided the Bahraini Government with enough motivation to suppress its people. The consequences of Saudi intervention are as follows:

Firstly, Saudi Arabia perceives democracy in Bahrain as a threat which must be removed immediately. In the mid 1970s Saudi Arabia pressurised the Al Khalifa to annul the Constitution and abolish Parliament, which lead to uprisings that forced Bahraini royal family to undertake reforms in 2000.

The Al-Saud family cannot accept the fact that Bahrain is demographically and politically different from their kingdom. They exerted enormous pressure to slow down and eliminate the reforms process in the past and will continue to do so.

Some members of the Al-Khalifa family support Saudi Arabia’s policies in their Kingdom, especially the Prime Minister. The Al-Khalifa have lost their decision making powers once they accepted Saudi Arabia’s intervention. Bahrain has lost its independence to both Saudi Arabia and the United States.

Secondly, those who supported the suppression of the Shiites will be the next victims to Saudi’s military presence. The Saudi military presence will last for a long time and the House of Saud will not waste this opportunity to impose Saudi’s will on Bahrain’s internal affairs. The Saudis will be little the Al-Khalifa family in the not too distant future.

Moreover, the Saudi forces will cause tension in Bahraini society by supporting the Bahraini salafis against the majority shiites. The Bahraini sunnis will be pressurised by the Wahhabis, who will interfere in their daily lives just as they did in Iraq.

Today Saudi Arabia, its religious clerics and sectarian satellite channels serve the Al Khalifa regime. All of them want something in return for their efforts and the al-Saud in particular believe that in order to have a strong political influence in Bahrain, they most proliferate their Wahhabi ideology. Wahhabi thought and discourse was never accepted by the majority of Bahrainis.

In summery: Saudi intervention may have been viewed as a blessing by the Al-Khalifa family in the beginning. But those who think that they’ve won today will soon realise that they were never the winners, and that the loss is huge for all Bahrainis, shiites, sunnis and the Royal Family.

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Qatar and Bahrain Dispute Over Salehi and Sadr Visit

Posted on 09 May 2011 by hashimilion

In an attempt to regain some of Al Jazeera’s lost credibility, a dispute broke out between Qatar and Bahrain. Bahrain is angry that Qatar received Iran’s Foreign Minister Salehi and Iraq’s influential shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr, as well as Al Jazeera’s latest coverage of the events in Bahrain, which included the possible trial of the King of Bahrain in the Hague.

The Government of Bahrain has recently taken oppressive measures against its citizens by arresting of doctors and nurses, detaining MPs from Al Wefaq society, passing death sentences on some youths, destroying mosques and expelling citizens from government jobs.

Prince Nayef

 

It is worth noting that these repressive measures have continued since Saudi Arabia sent its troops to Bahrain. The internal political affairs of Bahrain are currently managed by Saudi Arabia, specifically the Minister of Interior Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, a known hard liner who shows sever hostility towards Shiites in general.

On the other hand, Al Jazeera’s coverage of  the events in Bahrain have shifted slightly. The channel is desperately trying to regain some of its lost credibility, especially after it supported the foreign military intervention in Libya.

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Saudi Arabia’s Halal and Haram Revolutions

Posted on 06 May 2011 by hashimilion

Generally speaking, Saudi Arabia opposes any radical political change in any part of the world. Not only did it show hostility to the revolutions in the Arab world, but it also fought revolutions in Latin America (e.g. supporting the Contra rebels). Furthermore, the saudi royal family has continually funded the election campaigns of right wing conservatives in France and Italy, against their socialist rivals.

We already know from history that Saudi Arabia stood against the Egyptian Revolution of 1952, and the coups and revolutions that followed in Iraq and Syria. They were also hostile to the 1962 Yemeni Revolution, and the revolutionary regime in Southern Yemen and the radical political transformations in Libya, Sudan and Iran. Saudi Arabia perceives all forms of change to be dangerous, which must be stopped at all costs.

In the broader context Saudi Arabia has never supported any revolution or liberation movement, even those that were carried out by muslim minorities in the Philippines and Thailand, whose political leaders studied in Medina’s Islamic University in Medina!

One needs to differentiate between supporting a revolution and conspiring against a regime.In the late 1950s King Saud of  Saudi Arabia paid huge sums of money in order to get Gamal Abdel Nasser assassinated and hence divide the United Arab Republic. In recent years Saudi Arabia has sought to overthrow the regimes in Qatar and Oman who reject Saudi domination.

