LONDON: Al Jazeera’s Arabic- and English-language Twitter accounts tell two very different stories about the passing of Egyptian women’s rights trailblazer Nawal El-Saadawi.
“She attacked religions and demanded the legalization of prostitution and questioned the Qur’an,” read a tweet by Al Jazeera Arabic’s Egyptian Twitter account, which included a fiery video.
“Death takes controversial novelist Nawal El-Saadawi after 90 years of ideas contrary to the culture of society.”
— الجزيرة مصر (@AJA_Egypt) March 21, 2021
However, the Qatar-owned outlet’s English-language service covered her death positively, describing her on Twitter as a “woman’s rights icon.”
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) March 21, 2021
Since the launch of its English channel in 2006, the broadcaster has been criticized for delivering two very different, and often contradictory, narratives when compared to its sister Arabic channel, which launched in 1996.
More often than not, Al Jazeera English ignores whatever runs on the Arabic channel and digital edition.
“Al Jazeera has two faces, and perhaps more, this is evident in the case of Nawal El-Saadawi when it described her in its English version addressing the West and the world as a fighter for women’s rights and feminism, singing her praises and extolling her. In its Arabic version, which represents the ideological platform for many groups calling for extremism, intolerance and hatred, Nawal El-Saadawi was a tergiversator, a turncoat who attacks religions,” Hani Naseira, an Egyptian journalist and media and extremism expert, told Arab News.
A prime example is exiled Egyptian hate propagator Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, who hosted a show on the Arabic channel for years; most of what he said would never go on the English platform.
Al-Qaradawi — who is known for his extreme views, including justifying suicide bombings and attacks on Jews — was featured in Arab News’ Preachers of Hate series, which documents extremist ideology to hold clerics accountable for what they say and the effect their words have.
“Al-Jazeera’s populism, double standards and multiple discourses are beyond dispute and well perceived in the way they addressed the death of an enlightened and problematic writer such as Nawal El-Saadawi or the death of the writer and screenwriter Wahid Hamed months ago, or in the way of describing terrorism and its leaders in the Egyptian Sinai as being a resistance," he said, adding "This is not new to Al-Jazeera, as it has always been a support for all movements of ideological closure and has invested in populism and arousing the feelings of the masses.”
Al Jazeera Arabic has a turbulent past when it comes to extremist and anti-Semitic rhetoric. In 2019, its youth channel AJ+ Arabic drew widespread condemnation over a video that claimed that Jews exaggerated the scale of the Holocaust in order to establish the state of Israel.
Last May, Al Jazeera Arabic published a podcast glorifying the late Qassem Soleimani, the infamous Iranian general responsible for many atrocities in neighboring countries.
The podcast stirred ongoing debate surrounding the network’s alleged promotion of terrorism. None of this appeared on its English-language outlet.