Activists and analysts alike have ridiculed an “Al Jazeera Exclusive” which claims that the U.S. government and U.S.-based democracy assistance groups funded the opposition to former Egyptian President Muhamed Morsi and even sought to foment violence against his Muslim Brotherhood.
The allegations are “laughable,” said Cairo-based Brookings analyst HA Hellyer, who today told Huffington Post (above) that the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups had attended meetings and training held by U.S.-based democracy assistance groups.
The article, by Emad Mekay of the Investigative Reporting Program at UC Berkeley, was “unfair,” “using scare tactics” and “cherry-picking” evidence to promote a political agenda, said Nadine Sherif, of the Cairo-Institute for Human Rights Studies.
Dismissing the article as “sloppy” and “unsubstantiated,” analyst Jason Brownlee – author of the Politics of Democracy Prevention – noted that the U.S. had no interest in undermining or deposing Morsi’s government which had been cooperative on U.S. strategic interests.
Democracy assistance groups take a non-partisan approach to their work, said Freedom House’s Charles Dunne. His organization never worked with political parties or representatives of partisan factions but, like other democracy assistance groups, simply sought to promote “transparent, accountable government with respect for human rights.”
There is in fact a “huge demand” for such aid from Egyptian groups who “feel abandoned” U.S. democracy assistance, he said.
According to one account, foreign policy experts were dismissive, with freelance journalist analyst Joshua Froust describing the article as “poorly researched” while Laura Rozen of Al Monitor called it “hyped/misleading.”
“Quality of journalism & analysis in this Aljazeera article comes second to when my pet used to wipe its paws on paper,” activist Bassem Sabry tweeted.
The investigation used dubious examples to make its case, Adel Iskandar, an Arab media scholar at Georgetown University, told The Daily Caller.
“U.S. money ends up in the hands of all sides (especially the military), so to depict the protests and overthrow of Morsi as some sort of U.S.-funded plot is inaccurate and irresponsible,” said Anand Gopal, a fellow at the New America Foundation.
Al Jazeera’s credibility as an unbiased news source had already taken a hit this week when 22 employees resigned, charging that the Qatar-based satellite TV channel pursued a biased, pro-Muslim Brotherhood policy.
One of the correspondents, Haggag Salama, accused his former employer of “airing lies and misleading viewers,” while journalist Abdel Latif el-Menawy called Al Jazeera an Islamist “propaganda channel.”
“Al Jazeera’s fall from grace reflects the changing dynamics in the region,” writes analyst Abeer Allam:
Qatar, which gave the Islamist government about $8bn in budgetary support, has been undermined by the overthrow earlier this month of Mr Morsi, whereas Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which initially opposed the region’s uprisings, have supported the military’s ousting of Mr Morsi. The shift also highlights how pan-Arab media reflect their governments’ policies, say analysts.
Sultan al-Qassemi, a Dubai-based analyst said that Al Jazeera was the channel of choice of the former Islamist government in Egypt, frustrating supporters of other Egyptian factions. He also pointed out that while the Gulf-based channels focus on Egyptian politics, they rarely cover controversial issues, such as human rights abuse, at home.
“Both al-Arabiya and al-Jazeera’s recent coverage of the events in Egypt highlighted their owners’ view of the situation in Egypt,” he said. “The liberal opposition were often quoted in al-Arabiya while the Islamists were quoted in Al Jazeera. They cover the same news but in a completely different language and focus you feel they are covering a different country.’’
The channel’s selective coverage and political bias was already a subject of public debate prior to recent events in Egypt.
“Al-Jazeera’s breathless boosting of Qatari-backed rebel fighters in Libya and Syria, and of the Qatar-aligned Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, have made many Arab viewers question its veracity,” the Economist noted earlier this year. “So has its tendency to ignore human-rights abuses by those same rebels.”
According to Courtney Radsch, an Arab media expert with Freedom House, “Al Jazeera is an instrument of Qatari foreign policy, just as Al Arabiya is an instrument of Saudi Arabian foreign policy.”
“There’s been such a difference in coverage between Bahrain and Syria that I think it really illustrates that, indeed, the channel does reflect the broader political priorities of the foreign policy establishment in Qatar,” she told National Public Radio.
Dave Marash, a former “Nightline” correspondent and WRC-TV anchor quit in 2008 as an Al-Jazeera anchor because of what he considered a “reflexive adversarial editorial stance” against the U.S., the Washington Post reports.
The Post quotes Steven Stalinsky, executive director of the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a nonpartisan group that monitors the region’s media, who says Al-Jazeera has “definitely taken the pro-Morsi side” in its Egyptian coverage:
The network’s management and journalists have long-standing ties to the Brotherhood; among others, its former chairman, Wadah Khanfar, was a member. Among its talk-show hosts is Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Muslim cleric and Brotherhood adviser whom Stalinsky describes as “anti-Western, anti-Semitic and anti-American.”
Al-Jazeera’s opinion programs have been dominated by pro-Morsi pundits, and some of its journalists have openly supported the Brotherhood in postings on social media, said Mansour al-Hadj, who directs a MEMRI project on reform in Arab and Muslim countries.