Al Jazeera: Qatar’s criminal mouthpiece


Al Jazeera: Qatar’s criminal mouthpiece

One voice, one message is what the executives of Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) and Qatar’s Al Jazeera had in mind when they signed a cooperation agreement over summer.
But while these supposed news agencies and their sponsoring nations officially entered into formal cooperation only a few months ago, the reality is that these working partnerships were announced so soon after Qatar’s high-profile fight with some other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members because the executives were merely formalizing what had already been in place for years.
Iran and Qatar are allies, in fact, that have similar regional agendas —  with the goal of destabilizing regimes allied with the US being chief among them. Qatar for years has sided with Iran in one proxy fight after another, whether in Bahrain, Yemen or in backing Hamas terror against Israelis and Palestinians. 
Even when Qatar officially joined GCC positions against Iran, its real foreign policy — the so-called news pumped out by my former employer Al Jazeera — was on full display to anyone with a satellite dish or Internet, showing unquestionably that the emirate was firmly aligned with the mullahs, not with its Arab neighbors or the US.
It would seem these days that the biggest difference between the two nations is that Iran’s strategy is premised on making true on the “Death to America” promise, whereas Qatar hosts the US Al-Udeid Air Base in Doha, even as its support for various terrorist groups results in death to Americans.
It is clear that the Qataris learned their current diplomatic strategy by following the Iranians’ lead of using their governmental mouthpiece, masquerading as a news organization, as a weapon to achieve their goals.
Since IRNA’s inception, its objective has been to secure Iran’s national interests, pit Sunni Arab communities against each other, fuel sectarian conflict, incite against Western nations and Israel and obtain hegemony at any cost — a terrifying design Qatar has unwisely duplicated with Al Jazeera, particularly with the new agreement. 
Media watchdogs finger-point and accuse the news media of bias all the time — accusations that are always debatable. However, what Al Jazeera continues to do is far more — and far worse — than simple bias. The pan-Arab network has a deliberate agenda that serves as Qatar’s actual foreign policy — one that costs lives and promotes violence. 
Al Jazeera’s open sponsorship of the agendas of terrorist groups including Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood under the guise of so-called press freedom must no longer be tolerated.
Western analysts mostly evaluate Al Jazeera based on its English programming and output. The focus, however, should be on its news-gathering process as well as on Qatar’s rulers and inner circle of advisers — a group I like to call Al Jazeera’s executive ­producers.
While the US was rightfully outraged at Iran’s role in promoting the Arab spring “uprisings” in Bahrain — which is home to the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet — far less concern, if any, was expressed about Al Jazeera’s lopsided coverage that minimized Iranian meddling and the terrorist connections to the leaders of those 2011 “uprisings.” 
Perhaps because Qatar officially sided with other GCC nations in protesting Iran’s actions, the US and the West believed that Al Jazeera’s one-sidedness was a reflection of the freedom of press. That belief, however, is dangerously wrong.
What actually happened with that coverage was the result not just of Al Jazeera siding with the Iranian axis, but also of Qatar’s leadership directing the network to do so. 
Evidence of this collusion come from an authenticated audio recording released months ago of a 2011 phone call between Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Attiya, the adviser to the Qatari emir, and Hassan Ali Sultan, who has close ties to Iran and Hezbollah.

The network’s open sponsorship of the agendas of terrorist groups including Al-Qaeda and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps under the guise of so-called press freedom must no longer be tolerated.

