Qatar uses media to take on its own allies, at arm’s length

Doha, Capital of Qatar
Doha, Capital of Qatar

Tony Blair is a liar and, for “execution of the Iraq War,” should be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Blair and former United States President George W. Bush are to blame for ISIS, which is “much more lethal” than Al-Qaeda.

Yemen’s extremist Houthi rebels may use the slogan “Death to America”--  but it is only for “domestic consumption” and Americans need not be offended.

A United Kingdom government report revealing links between the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorism “overemphasized the group’s connection to violence.”

All would be widely considered fringe positions and, by Western media traditions at least, fair game in any land where free speech is a protected national pastime.

These positions came from the Middle East Eye, an upstart news web site that reports daily on the Middle East with a decidedly anti-Western spin--  from offices in a leading capital of the West.

In Central London, where the Middle East Eye reportedly has 20 full-time staffers, one can safely call for government leaders to be imprisoned without fear of being imprisoned themselves.

A disclaimer on their website makes it clear: “only England and Wales jurisdiction apply in legal matters”

Perhaps just as relevant: led by an editor with western media credentials, Middle East Eye can forcefully take on the West itself, pointing their finger at the U.S. and U.K as predominantly to blame for all that ails the gulf region.

What Qatar really thinks of the West

Middle East Eye Editor David Hearst, formerly a foreign correspondent for The Guardian, told The National that the free, mostly advertising-less site was sustained by “individual private donors.”

Quietly, they include the State of Qatar, owner of Al Jazeera, the largest news organization in the Middle East.

Al Jazeera executives founded Middle East Eye and hired Hearst to run it.

Al Jazeera executive Jonathan Powell, who works directly for Al Jazeera Chairman Hamad bin Thamer Al Thani, cousin of former emir Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, traveled to London to start Middle East Eye in 2013, according to The National.  Jamal Bessasso, a Dutch national and former Al Jazeera executive, is director and sole shareholder of MEE Limited, which owns Middle East Eye.

Bassasso’s son, Ayoub Bessasso, works for London-based Noon Visual Creatives, a media production company whose clients include Al Jazeera, and pro-Muslim Brotherhood broadcasters Al-Hiwar TV, based in London, and Mekameleen, based in Turkey.

Noon Visual Creatives is owned by Abou Rahman Abou-Daya, former director of general of Al-Hiwar and founding director of the Al Aqsa Foundation, an international charity designated a terrorist organization by the United Nations and U.S. for its support of Hamas.

Mekameleen was one of four broadcasters the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs asked its European allies to “shut down” on grounds they were supporting the Muslim Brotherhood to “incite violence and murder in Egypt.”

Al-Hiwar was founded by Azzam Al-Tamimi, who has close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.

After Al Jazeera America

The Middle East Eye’s emergence comes in the wake of the retrenchment of another Qatar-backed western media venture.

Doha-based news network Al Jazeera America  spent more than half a billion dollars to expand to the United States, hiring 700 staffers, before shutting its doors in April.

A spin-off of Al Jazeera Arabic, infamous in the West for its decidedly anti-U.S. posture, Al Jazeera America “was always hobbled by the brand’s associations,” wrote Arab Gulf States Institute Scholar Hussein Ibish in the New York Times earlier this year.

“On one hand, the huge American military presence in Qatar is a key element of Qatari security strategy,” wrote Ibish. “On the other hand, Qatar gave a hugely influential platform on Al Jazeera to the Muslim Brotherhood cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who elsewhere preached that “Americans in Iraq are all fighters and invaders” whether they were military or civilian, and that it was “a duty for all Muslims” to kill them.”

“The real problem...was the Janus-faced nature of Qatari foreign policy, contradictory and ultimately unsustainable,” he wrote.

U.S. policy makers and opinion leaders have been taking more notice of Qatar’s anti-U.S. media proclivities.

In 2014, U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-California) chided Qatar for its coverage of the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

"Every one of those rockets [fired by Hamas into Israeli cities] is a war crime, almost every one," Sherman said. "Of course it's a war crime committed by Hamas. And of course the owners of this TV network help fund Hamas."

A confidential cable published by WikiLeaks from the U.S. Ambassador to Qatar, Joseph LeBaron, said the country was using Al Jazeera as a “bargaining tool.”

"Al Jazeera Arabic news channel will continue to be an instrument of Qatari influence, and continue to be an expression, however uncoordinated, of the nation's foreign policy,” the cable said.