The Saudi royal family strives to give its anti-revolutionary policies religious legitimacy. Demonstrations and revolutions are forbidden, haram, whilst obedience to the rulers is obligatory! Their philosophy does not need much explanation: Every Saudi policy takes into consideration the local political situation into account, so that dissent is quietened.

Recently this religious anti-revolutionary principle was violated. The state prohibited demonstrations during the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, and threatened to crush the skulls of Saudi demonstrators (Sheikh Borake on Saudi State T.V). Half a million copies of fatwas, which prohibited “evil” demonstrations in the kingdom were handed out.

Today there’s a new classification to revolutions: Halal (permissible)  revolutions  which are desirable in Syria, Libya, Iraq,  Iran, Sudan and Algeria. And Haram (forbidden) revolutions in Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia! This clearly shows that the religious justifications that prohibit demonstrations is ill founded and relies on the whims of those in power (i.e. the Saudi princes).

The halal revolutions are useful in removing any regime that the Saudi royal family dislikes or doesn’t serve their interests, as is the case in Syria and Libya. On the other hand, the haram revolutions are detrimental to the rulers of Riyadh and to their Wahhabi doctrine, as is the case with Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen.

There is no religious basis for classifying revolutions as either halal or haram, harmful or beneficial. These classifications are there to serve the interests of the Saudi ruling family.

Sectarian rhetoric was used during the Bahraini revolution in order to justify the Al Khalifa’s tyranny and reduce public sympathy for the revolution. Saudi Arabia’s military intervention succeeded in dividing political opinion in the Arab World.

The Bahraini protesters did not need to use sectarianism to unify their position because they represent the majority of the population. The Bahraini Government wanted to provoke sectarianism in order to lower its  political concession, and they have temporarily succeeded with the help of Saudi’s military intervention.

On the other hand Saudi’s sectarian sheikhs and media army killed the embryonic protest movement in Syria by emphasising the sectarian identity of the protest movement. The saudi media gave the impression that the conflict was between the suuni majority on the one hand and a minority Alawi government on the other hand. The aim of this sectarian incitement was to rally the sunnis against the Alawis, but this pathetic sectarian rhetoric scared all the other minorities, including the Christians and Ismailis against the protesters. The Saudi princes were late in realising the damage that their sectarian discourse had on the protest movement, it was too late.

Sectarian language was used widely in the Arabian Peninsula  and the source is almost always Saudi Arabia or Qatar. Iraq is a good example. The protests in Iraq were not designed to overthrow the government who was democratically elected, but the Al Jazeera channel placed these protests in the context of the Arab Spring. Al Jazeera lost alot of sympathy, especially when it chose to ignore the situation in Bahrain.

Sectarianism delegitimises revolutions  and ultimately leads to their collapse. The Bahraini protests were non-sectarian in nature, but were encircled by sectarianism. In Syria, sectarianism killed the revolution. In Saudi Arabia, the protestors were classified as shiite and belonging to Iran, and those who oppose the protests are proper muslims. Saudi Arabia has sought to play the sectarian card over and over again in Yemen, where the majority of the population belongs to both the Shafi’i and Zaidi sects. Their legendary wisdom has foiled Saudi Arabia’s plans in killing the revolution.

The revolutions in both Egypt and Tunisia were inspired by nationalist sentiment, which succeeded in bridging religious and regional gaps between their citizens. On the other hand, sectarianism is the most important driving factor in the Arabian Peninsula and its people are blinded by it. With it, Saudi Arabia has succeeded in suppressing the revolution in Bahrain by using Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. Saudi Arabia’s goal is to bring the curtain down on democracy in the Gulf.

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Relations Between Qatar and Syria Deteriorate

Posted on 19 April 2011 by hashimilion

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad reacts to Qatari threats by refusing to meet with the Qatari Foreign Minister.

According to semi official Syrian sources, the Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr Al-Thani, informed the Syrian leadership that “Bahrain is equal to Syria”. Hence, any protests taking place in Bahrain would be countered by a large scale campaign of incitement against the Syrian regime by Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya TV channels.

Syrian officials believe that Qatar has changed its political position and adopted a policy that is more in line with Saudi Arabia. They believe that the change was brought about by an internal struggle inside the Qatari ruling family.