Mohamed Fahmy

Sultan, who has sought to distort Bahrain’s image through numerous interviews broadcast on Iranian TV channels such as Al-Manar (the mouthpiece of Hezbollah) and Al-Alam, is heard in this now-public recording that was made during the peak of the Arab Spring saying: “I am talking with you, Abu Khalifa, based on your request that I inform you of any new information regarding the police forces and the declaration of national emergency. We expect the flow of blood.”
Al-Attiya conspires with the man who had been stripped off his citizenship by the Bahraini authorities and responds: “I will immediately carry this story on Al Jazeera.” 
Sultan replies: “There is no protection for Shiites in Bahrain. And we have taken this up with our religious leadership in Najaf, Qum and Lebanon.” Al-Attiya asks, “Who is the person that I can get Al Jazeera to get in touch with to get this information? Shall I get them to call you and use an alias?”
Such behavior does not represent the honest journalism I have maintained since covering the Iraq war as a cub reporter in 2003.
It is espionage to benefit and promote the Iranian agenda in the region.  Al Jazeera’s coverage of the war in Yemen fueled by an Iranian-backed Houthi insurgency is another horrifying example of how the network has become an active player in the regional struggle rather than maintaining an independent role of an unbiased news organization. 
Amjad Taha, an Iranian dissident living in exile and the head of the British Middle East Center in London, has been outspoken about Qatar’s financing of terrorist groups and Al Jazeera’s dubious role in the region.
“Al Jazeera hardly reports on the crimes committed by the Iranian-aligned Houthi criminals who recruit women and children, target coalition forces, disregard human rights and have zero political legitimacy. Iranian media cannot relay its views to the Arab viewer mainly because of the language barrier,” Taha said in a phone interview Saturday from his home in Bahrain. 
“Iran does not want to portray what is happening in Yemen as a war, or case of good versus evil. They want to present it as a work of their nemesis — Saudi’s war. Al Jazeera translates this idea through its Arabic and English language channels — an exact duplication of the message broadcast day and night on Al Alam, the Iranian TV channel controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, or IRGC, which could potentially be designated as a terrorist organization by the Trump administration.”
This use of Al Jazeera as a weapon to push Qatar’s agenda resulted in my imprisonment. I had spent three months reporting for Al Jazeera English in Cairo before the Egyptian authorities incarcerated two colleagues and me for more than 400 days in 2013. 
Throughout our trial we maintained our innocence and denied conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood, a group designated as terrorists by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE — the countries that have imposed on Qatar an unprecedented air, sea and land blockade.
I was ultimately pardoned, but my time in the Egyptian prison helped me understand why Egypt suspected that Al Jazeera reporters would be engaged with supporting terrorists. It was because, quite simply, Al Jazeera uses the cover normally granted to members of the press to aid and abet terrorists in war zones.
In prison, I interviewed Brotherhood members and non-journalists who told me that they had received production resources from Al Jazeera Arabic — a systematic technique I later learned the network applied in conflict zones such as Syria, Libya and Iraq. In a recent interview, Canadian scholar and Simon Fraser University professor Adel Iskandar described to me Al Jazeera’s unethical and at times illegal newsgathering tactics, including the distribution of technical equipment that would allow for satellite uplinks for distribution of footage.
This gave Al Jazeera an advantage over its competitors as the network essentially was recruiting protesters and fighters to become journalists and information gatherers for its news programming. And since the Syrian opposition (particularly those aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood and similar groups) was ideologically harmonized with the Qatari policy in the Levantine country, the coverage often went straight to air without verification, clarification or corroboration.
Al Jazeera long ago disposed of any pretense that it was anything other than a weapon used by its Qatari masters to promote a dangerous agenda — one that is firmly in line with Iran’s, and directly opposed to the US and its Arab allies. 
That is why the US and the West must first and foremost understand that the standoff between the Qataris and their neighbors didn’t cause Qatar to align with the Iranians, but rather the rift happened because it already was aligned with Iran.
The real question is whether the US will choose to side with the nations that want to side with it and against Iran, or if it will maintain the fig leaf of being somehow neutral —  and in so doing, effectively allow Qatar to escape its current quandary and continue its dangerous game of officially being a US ally, while in reality siding with the nation whose mantra is “Death to America.”
• Mohamed Fahmy is an award-winning journalist and war correspondent. He is the author of “The Marriott Cell: An Epic Journey from Cairo’s Scorpion Prison to Freedom.”
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point of view