3, 2, 1 …2011 hits the Middle East
The year 2011 made a grand entrance in the Middle East, the region witnessed the unexpected. The first 20 seconds featured a bomb exploding outside a Coptic church in Alexandria killing 21 people. The first days in January were full of severe emotions and outrage as the world watched Tunisia leading a huge protest to over throw the government. As the situation was escalating the domino effect unfolded taking the rage, frustration and the suppressed anger of the Arab streets from one country to another. From Tunisia to Egypt To Yemen, Libya and Syria, history has been re-written.
With thousands killed, conspiracies being exposed and dictators falling, the whole region was on its toes, watching, blogging, criticizing and embracing the power of the youth who called for freedom and better living conditions. With technology and social media on their side, the youth found a platform to express their needs and connect with others who shared the same concerns. The Arab Spring was born and documenting each moment was its sidekick Al Jazeera, believed to be the voice of the revolution.
The channel broadcasting from the small, yet rich country of Qatar crossed all red lines, discounted political friendships, defied all the rules and ignored government threats. Although it did not cause the uprising, AL Jazeera was playing the “all-seeing role” in the Arab Spring, “ transmitting what was already happening”, their intense and highly emotive coverage instigated an outburst of reactions across the Middle East.
The broadcasting of Mohammed Bouzaizi’s burning torment in the name of freedom, as well as the heavy coverage of the Tahrir Square clashes empowered the youth in different countries to take to the streets and protest. The use of social media and the Internet has had a pivotal role in the Arab Spring, some even noting that the ‘success’ of the spring war highly dependent on this digital technology. However, although social media may have triggered the uprisings, it is important to note that only a third of Middle Eastern populations have access to the internet and that their governments, in Orwellian fashion, heavily monitor their activities. As a result, it could be argued that TV broadcast is still the most prominent way to reach the Arab masses.
Al Jazeera Vs. National Arab Television
State televisions in Tunisia and Egypt have been accused of misleading the public by not covering any demonstrations. On January 26, the Egyptian state television aired a cooking show in an attempt to turn a blind eye to what was happening in the streets of Cairo and to almost normalize its effects. Egyptians outside Tahrir Square watched Al Jazeera to see what was happening after phone lines and Internet connections were cut off.
The rest of the world was able to tune in for 18 days of non-stop coverage of the Egyptian revolution, taking place in Tahrir Square. Al Jazeera gave demonstrators a platform to voice their opinions, transmit videos taken from personal mobile phones and share what they experienced during the clashes. As a result, government officials and their supporters heavily criticized the channel accusing the news network of perpetrating the riots and turning the public against their governments. Arabic speakers who denounced the broadcaster were calling them ‘A’amal Al Shaghab’, translating into ‘the work of the rebels’. It was considered as a threat, leading government authorities to call it unethical and brand them as liars and traitors who apparently broadcasted fabricated videos.
The channel like many others in the region fell into the trap of airing videos during the uprising that turned out to be altered or misleading. Among these videos was one that featured torture scenes from Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s rule; the channel claimed they were footage of the Yemeni forces torturing protesters during the uprising. Al Arabiya previously aired these scenes in 2007, and when the word went out Al Jazeera apologized for what they called “a technical mistake”