The Syrian leadership is trying to repair the damage caused by the protests. Leading Syrian officials believe that there is a high level of coordination between the GCC Governments, Isreal and the United States. All three parties want to sabotage the political situation in Syria, as a first step to overthrowing the regime.

The Syrian leadership realized weeks ago that the Qatari Foreign Minister had became the broker for opportunistic trade-offs in the region, which prompted a firm response.

The sectarian tendencies of  the Saudi and Qatari officials lead to annulment of the meeting between the Syrian President and the Qatari Minister in Damascus. President Assad will not meet with any official until the threats stop.

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Guarding the Fortress

Posted on 06 April 2011 by hashimilion

Saudi Arabia, fortified by its oil wealth, Wahhabi ideology and blanket American protection, finds itself drifting in the uncharted waters of a new Arab awakening fashioned in revolt.

SAUDI ARABIA APPEARS FROM THE OUTSIDE AS A BEGUILING FORTRESS HOUSING A remote Kingdom guarded by robed, well-oiled royals. This desert fortress is sustained by unlimited hydrocarbon resources, bringing fabulous wealth to its intoxicated rulers and sedating the inhabitants. Minarets serve as watchtowers of orthodoxy and dogma. The fortress has also remained strong because of a protective alliance with a foreign power, the United States (US), that chooses a romanticised vision of a kingdom that offers harmonious exchange and a false sense of security.

But the waves of revolution, dissent and sedition are lashing against the fortress’s very foundations, deepening cracks of this political structure built on shifting sand. King Abdullah and his thousands of royal brothers, nephews and assorted hangers-on have watched the fall of fellow dictators, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Others in their death throes, like Muammar Al Gaddafi of Libya and Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen, refuse to see the writing on the wall. The Saudi Royals’ younger brother King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah of Bahrain, kowtowing to Saudi diktat, has now made his choice by inviting Saudi military into his troubled land. Even the docile Jordanian monarch Abdullah II and his normally forgotten brotherly neighbour Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said of Oman are floundering.

No state in the Arab world is being spared the sudden wrath of its people. The old strategic criteria of dividing the region on the basis of oil versus non-oil states, or of alliances with the United States, now fails to hold water. There are no longer any guarantees, with or without American support, for protecting regional rulers from the legitimate demands of their people. The people have made common cause, rising from years of misrule and repression, through the use of new technologies in new media adopted by young people. The demographics of the population are simply too lopsided in favour of younger generations versus the old ruling oligarchy. All these factors are plentiful in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: a youthful majority, an abundance of computers, and deepening social and political resentments and alienation.

The Saudi Kingdom contains within its fortress walls a deeper rot: an arbitrary coercive and corrupt system that denies its subjects its fundamental political rights and social justice. The Saudi royals do not even grasp what it is that their people are demanding. Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have all helped bring down the walls of opacity. The seventy percent of the Kingdom’s population who are under the age of thirty are predominantly Internet savvy.

They are asking for the creation of a constitutional monarchy, parliamentary elections, the release of thousands of political prisoners being held without trial or representation, an end to the endemic and massive royal corruption, reform of the judiciary and the minimising of perks and privileges afforded the 22,000 members of the House of Saud, as well as meeting demands to curtail the influence of the religious establishment.

Talk of a ‘Day of Rage’ scheduled for March 11 captured the world’s attention. To stop the increasingly corrosive developments, the Saudi state has equipped itself with the biggest carrot and largest stick in the Arab world. The carrot comprises the king’s promise of 37 billion dollars to his country’s agitated younger generations – a fifteen percent pay raise for government employees, aid for students and the unemployed, and access to sport clubs – something that only a Croseus-rich monarch like King Abdullah could hope to deliver. Nowhere are subjects offered such largess to buy off their loyalties.

Since thousands of voices using Twitter, Facebook and YouTube expressed ingratitude for such a ‘benevolent’ act, the state then decided to deploy its catch-all religious fall-back to warn its subjects that demonstrations and protests are un- Islamic. Using the pretext of the Saudi Kingdom as the ultimate guardian of the Islamic faith and custodian of the holy mosques, the state claimed to be protecting its population from the sins of other Middle Eastern youth. There have been in recent days mass arrests of those calling for reform, and multiple websites have been blocked. The Saudi bogeyman, thousands of security forces backed by armour on the street and helicopters hovering over city skies, act as an iron-fisted warning against any dissent. The Saudi rulers are beyond the reproach of their people.

