Pep Montserrat for The National
Pep Montserrat for The National

Led by Al Jazeera, Arabic media come of age covering revolutions

Perhaps it was unintended, but two or three weeks ago, at the height of the protests that were gripping the great cities of Egypt, the director general of the BBC, Mark Thompson, appeared on the channel's flagship current affairs programme, Newsnight, in London as part of a debate on the future of newsgathering, and mentioned the BBC and Al Jazeera in the same sentence.
I was sufficiently taken aback at Al Jazeera's apparent coming of age at the highest reaches of the BBC that I forgot the context in which both channels got an equal mention. For those in the Middle East and beyond who have long appreciated the power and reach of the Arabic satellite channels, the reaction may be "so what?"
But for those of us who have lived and worked as journalists in Britain and the United States, and in my case for Al Jazeera in both countries, it is quite uplifting to see that a non-western channel has apparently "come of age" — or more likely can no longer be ignored.
The growing realisation that Middle Eastern audiences are less tempted by what the BBC or CNN have to offer is perhaps borne out by the decision of some western media companies to branch out - most notably Sky TV, in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corp, to launch a new Arabic news channel next year.
The uprisings across North Africa and the continuing turmoil in parts of the Middle East have brought a renewed focus on who is reporting the news and how the news is being reported. By fairly common accord, most of the western networks were caught napping as the crisis in Tunisia began to unfold. It was to be a different case altogether with Egypt. CNN and the BBC as might be expected produced highly-polished reportage based on the work of their experienced journalists in the field. The BBC seemed to excel in some of the discussion programmes, in a way that CNN did not. But, and here is perhaps the reason for the great leap forward that we have witnessed over the past weeks, it fell to the free Middle East media to report on exactly what was happening on the street from Cairo to Tehran, and from Sana'a to Tripoli.
Arab journalists not only knew "the street", they broke a succession of stories before the western media even got close. Much of the western media were obliged to retreat to hotel rooftops. Speculative comment frequently gave way to the banal, as a seasoned BBC reporter offered the searing analysis that Hosni Mubarak wouldn't budge "because he is a stubborn old man" on at least three prime-time news bulletins.
Yet for Al Jazeera, which launched its English channel in 2005 with a particular eye on breaching the seemingly impenetrable wall of American parochialism, the turmoil across the region is finally making the channel be noticed in North America. A Doha-based spokesman for the channel told me: "It's been astounding the amount of positive recognition that we've been receiving in the US from journalists at mainstream outlets such as The New York Times, ABC News, MSNBC and others. We launched full-page ads in The New York Times and The Washington Post as well as an online campaign across the US. A large share of our internet viewing now comes from the US." This is an astonishing turnaround from the early days of Al Jazeera during the Bush administration.
According to a recent blog in Orgzine, "mainstream media covered the Egyptian unrest far more quickly and pervasively than they did with Tunisia - although Al Jazeera far surpassed US and UK news media in the quality of coverage. Their correspondents got outside the capital, interviewed a broader swathe of Egyptians and did a far better job of putting things in context, being less prone to attribute the uprisings to American-made technologies".
Still, there can be little doubt that these technologies have had a dramatic effect on the organisational ability of the mainly young demographic who have led the uprisings, as well as the ability of the state to track them. But where the new technologies have been key, it has been in supplying TV networks with a constant stream of mobile-phone video and Twitter feeds.
Wadah Khanfar, director general of the Al Jazeera network, acknowledges the extraordinary rise of "citizen journalism" across the Middle East. "Scores of citizens equipped with mobile phones, Twitter and Facebook have continued to feed us real-time images and updates from the streets. They, in effect, have become our reporters, sending pictures, videos and news to our newsrooms. At Al Jazeera we have taken the voices of the voiceless and have given them a place where they can be heard … We have been able to amplify the voices of the masses so that people across the world are able to hear the importance of their aspirations, hopes, and dreams as they struggle to define a new political reality for themselves."
Khanfar was clear on this, however: "We are not the tool of these revolutions and uprisings."
With a population of about 80 million and a median age of 24, Egypt has nearly four million Facebook users, representing about 5 per cent of the population. Facebook exploded in 2008 with the April 6 Youth protests and has doubled in the past year. Google, Facebook and YouTube are the three most-visited websites in Egypt and have been essential to digital activism in the region.
This has given rise to an immediacy and rawness that is lacking in so much of the non-western news coverage that has been coming from the Middle East. It has also meant that the Iranian government-owned Press TV has been able to make some strides among diaspora communities in English-speaking lands. But Press TV will always struggle to be taken seriously until its journalists are able to freely report some of the turmoil that has shaken Iran. Likewise, Al Arabiya, the third most-viewed satellite network in the Middle East, is fighting hard to dispel claims that its all-too-frequent technical breakdowns, which frequently left TV screens blank during the Egyptian uprising, could be deliberate.
Of course, some cynics might say that if the Middle East media can't report the news on their own doorsteps, there would be little point in it. Clearly, the picture is patchy, with some TV and newspapers freer than others to report. Clearly, too, some sections of the Middle East media have found themselves drawn into the conflicts they are trying to report.
Here is Khanfar again on the perils of being a reporter at the front line: "Three days ago one of our cameramen in Libya, Ali Hassan Aljaber, was shot and killed in an ambush by pro-Qaddafi forces. Previously, various governments have blocked our satellite TV broadcasts and our equipment has been destroyed or confiscated. Regardless, we have been committed to keeping a spotlight on these historic uprisings and revolutions that continue to shake the Arab world."
And all that as the perception grows that much of the western - especially US - media are increasingly parochial and not coming to terms with the cultural and media rise of the Middle East. The continued rise of Qatar, Dubai and Abu Dhabi as new global media hubs demonstrates how quickly power and influence can begin to shift.
Mark Seddon is a former UN correspondent for Al Jazeera English TV and a UK political commentator

