Al Araby can’t be here to rebuild Qatar’s reputation

Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani
Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, emir of Qatar

The emir of Qatar, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, wants to set up an Arabic-language news channel named Al Araby, as did his father Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani with Al Jazeera in 1996. Many have been speculating on Twitter that it would be to repair the damage Al Jazeera Arabic has done to Qatar’s reputation, by criticising Gulf states and by overtly supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. This is not a logical explanation.

If Al Jazeera Arabic damaged Qatar’s reputation by supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and by criticising other Gulf States – why not just tone it down? The network’s chairman, Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani, is a member of the royal family.

Moreover, the Arabic language channel may not quite be the Al Jazeera outlet that most damages Doha’s image abroad. Al Jazeera Arabic is a panregional outfit mired in trouble and which editorial line follows Qatar’s foreign policy. To the contrary, Al Jazeera English is a soaring channel with an expanding global audience, increasing credibility and more awards each year. But it does not stand in line with Doha – at all. It openly criticises its sister channels for their support for the Muslim Brotherhood, blames Qatar for its treatment of foreign workers, and overtly says it is an extension of Doha’s foreign policy and that it should not be trusted for those reasons (I will publish a video explaining all this). If there is a part of Al Jazeera Qatari policymakers should worry about, it is certainly not the Arabic language channel.

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Even though Sheykh Tamim is on the throne since last June, it is widely belived that his father Hamad is still pulling the strings. Tamim may want to create Al Araby in order to display his independence from his father’s influence: by setting up his own Al Jazeera.

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Both channels emphasize their independence regarding the government and both were created by a Qatari emir. Still, whereas Al Jazeera was made out of the ashes of the first BBC Arabic (1994-1996), Al Araby has no such unusual background, even though they are trying to recruit staff from the current (second) BBC Arabic. The media landscape is also different: in 1996, no free Arab media existed. Al Jazeera’s arrival induced a wave of new satellite channels. Nowadays, the market is much more competitive. Whatever happens, Al Araby is certainly not going to be a copycat of Al Jazeera Arabic.

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Bonus: rant about the “Al Araby” name

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“Al Araby” (the Arab one, masculine) sounds dangerously similar to “Al Arabiya” (the Arab one, feminine), the name of the Saudi news channel and Al Jazeera Arabic’s main competitor. Why this name, and not another? The creators of both Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya were not really creative, as if you glue together both names you get al-jazîra l-arabiya – that is, “the Arabian Peninsula” in Arabic. So, calling a channel “Al Araby” is lazy, if not laughable. Moreover, there are plenty of nice names out there, my favorite being “Al Lulua”. It means “the Pearl”, referring to Qatar’s former pearl industry, and it sounds so cute.

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