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Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Blogosphere on Al-Jazeera

Ok, well, not the whole blogosphere, but in the last day or so I've read a couple of very interesting blog postings on the influence of Al-Jazeera on the wider Arab world, particularly in terms of creating a genuine pan-Arab dialogue and of presenting a sense of greater possibilities to people around the region.

First, from Free Iraq, a guy who has been a long-term critic of Al-Jazeera's politics:

"Al Jazeera and Al Arabyia served another role whether they wanted or not. Of course Al Arabyia has changed its attitude and now it's considered a pro-west channel by some Arab regimes and lately their crew in Lebanon even received threats from the Syrian intelligence as the channel officials stated. However, even before that both channels offered a great service to democracy and freedom in the ME even when they wanted exactly the opposite! For example, Al Jazzera focused, as part of its coverage for the "deteriorated situations in Iraq" on every single demonstration against the interim government or the American presence in Iraq even if it was 10 people that are demonstrating! But this coverage, that was missed in the official Arab media most of the times, showed the Arab street an unusual scene. 'Arab' citizens demonstrating freely against their government and the supposed brutal occupiers under the eyes of police!"

Then, from Abu Aaardvark:

"While those who want to claim the current protests as a vindication of the Bush Doctrine might not like the analogy, the closest comparison to the current situation is the spring of 2002, when al Jazeera drove and energized Arab protests against the Israeli re-occupation of the West Bank not just by showing gory pictures but by showing Arabs that other Arabs were marching and protesting. I know from interviewing lots of people involved in those protests that the Arab media were really important in shaping their ideas of what was possible, inspiring them to march and to protest - and, in a very real way, making them feel that they were part of that same, common story that I mentioned above. When Jordanians marched in Amman, they weren't only "talking" to King Abdullah, they knew that they were being seen by Egyptians, by Moroccans, by Palestinians.

But it goes even deeper than that. Perhaps the most important implication of all this for current purposes is that I am absolutely convinced that the Arab satellite television coverage of the Beirut demonstrations is the single most important reason why Arab public opinion largely turned against Syria. In the absence of these televised protests, I suspect that the natural inclination of most of the Arab public would have been to identify with Syria and to defend it against Israeli-American machinations. But the televised images of the Lebanese people, seemingly unified against Syria, tapped in to the core narrative of this new Arab identity: a unified, mobilized Arab public protesting against oppression and an intolerable status quo. They identified with this public more than they identified with a "targeted" Arab state."

Finally, Kevin Drum agrees with Abu Aardvark but also has some, I think, quite reasonable things to say about the Bush administration and the nascent 'Cedar Revolution' (branding power!):

We also know in retrospect that the administration originally planned a quick turnover of power in Iraq to some reliably friendly chieftan along with a drawdown to 30,000 troops within a few months. Elections were not in the cards, and the Bush administration opposed Iraqi elections as forcefully as it could until it finally caved in to pressure from Ayatollah Sistani and the insurgents.

Other events seem equally unrelated to either the actions or the intentions of the Bush administration. The recent progress between Israel and the Palestinians was made possible by the death of Yasser Arafat, not the invasion of Iraq. Hosni Mubarak's acceptance of multi-party elections may well turn out to be a cynical sham designed to put his son in power without inflaming public opinion too badly. And the Cedar Revolution itself was kicked off by the Syrian assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Still. All plans go through considerable transformation as they run into events on the ground, and responding to these events is a key part of the president's job. So even though Bush actively opposed Iraqi elections and had nothing to do with the deaths of either Arafat or Hariri, he deserves credit for displaying the flexibility to take advantage of events as they unfolded. And if he's truly decided that democratization is something to take seriously — something of which I'm hopeful but not yet convinced — then he deserves credit for that too. For better or worse, the invasion of Iraq has set the background against which all these events are playing out, and if things eventually turn out well it will be hard to argue that the invasion didn't play a part."

Ok, that last quote sort of wanders away from the first two, but I thought it was a pretty good summary and worth linking to.

Anyways, on the agenda for tomorrow, something completely different: an essay about the unstoppable gentrification of Lower Manhattan.

|| RPH || 4:20 AM || |