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In Possible Sign of Shift, Qatari-Owned Al-Jazeera Softens Coverage of Egypt

The Qatari-owned TV network Al-Jazeera has done an about-face in the last few days, replacing its previous negative coverage of Egypt with more positive spin – apparently in response (Arabic link) to reconciliation over the weekend between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and a special envoy of the emir of Qatar.

Previously known for its critical coverage of Egypt, Al-Jazeera’s new outlook comes after efforts by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to mediate the disputes between Qatar and Egypt. Until recently, the Qatari government and Al-Jazeera were two of the most prominent critics of the al-Sisi regime. Ties between Egypt and Qatar have been strained since al-Sisi ousted Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood ally of Qatar, in July 2013 after protests against his rule. Cairo had accused Al-Jazeera of being a mouthpiece for the now-banned Brotherhood.

As part of the new reconciliation, the Qatari emir apparently instructed Al-Jazeera to cover the Egyptian regime more positively. The results can be seen on the screen, as during the last few days Al Jazeera changed the way it describes the Egyptian president. Now the channel calls him “President Sisi” and “Egyptian President” (Arabic link), whereas previously it called him “the military coup commander” or “the first president elected after the coup,” referring to al-Sisi’s succession of Morsi. Qatar had been the only Arab state to question the legitimacy of al-Sisi or bet against his staying power, and its decision appeared to indicate that the Qataris, too, have now accepted his rule.

The Al-Watan news site (Arabic link) reported that Al-Jazeera newscasts are now barely covering protests against the Egyptian government. Sources inside the channel newsroom said that reconciliation between Qatar and Egypt indeed led to a significant change in the policy of Al-Jazeera towards events in Egypt. “The aggressive coverage of the regime will be decreased,” they admitted. The news editors will now try to present supportive viewpoints towards the Egyptian regime.

Another major victory for al-Sisi is Qatar’s decision to suspend its broadcast of Al Jazeera Live Egypt, a satellite news channel sharply critical of Egypt’s government. The shutdown of the channel is also a blow to what remains of the Muslim Brotherhood, as it was the only significant Egyptian news outlet remaining that broadcast video coverage of the Brotherhood’s anti-government demonstrations or otherwise conveyed its views.

The military-backed government outlawed Al Jazeera Live Egypt shortly after Morsi was ousted, and its continued broadcasts from Doha, Qatar’s capital, have been a persistent annoyance to al-Sisi supporters in Egypt and the Arabian Gulf. Al Jazeera Live Egypt announced its suspension of operations early Monday evening, according to Gulf News.

[Photo: Laika slips the lead / Flickr]