Meanwhile the United States, traditional protector and ‘custodian of the holy oil fields,’ has lapsed into diplomatic torpor. The US has guarded the Kingdom from external threats through the sales of hundreds of billions of dollars of high-tech arms. Since 1945, the stationing of American forces in Dhahran near the critical oil fields have been crucial for Saudi security and are the lifeblood of American and world economy. The US never alluded to the subject of democracy in its support of the Saudi rulers and deliberately did not deal with the people, remaining constant in their policy for the survival of the Al Saud. The pact between Riyadh and Washington was to always protect the Kingdom’s fortress and not to get embroiled with the multitude of tribes, sects, regions, and ethnic groups.

The big carrot and stick have bought the Saudi rulers a temporary sense of control. But the faces of millions of screaming, self-liberated Arabs beaming at them on the screens of Al Jazeera have increased the tension. Prince Naif, interior minister and crown prince in waiting, may continue to repeat the Kingdom’s slogan: “What we took by the sword, we will hold by the sword.” But the traditional sword is dull, limited, and unable to meet the challenges of the moment. The Saudi rulers are also using the sectarian discourse both for the US and for their Sunni populations, portraying the Shi’a as the scary spectre seeking dominance and a dangerous alliance with Iran. They also are using the divide and rule policy to warn their Sunni population against the internal Shi’a enemy.

The most challenging group to the Saudi rulers is currently the Shi’a, who constitute 75 percent of the population in the Eastern Province, the Kingdom’s main oil-producing region. The Shi’a were also the first to respond to the eruptions of demonstrations in the Arab region despite the legal ban on demonstrations. The Shi’a have experienced loss of lives and imprisonment since 1979 because of their defiance.

The strategic regional predominance of Saudi Arabia through its oil wealth has allowed the country’s rulers to freeze reform. This policy offers temporary political respite for the kingdom, but the frozen body politic is brittle and can easily break. The danger is that continued repression of peaceful protests can lead to violence and radicalisation. At the moment, Islamic extremism and Al Qaeda have no space in the Arab movements of the people, but if this desperation continues to be confined to computer screens while political representation and expression is forbidden, then Al Qaeda will find renewed space.

By Dr Mai Yamani

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Protesters killed in Yemen clashes

Posted on 16 February 2011 by hashimilion

Police shot and killed two protester in Yemen’s main southern city of Aden, medics said, while unrest in the capital Sanaa against the rule of Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president, continued for a sixth straight day.

Mohammed Ali Alwani, 21, was shot dead after clashes broke out between police and demonstrators, his father said. The other victim has not yet been identified.

Police in Aden fired shots into the air to try to break up around 500 protesters. Medics said one of the victims had been hit in the back.

The demonstrators hurled stones at police, set tyres and vehicles on fire and stormed a municipal building where heavy gunfire was heard.

Security forces, heavily deployed in Aden, arrested at least four people as they fired warning shots and tear gas to disperse protesters who had gathered at the Al-Ruweishat bus station in the Al-Mansura neighbourhood of Aden.

Protesters chanted “The people want to overthrow the regime” and “It’s time to leave, Ali”.

Several hurt

In the capital Sanaa, at least 10 protesters were hurt amid clashes between students demanding the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and supporters of his ruling General People’s Congress.

Hundreds of students had set off for Al-Sabiine square near the presidential palace, only to be attacked by a like number of Saleh loyalists armed with batons, stones and daggers.

The protesters responded by hurling stones, and when the violence spread into the campus of Sanaa university, where the march began, police fired warning shots.

“The thugs and supporters of the ruling party … want to massacre” the students, the head of the university’s student union, Radwan Masud, said, adding that 10 students had been hurt.

He vowed that the students would “continue their revolt and will not be hindered by the ruling party’s actions.”

Elsewhere in Sanaa, a sit-in by judges demanding greater independence for the judiciary and the sacking of the entire Supreme Judicial Council, including the justice minister, went into its second day outside the justice ministry.

The judges, who have poured into Sanaa from all over Yemen, also want higher salaries.

In other protests, workers in Sanaa gathered at several state-owned companies to demand that their managers to step down. They too also called for higher wages.

On Tuesday, police in Sanaa stepped in when supporters and opponents of the president clashed, leaving three injured. In Taez, south of the capital, the two sides also clashed.

