Al-Qassemi Response: Al-Athbah, “‘A New Horizon’?”

Below is a translation of Abdullah bin Hamad al-Athbah’s response (published in Qatari newspaper Al-Arab on July 9) to Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi’s critical account of Al Jazeera Arabic’s “love affair” with the Muslim Brotherhood (“Morsi’s Win Is Al Jazeera’s Loss”, English and Arabic).

Apologies if I’ve mangled any of the translation (especially the poetry, woof) or if this in any way violates Al-Arab’s intellectual property.  Clarifying notes on the translation and any special context can be found at the bottom of the page.


“A New Horizon”?

Abdullah bin Hamad al-Athbah

My esteemed Emirati colleague Sultan Sooud al-Qassemi has written an article in which he criticizes what he thinks is Al Jazeera’s bias in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.  Now, we should emphasize that al-Qassemi is practicing his right to freedom of expression and criticism.  Still, I don’t know why he sees Al Jazeera’s likening of Morsi to Nasser as simultaneously “romancing” Morsi and insulting him because he’s condemned the Nasser era and military rule.  His point needs some clarification for the unenlightened, and this writer, poor servant that he is, is among them. 

Al-Qassemi goes on to assemble evidence that Al Jazeera leans toward the Muslim Brotherhood in an unprofessional fashion.  As proof, he states that Dr. Yousef al-Qaradawi – who was granted Qatari citizenship – is the principal guest on the channel’s religious programs.  Or course, he ignores the fact al-Qaradawi is one of the great scholarly pillars of our truereligion, regardless of his citizenship or his ideological affiliations.  Moreover, I do not know what religious programs are on Al Jazeera other than “Shari’a and Life”!  Or did he use the phrase “religious programs” because his criticism of Arabic-language Al Jazeera was directed at Anglo-Saxons and Franks?  I hope they look closer at this article, especially since it was written with an Arab hand in the English language and only later translated to our mother language.  This is among our friend’s faults: he addresses the West before the East on what is an Eastern issue and, moreover, a purely Arab one!  I had also hoped that he would check his information – if he had, he would know that Qaradawi left the Muslim Brotherhood a not-inconsiderable time ago. 

Al-Qassemi says that Al Jazeera spared no effort in promoting the Muslim Brotherhood after the Brotherhood’s decision to contest the presidential elections, so the channel established “Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr” a few days after the fall of Mubarak.  Now, I would like to emphasize to al-Qassemi that most of the Egyptians I know call Mubarak “the deposed.”  Moreover, I hope that al-Qassemi’s close friend, the Egyptian “media expert”, will tell him that al-Qaradawi supported Aboul Fotouh through the elections’ first round, not al-Shater or Muhammad Morsi.

Al-Qassemi goes on to say: “When Morsi’s office wanted to kill the story of what seemed to be a fabricated Iran news-agency interview with the president, it knew exactly who to call.”  Of course, my esteemed colleague forgot that Dr. Mohammad Morsi had already become the President of the Arab Republic of Egypt when the Persian Fars News Agency claimed that it met with him and that the Office of the Egyptian Presidency denied the meeting. I don’t know what the problem is with contacting Al Jazeera to deny this story, especially since Al Jazeera is the most-watched news channel in the Arab nation.  Why waste time with others?  The question is, then: would al-Qassemi change his position and say that Al Jazeera is not the Brotherhood’s channel if Morsi had denied the interview with Fars on Sky News Arabic instead of Al Jazeera?

Al-Qassemi then writes: “The alliance between Qatar, the host and backer of Al Jazeera, with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is no secret. The Gulf state hosted Khairet El Shater in March for several days… Qatar has also promised $10 billion worth of investments in Egypt, a significant amount that certainly will keep it in the favor of the ever shifting Muslim Brotherhood for the foreseeable future. Additionally, last year, Al Jazeera network appointed a ruling family member to take over from its resigned Muslim Brotherhood ex-boss Wadah Khanfar as the channel’s new head, which increased speculation that the channel’s coverage will continue to be in line with the state’s pro-Islamist agenda.”

I don’t know what the problem is with the fact that Al Jazeera hosted al-Shater in Qatar, just as Sky News Arabic hosted defeated presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq – whom Egyptians consider among Mubarak’s fuloul.  Is hosting Shafiq or Omar Suleiman, deputy of the deposed Hosni Mubarak, confirmation that one is biased in favor of the military or against Egypt’s revolution?  As for Qatar’s promise to invest 10 billion dollars, that was made after the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces assumed power in Egypt in the wake of the toppling of Mubarak – that is, before the election or victory of Dr. Morsi.  Moreover, that investment will benefit the Egyptian citizen first and foremost!  Does it make sense for Qatar to go back on this promise, then, in so doing serving the military and those who long to bring down President Mohammad Morsi?

I would also like al-Qassemi to help us understand how the nomination of the Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani as the general manager of Al Jazeera confirms that the channel will keep up its biased support for these movements.  By this I mean, why didn’t Wadah Khanfar stay – given that he was, as you stress, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood?

Al-Qassemi goes on to demonstrate Al Jazeera’s bias in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Syrian National Council, relying on the Lebanese newspaper Al-Akhbar.  I had hoped that the Arab al-Qassemi would not quote Al-Akhbar, which is a tool of the Party of Iran and those who hope to preserve its status.  Seeing as how more than one of employee of Al Jazeera contacted al-Qassemi and confirmed that Al Jazeera is biased towards the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, I hope that he will help them work at Sky News Arabic, with its slogan “A New Horizon”.  And as the poet said:

Whosoever does good, he will not lack for rewards

God’s kindness for His people will remain

As God is behind that intention

من يفعل الخير لا يعدم جوازيه

لا يذهب العرب بين الله والناس

والله من وراء القصد

Translation Notes: Throughout the article, al-Athbah describes al-Qassemi as zameel (زميل) commonly translated as “colleague,” but, in this sense, lacking a perfect English-language equivalent.  I’ve reflected this usage only in part, basically because normal English usage only allows you to write “the/my colleague al-Qassemi” so many times.  Anyway, a native would have a better intuitive sense of it, but I think al-Athbah is basically being facetious.

English-language transliterations of names are, basically, inconsistent.  I’ve chosen to reflect the given individual or institution’s chosen English spelling.  Failing that, I’ve used whatever’s most common, so long as it’s not so obviously wrong as to offend me.

With regards to al-Athbah’s point about al-Qassemi’s reference to Al Jazeera’s “religious programs” (برامج دينية), this seems to stem from a mistranslation of al-Qassemi’s original English article.  In his original English text, al-Qassemi doesn’t make this mistake.

Al-Athbah’s point regarding the word “deposed” (مخلوع) stems from the fact that al-Qassemi refers to former President Hosni Mubarak as simply “Mubarak” rather than, as is common in Arabic media, “the deposed President Hosni Mubarak”.

Lastly, real talk, I am not a poetry head, so my translation of that closing poetry is real dubious.  There is a non-zero chance that I turned that verse inside-out.  In recognition of that, I’ve reproduced the original poetry below the translation.

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