The Al-Jazeera news network has filed a $150M arbitration claim against the government of Egypt, making good on a three-year-old threat to seek redress for what it describes as the persecution of its journalists.
Al-Jazeera, which is based in Qatar, filed the complaint before the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes in Washington, D.C., because Egypt’s actions are said to be a breach of a 1999 investment treaty between Egypt and Qatar.
The UK Guardian reports that Al-Jazeera complained about several of its journalists facing harassment, after the military regime of current President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohammed Morsi, which in turn came to power after the fall of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak. Among the offending actions were detentions based on what Al-Jazeera calls “spurious and politically-motivated charges,” and others based on no stated charges at all.
Among those arrested by the Egyptian government were Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy, Australian correspondent Peter Greste, and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed. The Toronto Star notes their sentence of 10 years in prison, for allegedly working for the now-banned Muslim Brotherood, “sparked an international outcry,” including criticism from both the U.S. government and United Nations.
“Fahmy has filed a $100-million lawsuit against Al Jazeera Media Network, accusing the company of negligent conduct, negligent misrepresentation and breach of contract,” reports the Star.
Furthermore, Al-Jazeera alleges that its Cairo office was attacked by “military, police, and gangs supporting Sisi’s government.” Its transmissions were jammed, and eventually its broadcast license was pulled, leading to a compulsory liquidation procedure. The $150 million arbitration claim is based on the news network’s estimate of lost revenues from the Cairo media market.
The Egyptian government is not the first party to accuse Al-Jazeera of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist fundamentalists. When former Vice President Al Gore sold his moribund Current TV channel to Al-Jazeera, he was criticized for ignoring the network’s close relationship to the authoritarian government of Qatar. Qatar’s regime politically and financially supports the Brotherhood and other Islamists, to the growing annoyance of neighboring governments.
A lengthy Gatestone Institute op-ed from 2013 chastised Gore by listing Al-Jazeera’s many ties to Islamists, portraying the network as part of a double game by the Qatari government, which simultaneously desired authoritarian control over its media and international credit as a haven of free expression.
Author Najat AlSaied framed Al-Jazeera’s ostentatious support for the Arab Spring’s ostensible flowering of democracy – winning praise from many Western politicians, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton – as camouflaged support for the Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt. This analysis would find much support in the current Egyptian government.
A 2012 critique from Oren Kessler at the Middle East Quarterly said Al-Jazeera was playing another double game by offering U.S. viewers content, on Gore’s old network, that was dramatically different from what the company broadcasts throughout the Middle East. Kessler noted that “virtually all of the channel’s journalists” were either “leftists, pan-Arab nationalists, or Islamists,” on a mission to stoke Muslim resentment against Arab governments engaged in corrupt relationships with Western powers – the very same narrative pushed by the Muslim Brotherhood when Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in Egypt. (Mubarak’s iron-fisted ways and long history of kleptocracy made this narrative very easy to sell on the streets of Cairo.)
Kessler noted Al-Jazeera’s history of support for Osama bin Laden, Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, the Assad regime in Syria, and the Taliban, faulting Western politicians for being too eager to give the network a clean slate, especially when they were eager to nourish the Arab Spring into the whirlwind of pluralistic, democratic reform it never actually became.
A similar impulse led to the whitewashing of the Muslim Brotherhood, magically transformed by the Obama administration into legitimate players at the table of democracy after years of support for terrorism. Egypt is joined by Saudi Arabia, Syria, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates in officially classifying the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Republicans have made legislative efforts to compel the Obama administration to do likewise.