Wednesday, March 23, 2011

When democracy protests become "sectarianism".

Earlier, I listened to Marc Lynch being interviewed on yesterday's Fresh Air about the Libyan situation. Lynch is always worth paying attention to, but it was actually his discussion of Al Jazeera's treatment of the Bahrain protests that really jumped out.

Al Jazeera has been a long-term whipping boy particularly of the American right for its perceived anti-American stance. Particularly once it had launched its English service, it became - partly in response to being bashed from the US right - lauded by many on the left; in Europe and America. It clearly does cover stories that don't get much coverage elsewhere and often shows 'the other side' of stories that are covered by western media. Nevertheless, like any other institutions, it exists in its own political context - in this case being in effect owned government/royal family of Qatar - and that brings distortions.

Lynch points out that whilst it al Jazeera's coverage of the uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia and now Libya has been extensive and central to raising the Arab public's conciousness across the region, it is dealing with the Bahraini protests differently. The Bahraini protesters are, it would seem, predominantly Shia, mainly because being Shia in Bahrain is to be given the shitty end of the stick in life and hence make you more likely to protest. But the protesters have been careful to make their claims in terms of nationalism and democracy - it is only the Bahraini government and its backers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that wants everyone to see it as sectarianism, with the obvious unspoken assumption that Iran must be lurking in the background. Lynch points out since Qatar and Saudi Arabia patched up their differences, al Jazeera has been more reticent about criticising Saudi policy, and the Saudis are the superpower of the GCC, an organization that sent troops into Bahrain in support of the regime there.

Lynch makes the argument in greater detail on his blog at Foreign Policy - it is well worth reading. As ever, context is everything.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Similarly, the sympathizers of Syria, like Joshua Landis, are trying to spin the Syrian opposition as "sectarian" and "Islamist."

Strangely, while the tyrants and Islamist conspiracy theorists alike are claiming all the Arab uprisings as CIA machinations, the Israel lobby always agrees with Iran and Syria in claiming that any Arab uprising against a tyrant would be an Islamist one.

And I was hoping that after seeing it all happening in TV screens in Tunisia and Egypt, the idiots who've been telling us that "there is no alternative to the authoritarian rulers except Islamists" would be ashamed of themselves and be for once quiet.