ALEXIS CRUZ WRITES – In 1996, Qatar laid the foundation to become a regional power when it created the news network, Al Jazeera. Qatar’s growing influence even granted the Middle Eastern underdog the FIFA 2022 World Cup. Now, the same source that won Qatar’s recognition is threatening Qatar’s diplomatic relationships with its neighbors.
Qatar’s neighbors have not taken a warm welcoming to news coverage by Al Jazeera. In 2002, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador over Al Jazeera’s coverage of its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. Al Jazeera’s name was also tainted following its favorable coverage of 2011 Arab Spring and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt even arrested Al Jazeera journalists and shut down the Al Jazeera Cairo station. Finally, in 2014, Qatar promised not to interfere with its neighbors’ domestic politics after an argument with the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain over Al Jazeera.
Qatar’s promise wasn’t enough, however, as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt and the UAE recently broke off diplomatic ties with Qatar and each country officially recalled their ambassadors this May. Saudi Arabia has also closed their border with Qatar and restricted Qatari planes from flying over Saudi and Emirati airspace.
Qatar’s neighbors are demanding an ultimate shutdown of Al Jazeera. Saudi Arabia and Jordan have already closed down Al Jazeera’s offices in Riyadh and Amman. It is unlikely that Al Jazeera will fold but the fate of its Arabic and highly praised English renditions is uncertain.
Overall distrust of Qatari media first stemmed from the Qatar News Agency’s 2013 published article of Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani making pro-Iranian comments. Saudi Arabia and its Arab partners dislike Iran’s growing influence and have suspected Qatar of supporting terrorism by cozying up to Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran.
Qatar claimed that the QNA was hacked and is even investigating Russia as the potential culprit. Al Jazeera was also hacked recently and shut down its website for security reasons.
Even if the emir’s comments were the result of a Russian hacking incidence, Saudi Arabia has taken this opportunity to go after Qatar’s influential news networks – which can be interpreted as Qatar’s form of foreign policy. The Qatari royal family owns Al Jazeera while still allowing significant media freedom compared to other media outlets in Qatar and the Middle East, making it an understandable target by Saudi Arabia and the rest of Qatar’s neighbors. A Saudi network has even claimed to have a video of Qatar’s emir actually making the supposed pro-Iranian comments, but an air date has yet to be announced.
UAE has recently prohibited showing support for Qatar on social media, with a punishment of fifteen years in jail and a $136,000 fine. Qatar’s sports channel beIN SPORTS has also been blocked in UAE despite it having no political content.
It remains unclear what will happen to the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the product of Qatar previously branding itself as the most stable Middle Eastern country. However, what is clear is the growing target on Qatar’s back. Just when the controversies surrounding the FIFA World Cup were dying down, Qatar’s neighbors are keen to reignite them, bent on seeing what else can be thrown in the dump with Al Jazeera.