On Monday, rocks and batons flew in the capital as protesters – mainly students and lawyers – confronted police and Saleh’s supporters. Police also clashed with around 2,000 protesters in Sanaa on Sunday.

In the face of the unrest, Saleh has postponed a visit to the United States that had been planned for later this month, after the opposition agreed on Sunday to resume talks suspended since October.

Yemen is the poorest Gulf Arab state strategically located at the southwest corner of the Arabian peninsula.

Source Al Jazeera

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The Al Jazeera Effect

Posted on 10 February 2011 by hashimilion

“Long live Al Jazeera!” chanted Egyptian protesters in Tahrir Square on Feb. 6. Many Arabs — not least the staff at Al Jazeera — have said for years that the Arab satellite network would help bring about a popular revolution in the Middle East. Now, after 15 years of broadcasting, it appears the prediction has come true. There is little question that the network played a key role in the revolution that began as a ripple in Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, and ended up a wave that threatens to wash away Egypt’s long-standing regime.

“We knew something was coming,” Mustafa Souag, head of news at Al Jazeera’s Arabic-language station, told me Monday. “Our main objective was to provide the most accurate and comprehensive coverage that we could by sending cameras and reporters to any place there is an event. And if you don’t have a reporter, then you try to find alternative people who are willing to cooperate because they believe in what we are doing.”

The Tunisian uprising revealed that the dogma perpetuated by the country’s regime — that it was impregnable and its security services invincible — was merely propaganda aimed at keeping Tunisia’s people subdued. Al Jazeera shared this revelation around the region live and in real time, breaking the spell that had stopped millions of ordinary people from rising up and claiming their legitimate rights. Suddenly change seemed possible everywhere across the Middle East.

“We did not foresee the drama of events, but we saw how events in Tunisia rippled out and we were mindful of the fact [that] things were changing, and so we prepared very carefully,” said Al Anstey, managing director of Al Jazeera English. “We sent teams to join our Cairo bureau and made sure that we were covered on the ground in other countries in the region so when the story unfolded we were ready to cover all angles.”

Al Jazeera’s powerful images of angry crowds and bloody morgues undercut the Egyptian regime’s self-serving arguments and stood in sharp contrast to the state-run TV channels, which promoted such a dishonest version of events that some of their journalists resigned in disgust. At least one popular TV talk-show presenter, Mahmoud Saad, was later seen being carried on the shoulders of triumphant demonstrators in Tahrir Square. While Al Jazeera was showing hundreds of thousands of people calling for the end of the regime, Egyptian TV showed humdrum scenes of traffic quietly passing by; when Al Jazeera reported hundreds of people queuing for bread and petrol, Egyptian TV showed happy shoppers with full fridges using footage filmed at an unknown time in the past.

During the uprising in Cairo, the Egyptian government systematically targeted Al Jazeera in an attempt to impede the network’s gathering and broadcasting of news. On Jan. 27 Al Jazeera Mubasher, the network’s live channel, was dropped by the government-run satellite transmission company, Nilesat. On Jan. 30, outgoing Egyptian Information Minister Anas al-Fiqi ordered the offices of all Al Jazeera bureaus in Egypt to be shut down and the accreditation of all network journalists to be revoked. At the height of the protests, Nilesat broke its contractual agreement with the network and stopped transmitting the signal of Al Jazeera’s Arabic channel — which meant viewers outside Egypt could only follow the channel on satellites not controlled by the Egyptian authorities. To the rescue came at least 10 other Arabic-language TV stations, which stepped in and offered to carry Al Jazeera’s content. “They just volunteered,” said Souag. “They were not paid, and we thanked them for that.”

The next day, six Al Jazeera English journalists were briefly detained and then released, their camera equipment confiscated by the Egyptian military. On Feb. 3, two unnamed Al Jazeera English journalists were attacked by Mubarak supporters; three more were detained. On Feb. 4, Al Jazeera’s Cairo office was stormed and vandalized by pro-Mubarak supporters. Equipment was set on fire and the Cairo bureau chief and an Al Jazeera correspondent were arrested. Two days later, the Egyptian military detained another correspondent, Ayman Mohyeldin; he was released after nine hours in custody. The Al Jazeera website has also been under relentless cyberattack since the onset of the uprising.

“The regime did everything they could to make things difficult for us, but they did not succeed,” said Souag. “We still had the most comprehensive reporting of the events in Egypt.”

