Back to the Future: Sparta, Athena, and the battle for the Arab public sphere
Al Jazeera (AJ) has been a defining feature in developing news media in the Middle East and beyond. The satellite-broadcasting network has played a leading role in bringing stories and perspectives that other international media do not always cover, if at all. More importantly, it has been a champion for democracy and human rights in the Middle East, thereby provoking the ire of Arab autocratic rulers, which went to great length to silence the Qatar-based television news network. The latest Gulf Crisis, in which four countries (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt) blockaded Qatar in July 2017, is another attempt to silence this media institution and peg back the region to the pre-Arab Spring era. The anti-Qatar quartet issued an ultimatum of 13 demands to be fulfilled within ten days. The list included paying reparations, shutting down Al Jazeera, curbing bilateral relations with Iran, closing a Turkish military base, and submitting to monthly external compliance checks. However, the crisis could be a blessing in disguise for Qatar and the network in its campaign for greater freedom of expression in the Middle East. This article analyses the crisis from a media political economy perspective.
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