The Current

Why Arab states want to shut down Al-Jazeera

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism. Their long list of demands for Qatar includes shutting down Al-Jazeera, the cable news network.
The state of Qatar says it's not shutting down its satellite news channel Al-Jazeera despite demands from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations. (Kamran Jebreili/Associated Press)

Read story transcript

Qatar could face further sanctions after rejecting a list of demands from its Arab neighbours.

The deadline issued by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain passed this week.

The four nations severed ties with Qatar in June, accusing  the state of supporting terrorism.

Among the long list of demands, Qatar's neighbours want the state-owned broadcaster Al-Jazeera — the cable news network funded by Qatar's ruling family — to be shut down.

What happens next is unknown says David Kirkpatrick, an international correspondent for the New York Times and a former Cairo bureau chief.

"They're talking about some kind of stepped-up punishment or retaliation against Qatar for refusing to meet this deadline, but we don't know what that's going to consist of," Kirkpatrick tells The Current's summer host Mike Finnerty.

"This is a contest about power and autonomy within the Persian Gulf. Qatar for decades now has suspected that Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates — its larger neighbours — have been trying to control it."

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (R) looks at UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan during a joint press conference with their Saudi and Bahraini counterparts, July 5, 2017. (Khaled Elfiqi/AFP/Getty Images)

Two decades ago, these states plotted a coup against a member of the Qatari royal family, says Kirkpatrick.

"Since then Qatar has been trying to carve an independent course of its larger neighbours and that has included establishing its pioneering news network Al-Jazeera and forming a kind of alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood."

RelatedSeveral nations cut diplomatic ties to Qatar as Gulf rift deepens

Kirkpatrick points out this alliance is of particular concern to the Saudi and Emirates monarchies because he says the Muslim Brotherhood doesn't like monarchies.

"They prefer a different form of government. And in the eyes of the Emirates and the Saudis, that is promoting extremism," he says.

"Layered on the top of that is the fact that pretty much all of the Gulf countries, some more than others, have a problem with rich individuals using their money to support extremist or militant groups especially in Syria."

There are also accusations by the Saudis that the Kurds are not only supporting the Muslim Brotherhood through Al-Jazeera but of funding terrorism through the funding of militant groups, Kirkpatrick explains.

Today Al-Jazeera is no longer the Al-Jazeera of yesteryear.- Adel Iskandar

"And they're probably singling out Qatar a little bit unfairly in that respect," he tells Finnerty.

"None of the Gulf states is completely clean. And I think none of them is actively supporting terrorism."

According to Adel Iskandar, co-author of Al-Jazeera: The Story Of The Network That Is Rattling Governments And Redefining Modern Journalism, this is an opportune moment for the Gulf countries and Egypt to target Qatar because they see the state's influence slowly waning. 
Al-Jazeera is no longer a trendsetter, says Simon Fraser University professor Adel Iskandar. (Naseem Zeitoon/Reuters)

"It's also happening at a time when Al-Jazeera is no longer the real trendsetter in the regional sort of journalistic landscape. So they probably suspect that by going for the jugular, if you will, that the overall impact of either a closure of Al-Jazeera, or real sort of shackling of the network, would have very limited repercussions, or a major sort of global or regional outcry,"  Iskandar explains.

In the 21 years Al-Jazeera Arabic has been on the air, Iskandar says, there are at least 20 new networks replicating the format — "Al-Jazeera no longer has a monopoly on the public's attention."

"Today Al-Jazeera is no longer the Al-Jazeera of yesteryear. Al-Jazeera now reflects the government of Qatar's policies — Al-Jazeera Arabic at least. It's a mirror image of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from Qatar which makes it no different in its inflammatory rhetoric from its adversaries."

The government of Qatar and Al-Jazeera Arabic believed it was a smart decision to align themselves with the Muslim Brotherhood, Iskandar tells Finnerty.

"This was, you know, a political strong cross-cutting trans-national political party with huge reach … Unfortunately they've been burned by this. The parties are in decline. The authoritarian states are on an ascendancy and their audiences are also increasingly fragmented."

Listen to the full segment at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Ines Colabrese, Willow Smith and Ashley Mak.