How tumultuous protests grew
  • A fuel tax protest by French drivers appealed to wider anti-government sentiment
  • Unlike previous French demonstrations there was no trade union or organised movement involved 
  • Demonstrators responded to online petitions and flooded squares to block traffic
  • At its height there were almost 300,000 on the streets in support
  • Named after the high visibility jackets that drivers must keep in cars 
  • Clashes soon turned violent as thousands fought with police at cordons
  • An estimated two dozen people lost eyes and many others were admitted to hospital 
The Roundup

Director: Lee Sang-yong
Stars: Ma Dong-seok, Sukku Son, Choi Gwi-hwa
Rating: 4/5


Name: Xpanceo

Started: 2018

Founders: Roman Axelrod, Valentyn Volkov

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Smart contact lenses, augmented/virtual reality

Funding: $40 million

Investor: Opportunity Venture (Asia)


Company name: Marefa Digital

Based: Dubai Multi Commodities Centre

Number of employees: seven

Sector: e-learning

Funding stage: Pre-seed funding of Dh1.5m in 2017 and an initial seed round of Dh2m in 2019

Investors: Friends and family 

What is graphene?

Graphene is a single layer of carbon atoms arranged like honeycomb.

It was discovered in 2004, when Russian-born Manchester scientists Andrei Geim and Kostya Novoselov were "playing about" with sticky tape and graphite - the material used as "lead" in pencils.

Placing the tape on the graphite and peeling it, they managed to rip off thin flakes of carbon. In the beginning they got flakes consisting of many layers of graphene. But as they repeated the process many times, the flakes got thinner.

By separating the graphite fragments repeatedly, they managed to create flakes that were just one atom thick. Their experiment had led to graphene being isolated for the very first time.

At the time, many believed it was impossible for such thin crystalline materials to be stable. But examined under a microscope, the material remained stable, and when tested was found to have incredible properties.

It is many times times stronger than steel, yet incredibly lightweight and flexible. It is electrically and thermally conductive but also transparent. The world's first 2D material, it is one million times thinner than the diameter of a single human hair.

But the 'sticky tape' method would not work on an industrial scale. Since then, scientists have been working on manufacturing graphene, to make use of its incredible properties.

In 2010, Geim and Novoselov were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. Their discovery meant physicists could study a new class of two-dimensional materials with unique properties. 


