Sunday, June 25, 2017

Qatar is the Home of Al Jezeera: we should be standing up for press freedom

A flat, desert country in the Persian Gulf
The nation of Qatar consists of a handful of families, living high on the hog off oil riches, and the world's third largest deposits of natural gas. This clannish tribal nation, known for horse and camel breeding during the Umayaad period (661-750 CE), is ruled by an absolute monarchy (the House of Thanis) which has ruled the peninsula since the early 19th century.  The immediate family of princelings is said to number maybe 6,000. The exact number of Qatari nationals is kept a state secret, but according to the Middle East Quarterly, there are a little over 240,000 Qatari nationals. The GDP of the country measured by citizens is $690,000/person. It's an exclusive club, and they like to keep it that way. Citizenship is passed through Qatari fathers.  Foreigners are not considered unless they speak Arabic and have lived on the peninsula for 25 years, and the law provides that no more than 50 may be naturalized in any given year.  

Oil was discovered in 1939, but development of the oil industry was delayed until after World War II. In the 1950's oil revenue began to replace pearl harvesting as the major source of revenue. Oil earnings funded the development of infrastructure.  Over the last 25 years, Doha, the country's capital and largest city has gone from this . . . 


to this . . . 


And all that construction requires many workers. As a result, the population of the country has recently ballooned to more than 2 million. No foreign workers are granted permanent residency. They must renew their residency permits frequently, and not infrequently their papers are confiscated upon entry and they are kept in slave like conditions. It's despicable, and it's a stark reminder that a lack of political power has consequences.  

The result is a surreal country with untold riches for the 12% of citizens and an exploited underclass of foreign workers without political rights, mostly men. The temporary guest workers have skewed the population so it is 75 percent male!  

Much of the oil and gas riches are funding this building boom. Large amounts are spent in lives of luxury in Europe. Some Qataris, as indeed many Saudis, have taken to funding extremist Islamist movements in the Middle East. Some of these riches have gone to bribing FIFA officials until Qatar was named host nation for the World Cup in 2022. Some of it has gone to fund the world wide media network Al Jezeera

Among all those efforts and accomplishments, establishing a robust news organization centered in the heart of the Middle East, may be the Qatari's most admirable accomplishment. Al Jezeera is credible, broad, and hard hitting. The Saudis and the other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council don't like it one bit. 

Here is Zeeshan Aleem, at Vox
Earlier this month, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain abruptly severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and suspended all air, land, and sea travel to and from the country. Almost overnight, Qatar found itself totally cut off from the neighbors it relies on for a huge portion share of its trade and travel in and out of the country, triggering panic among Qataris over how long they could survive without access to basic things like food imports.
Riyadh’s stated reason for the drastic move was Qatar’s alleged funding of terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. But few analysts actually bought that explanation. Most believed Saudi Arabia’s anger at Qatar had far more to do with Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other moderate Islamist groups, its chummy relations with Saudi’s regional rivals Turkey and Iran, and its powerful and far-reaching media network Al Jazeera, which Saudi Arabia and the others see as a propaganda outlet for Islamist political movements that threaten their governments.
It's no accident that a demand to close down Al Jezeera was prominently on the list of 13 Saudi and GCC country demands to Qatar this week as a condition for lifting the blockade. 

Whatever else one can say, or question, about the GCC air and land blockade of Qatar, the demand to Qatar that it shutter Al Jezeera is clearly wrong. The Trump administration, and Western governments in general, should be speaking with one voice to defend the press freedoms of Al Jezeera. 

We don't shut down RT (the Russian propaganda media) in the U.S. because we value a free press. Al Jezeera is a much more important voice in the world than RT, all countries who believe in an Enlightenment tradition should stand up for it. 

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles





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