Pacific Media Watch

12 July 2017

GLOBAL: Autocracy strikes back - media freedom under siege in Arabia

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Al Jazeera headquarters in Doha, Qatar ... "The winds of freedom blown by AJ meant also that repressive regimes no longer had the monopoly over information." Image: Al Jazeera

ANALYSIS: By Dr Tarek Cherkaoui
QATAR (Asia Pacific Report/Pacific Media Watch): Diplomatic quarrels in the Arabian Peninsula have a long history, and small Gulf States, such as Qatar, align themselves with stronger powers in order to confront regional threats. This was the case under Ottoman rule and British colonial rule.

However, after the British withdrawal from east of Suez in 1971, Saudi Arabia became the de facto protector of Qatar. This situation lasted until the early 1990s, when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 and threatened to invade Saudi Arabia as well.

It became quickly apparent that the Saudis were unable to defend their own borders, let alone their neighbours’ too.

During that period, Qatar was mostly known for being “unknown”. However, its path was about to witness a major change at the hands of the Crown Prince at the time, and future Emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who had a very different view on the future role of Qatar.

He sought from the onset to resist Saudi suzerainty, and relations between both parties reached their lowest points in February 1996, when an attempted coup against Qatar’s leader was foiled. Needless to say, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain supported this coup attempt.

Fast-forward 20 years later, and the same players are back to square one. Only this time, the scope of hostile actions, speed of escalation, and toxic rhetoric directed at Qatar by the quartet —the aforementioned countries in addition to Egypt — has surprised most analysts.

Dr Tarek Cherkaoui is author of The News Media at War. He is an expert in the field of strategic communications and holds a PhD in media and communication studies from Auckland University of Technology

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