Teri Baaton Mein Aisa Uljha Jiya

Directors: Amit Joshi and Aradhana Sah

Cast: Shahid Kapoor, Kriti Sanon, Dharmendra, Dimple Kapadia, Rakesh Bedi

Rating: 4/5

UNpaid bills:

Countries with largest unpaid bill for UN budget in 2019

USA – $1.055 billion

Brazil – $143 million

Argentina – $52 million

Mexico – $36 million

Iran – $27 million

Israel – $18 million

Venezuela – $17 million

Korea – $10 million

Countries with largest unpaid bill for UN peacekeeping operations in 2019

USA – $2.38 billion

Brazil – $287 million

Spain – $110 million

France – $103 million

Ukraine – $100 million



Started: 2023
Co-founders: Arto Bendiken and Talal Thabet
Based: Dubai, UAE
Industry: AI
Number of employees: 41
Funding: About $1.7 million
Investors: Self, family and friends


Display: 41mm, 352 x 430; 45mm, 396 x 484; Retina LTPO OLED, up to 1000 nits, always-on; Ion-X glass

Processor: Apple S8, W3 wireless, U1 ultra-wideband

Capacity: 32GB

Memory: 1GB

Platform: watchOS 9

Health metrics: 3rd-gen heart rate sensor, temperature sensing, ECG, blood oxygen, workouts, fall/crash detection; emergency SOS, international emergency calling

Connectivity: GPS/GPS + cellular; Wi-Fi, LTE, Bluetooth 5.3, NFC (Apple Pay)

Durability: IP6X, water resistant up to 50m, dust resistant

Battery: 308mAh Li-ion, up to 18h, wireless charging

Cards: eSIM

Finishes: Aluminium – midnight, Product Red, silver, starlight; stainless steel – gold, graphite, silver

In the box: Watch Series 8, magnetic-to-USB-C charging cable, band/loop

Price: Starts at Dh1,599 (41mm) / Dh1,999 (45mm)


2.30pm: Handicap (PA) Dh40,000 1,700m; Winner: AF Mezmar, Adam McLean (jockey), Ernst Oertel (trainer).

3pm: Maiden (PA) Dh40,000 2,000m; Winner: AF Ajwad, Tadhg O’Shea, Ernst Oertel.

3.30pm: Handicap (PA) Dh40,000 1,200m; Winner: Gold Silver, Sam Hitchcott, Ibrahim Aseel.

4pm: Maiden (PA) Dh40,000 1,000m; Winner: Atrash, Richard Mullen, Ana Mendez.

4.30pm: Gulf Cup Prestige (PA) Dh150,000 1,700m; Winner: AF Momtaz, Saif Al Balushi, Musabah Al Muhairi.

5pm: Handicap (TB) Dh40,000 1,200m; Winner: Al Mushtashar, Richard Mullen, Satish Seemar.


Jemma Eley, Maria Michailidou, Molly Fuller, Chloe Andrews (of Dubai College), Eliza Petricola, Holly Guerin, Yasmin Craig, Caitlin Gowdy (Dubai English Speaking College), Claire Janssen, Cristiana Morall (Jumeirah English Speaking School), Tessa Mies (Jebel Ali School), Mila Morgan (Cranleigh Abu Dhabi).

Confirmed bouts (more to be added)

Cory Sandhagen v Umar Nurmagomedov
Nick Diaz v Vicente Luque
Michael Chiesa v Tony Ferguson
Deiveson Figueiredo v Marlon Vera
Mackenzie Dern v Loopy Godinez

Tickets for the August 3 Fight Night, held in partnership with the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi, went on sale earlier this month, through and


Round 1: Beat Leolia Jeanjean 6-1, 6-2
Round 2: Beat Naomi Osaka 7-6, 1-6, 7-5
Round 3: Beat Marie Bouzkova 6-4, 6-2
Round 4: Beat Anastasia Potapova 6-0, 6-0
Quarter-final: Beat Marketa Vondrousova 6-0, 6-2
Semi-final: Beat Coco Gauff 6-2, 6-4
Final: Beat Jasmine Paolini 6-2, 6-2


Name: SmartCrowd
Started: 2018
Founder: Siddiq Farid and Musfique Ahmed
Based: Dubai
Sector: FinTech / PropTech
Initial investment: $650,000
Current number of staff: 35
Investment stage: Series A
Investors: Various institutional investors and notable angel investors (500 MENA, Shurooq, Mada, Seedstar, Tricap)


Engine: 2-litre 4-cylinder turbo
Power: 268hp
Torque: 380Nm
Price: From Dh208,000
On sale: Now

Ireland (15-1):