After the first few days of the uprising, the Egyptian state media began running an insidious propaganda campaign in an apparent effort to terrorize ordinary Egyptians into staying at home and off the streets. Channel 1 on Egypt state TV issued vague yet alarming warnings about armed thugs trying to infiltrate the protests and later broadcast live phone-ins in which members of the public complained about looting and disorder. It’s hard to think of a better way to incite panic in a jittery population, especially because there have been no emergency services in Egypt for days. By the time these garbled and unsubstantiated stories passed through the Egyptian rumor mill, ordinary people would be forgiven for thinking World War III had broken out. Egyptian state media have also issued warnings of international journalists with a “hidden agenda” and accused Al Jazeera of “inciting the people.” One supposed “foreign agent” was shown on Egyptian state TV with face obscured, claiming that she had been trained by “Americans and Israelis” in Qatar, where Al Jazeera is based.

But the lid on Pandora’s box has been prized open, and undemocratic regimes across the region are now looking over their shoulder at Al Jazeera — for history shows that where Egypt goes, other Arab countries soon follow. Given Al Jazeera’s enormous influence on the Arab street and its electrifying message that Arab dictatorships are, in fact, mortal, it is no wonder dictators and despots across the region have been left feeling rather rattled. There have already been hints of insurrection’s ripples in Algeria, Jordan, Yemen, and Bahrain. But could Al Jazeera threaten Saudi Arabia?

Oil- and gas-rich Arab states can use their wealth to address some of the grievances that brought Tunisians and Egyptians onto the streets, but not all. Al Jazeera’s home country, however, would appear to be somewhat safe from the wave of unrest. Power in Qatar is traditionally transferred by coup d’état, as in 1995 when the current emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, seized power from his father Sheikh Khalifa — but as the world’s richest country with a GDP per capita in excess of $145,000, it is highly unlikely to experience revolutionary convulsions about anything besides shopping. The most pressing socioeconomic problem the leadership currently faces is how to motivate a population of soon-to-be millionaires to keep showing up for work in the morning.

Helping to bring revolution to Egypt and Tunisia is one thing; fomenting uprisings in the Persian Gulf is quite another. But the situation is delicate in Saudi Arabia, where the regime is wobbling on the cusp of change. The kingdom either directly or indirectly controls most of the Arab media, including Al Jazeera’s principal rival Al Arabiya, but it remains highly vulnerable to the kind of palpitations Al Jazeera could easily provoke.

Bilateral relations between tiny Qatar and its overbearing neighbor Saudi Arabia have always been sensitive. Since 1996, when Al Jazeera first challenged Saudi hegemony in the region, the channel has been a constant point of tension between the two. For years, the Saudis dominated the Arabian Peninsula and often meddled in Qatari politics. On several occasions in the 1990s, the Saudis simply invaded Qatar to remind it who was boss and, following Sheikh Khalifa’s deposal, Riyadh tried to manipulate his return by organizing a countercoup.

But despite all the problems the Qataris have had with the Saudis, they are fully aware that if they upset the kingdom it is at their peril. As a result, coverage of Saudi affairs on Al Jazeera has not been as bold as coverage of Egypt and Tunisia. Issues of extreme sensitivity to the Saudi regime, such as royal family corruption and the succession question, are passed over lightly. Leading Saudi dissidents have rarely appeared on the network in recent years; there was, for example, next to no coverage on the Arabic channel of the 2010 murder in London committed by Saudi Prince Saud bin Abdulaziz bin Nasir al-Saud.

“Al Jazeera was absent from Saudi Arabia for a long time, so we don’t have pictures or information from within the country,” explained Souag. “Finally the Saudis allowed us to open an office about two weeks ago, and so we have a correspondent there now, and if there is something that needs to be covered we will report it in the same way as events anywhere else.”

It’s an issue of proximity and power. Despite the channel’s exceptional job in covering the turmoil in Tunisia and Egypt, the complex relationship with Saudi Arabia is a reminder that even for Al Jazeera, in the Persian Gulf free press has its limits. History will record the channel’s crucial galvanizing role in the extraordinary events that are now unfolding in Egypt and Tunisia. But whether the Al Jazeera effect will continue to ripple across the Middle East or the heavy hand of state pressure will attempt to shut Pandora’s box again — however temporarily — is yet too close to call.

By Hugh Miles

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