NEW YORK – So, last week wasn’t the best week for Al Jazeera, the television network owned by Qatar’s despotic ruling family, for the same reason that it wasn’t a great week for the despotic ruling family itself: the ouster of Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, the bumpkin fundamentalist.
Qatar pumped a lot of money into Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government, and for what? The Qatari royal family should sue the Brotherhood for malfeasance.
So much hope was riding on Morsi’s experiment in political Islam. Although Qatar spreads the risk around a bit — it has provided millions of dollars to Islamists in Syria and to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas (now there’s an investment in the future) — Morsi represented its main chance to advance the cause of Islamic fundamentalism. And to add insult to financial injury, Saudi Arabia just promised post-Morsi Egypt $5 billion, and the United Arab Emirates, another of Qatar’s main rivals, has kicked in $3 billion.
As for Al Jazeera, which is scheduled to introduce its American network next month in place of Al Gore’s hapless Current TV, well, let’s put it this way: It will certainly be more popular among Americans than it is among Egyptians. Which isn’t saying much.
The millions of Egyptians who rose up against Morsi’s rule also aired their feelings about Al Jazeera’s breathless pro-Muslim Brotherhood coverage.
The harsh criticism directed at the network prompted Egyptian reporters to expel Al Jazeera reporters from a recent news conference, and led several journalists to quit Al Jazeera’s Egypt operation, apparently to protest its obvious bias.
One of the correspondents who quit, Haggag Salama, accused his ex-bosses of “airing lies and misleading viewers.” The journalist Abdel Latif el-Menawy is reported to have called Al Jazeera a “propaganda channel” for the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s possible that some of the journalists who quit did so as a matter of self-preservation; the Egyptian military is behaving in predictably heavy-handed ways toward journalists it doesn’t like. But it’s also entirely plausible that they quit because they couldn’t abide Qatari government interference in their reporting.
If it was a bad week for Qatar and Al Jazeera, it was a very bad week for the network’s star broadcaster, the televangelist Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Sunni cleric who is a spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Qaradawi has been Al Jazeera’s most important star for many years. His show, “Shariah and Life,” is seen by millions across the Middle East.
Qaradawi is an extremist’s extremist: He endorses female genital mutilation (he doesn’t refer to it that way, of course); he has called for the punishment of gay people; he has provided theological justification to insurgents who targeted American troops for death in Iraq (though he’s hypocritically silent on the decision of his Qatari patrons to let the U.S. locate a Central Command headquarters on their soil); and he has defended the idea that the penalty for some Muslims who leave Islam should be death. He also believes that Hitler’s Final Solution was a nifty idea.
Over the past week, Qaradawi has seen his dream of Muslim Brotherhood rule in the Arab world’s most important country dissolve, and he has had to endure a special sort of humiliation — his own son, a prominent Egyptian reformer, accused him, in essence, of being a stooge for the power-mad Morsi. Shortly after Qaradawi issued a religious ruling calling the Egyptian Army coup that unseated Morsi illegitimate, and demanding that all good Muslims work to reinstate the Muslim Brotherhood-led government, his son, Abdul Rahman Yusuf al Qaradawi, accused his father in a letter of not knowing what he’s talking about.
Referring to Morsi, the younger Qaradawi wrote: “We agreed with him that he would install a participatory government but he didn’t keep his word. We agreed with him that he would clean up the police force but he didn’t do that. We agreed with him that he would be president of all Egyptians but he disappointed us.”
He went on to scold his father: “You haven’t seen a real revolution like the one that is happening in Egypt now. The views and ideas that the present generation of the Egyptians have are totally different from the ones that people of your generation had.”
That letter was the most encouraging thing I read all week. I certainly hope the younger Qaradawi is correct: The world would be a better place if young Arabs across the Middle East saw the Muslim Brotherhood for what it is: a totalitarian, fundamentalist, misogynistic cult.
The world would also be a better place if Al Jazeera understood this. The network says that its American branch will be focused on fearless and serious reporting, and that it is hiring some very fine journalists to staff the new channel.
My advice to them, if they’re interested in maintaining their integrity while in the employ of the Brotherhood-supporting despots who rule Qatar, is to pursue a story that asks the following questions: Who, exactly, is our colleague Yusuf al-Qaradawi? What does he believe? And why do our owners provide him with a global platform for the advancement of his hatred?
Jeffrey Goldberg is a Bloomberg View columnist. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.