Amid widespread concern that Al Jazeera, the Doha-based news network, has been pushing an extremely partisan narrative that is too much in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar is planning to launch AlAraby, a second Arabic language news station based in London. The new channel's function, it was reported yesterday in The National, is to serve as a "counterweight" to Al Jazeera and is designed to extend the reach of the soft power exerted by Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the country's new emir.
Qatar has spent much of the recent past seeking to further this kind of influence – bidding for and winning the right to stage the 2022 Fifa World Cup, opening up a clutch of cultural institutions, expanding its portfolio of internationally recognised universities – but the jewel in its crown has always been the Al Jazeera network.
Since it began broadcasting in 1996, the channel has shaped arguments, framed news stories and radiated influence across the world. When the Arab Spring began to bite in the early months of 2011 – or the Arab Awakening as Al Jazeera insisted on calling the uprisings – it was reported that officials in the White House relied upon the network’s transmissions to monitor developments in Egypt.
All of this helped form the opinion that Qatar was a progressive society, a judgement that has been severely clouded by the country’s pro-Brotherhood stance. It is one that Doha hopes to correct with AlAraby’s “fairly anti-Brotherhood” standpoint, although this seems to be throwing money at a problem that would be better solved by dialogue.
Saudi Arabia regards the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation, a position the UAE supports. Qatar was also a strong supporter of Mohammed Morsi in Egypt, gave a platform to Youssef Al Qaradawi, a leading voice for the Brotherhood, and supported Islamist movements in Tunisia and Libya.
It has done all this without explaining why it believes Islamism might be a political project worth encouraging and knowing it would place the country at odds with much of the rest of the Gulf. Rather than launch another adventure in soft power, Doha would be better served by offering an explanation to its neighbours and friends as to why it ever believed the Brotherhood was worth backing.