Ireland (15-1): Rob Kearney; Keith Earls, Chris Farrell, Bundee Aki, Jacob Stockdale; Jonathan Sexton, Conor Murray; Jack Conan, Sean O'Brien, Peter O'Mahony; James Ryan, Quinn Roux; Tadhg Furlong, Rory Best (capt), Cian Healy

Replacements: Sean Cronin, Dave Kilcoyne, Andrew Porter, Ultan Dillane, Josh van der Flier, John Cooney, Joey Carbery, Jordan Larmour

Coach: Joe Schmidt (NZL)


Tottenham 1

Jan Vertonghen 13'

Norwich 1

Josip Drmic 78'

2-3 on penalties


Director: Nikhil Nagesh Bhat

Starring: Lakshya, Tanya Maniktala, Ashish Vidyarthi, Harsh Chhaya, Raghav Juyal

Rating: 4.5/5

Three tips from La Perle's performers

1 The kind of water athletes drink is important. Gwilym Hooson, a 28-year-old British performer who is currently recovering from knee surgery, found that out when the company was still in Studio City, training for 12 hours a day. “The physio team was like: ‘Why is everyone getting cramps?’ And then they realised we had to add salt and sugar to the water,” he says.

2 A little chocolate is a good thing. “It’s emergency energy,” says Craig Paul Smith, La Perle’s head coach and former Cirque du Soleil performer, gesturing to an almost-empty open box of mini chocolate bars on his desk backstage.

3 Take chances, says Young, who has worked all over the world, including most recently at Dragone’s show in China. “Every time we go out of our comfort zone, we learn a lot about ourselves,” she says.

The specs

Engine: 2.2-litre, turbodiesel

Transmission: 6-speed auto

Power: 160hp

Torque: 385Nm

Price: Dh116,900

On sale: now


Director: Sriram Raghavan

Producer: Matchbox Pictures, Viacom18

Cast: Ayushmann Khurrana, Tabu, Radhika Apte, Anil Dhawan

Rating: 3.5/5

Indoor cricket in a nutshell

Indoor Cricket World Cup – Sep 16-20, Insportz, Dubai

16 Indoor cricket matches are 16 overs per side

8 There are eight players per team

9 There have been nine Indoor Cricket World Cups for men. Australia have won every one.

5 Five runs are deducted from the score when a wickets falls

4 Batsmen bat in pairs, facing four overs per partnership

Scoring In indoor cricket, runs are scored by way of both physical and bonus runs. Physical runs are scored by both batsmen completing a run from one crease to the other. Bonus runs are scored when the ball hits a net in different zones, but only when at least one physical run is score.


A Front net, behind the striker and wicketkeeper: 0 runs

B Side nets, between the striker and halfway down the pitch: 1 run

C Side nets between halfway and the bowlers end: 2 runs

D Back net: 4 runs on the bounce, 6 runs on the full


2pm: Maiden Dh 60,000 (Dirt) 1,400m

2.30pm: Handicap Dh 76,000 (D) 1,400m

3pm: Handicap Dh 64,000 (D) 1,200m

3.30pm: Shadwell Farm Conditions Dh 100,000 (D) 1,000m

4pm: Maiden Dh 60,000 (D) 1,000m

4.30pm: Handicap 64,000 (D) 1,950m

The team

Videographer: Jear Velasquez 

Photography: Romeo Perez 

Fashion director: Sarah Maisey 

Make-up: Gulum Erzincan at Art Factory 

Models: Meti and Clinton at MMG 

Video assistant: Zanong Maget 

Social media: Fatima Al Mahmoud  


Favourite book: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Holiday choice: Anything Disney-related

Proudest achievement: Receiving a presidential award for foreign services.

Family: Wife and three children.

Like motto: You always get what you ask for, the universe listens.

All We Imagine as Light

Director: Payal Kapadia

Starring: Kani Kusruti, Divya Prabha, Chhaya Kadam

Rating: 4/5

Electric scooters: some rules to remember
  • Riders must be 14-years-old or over
  • Wear a protective helmet
  • Park the electric scooter in designated parking lots (if any)
  • Do not leave electric scooter in locations that obstruct traffic or pedestrians
  • Solo riders only, no passengers allowed
  • Do not drive outside designated lanes

A Cat, A Man, and Two Women
Translated by Paul McCarthy
Daunt Books