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The flag is flying at half-mast at the Venezuelan embassy in Doha today after the country’s long-time president Hugo Chavez died last night.
Venezuela will have seven days of mourning to commemorate its late leader.
On its website, the embassy, which is located in Dafna, says:

With our deepest grief, the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the State of Qatar announces the opening of a Condolences Book due to the sad demise of Commander HUGO CHÁVEZ FRÍAS, President of Venezuela and one of the fundamental leaders of Latin America.
The Book of Condolences will be open from today, Wednesday, March 6, from 2:00 PM until 5:00 PM and on next Thursday and Sunday from 10:00 AM until 4:00 PM.

RIP Hugo Chavez.

The flag is flying at half-mast at the Venezuelan embassy in Doha today after the country’s long-time president Hugo Chavez died last night.

Venezuela will have seven days of mourning to commemorate its late leader.

On its website, the embassy, which is located in Dafna, says:

With our deepest grief, the Embassy of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela to the State of Qatar announces the opening of a Condolences Book due to the sad demise of Commander HUGO CHÁVEZ FRÍAS, President of Venezuela and one of the fundamental leaders of Latin America.

The Book of Condolences will be open from today, Wednesday, March 6, from 2:00 PM until 5:00 PM and on next Thursday and Sunday from 10:00 AM until 4:00 PM.

RIP Hugo Chavez.

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Amid growing discontent with Qatar’s role in certain revolutions across the Arab world, the country’s prime minister has rejected claims of partisanship in Syria, Egypt and Libya.

Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, who serves as both Qatar’s prime minister and foreign minister, defended the country’s actions during a press conference tonight with visiting US Secretary of State John Kerry.

"We are supporting the moderates [in Syria]," the prime minister said in response to questions about Qatar’s role there. 

"The longer the crisis, we will find [more] radical groups taking part, [but] we don’t wish for these radical parties to win," he said.

Refuting claims across the Middle East that Qatar has been supporting hardline Islamist parties in the various Arab uprisings, including the Muslim Brotherhood, he said:

"It is believed that we are supporting a particular group in Egypt. However it is the right of the people themselves, whether it is Egyptians or Libyans, who or which group [is leading them]. 

From that time, it was falsely propagated that Qatar was supporting one group or another…”

The prime minister did not clarify what role Qatar is currently playing in providing arms to the Syrian opposition.

Kerry, who recently replaced Hillary Clinton as the United States’ most senior diplomat and has been touring Middle East countries, said only that “we are aware of what people are doing” in regards to arms.

But in an interview with Fox News earlier today, he confirmed that the US has been training opposition forces offsite. 

During tonight’s press conference, Kerry added:

"In terms of the fundamental balance of battlefield tactics and of effort, I think it’s pretty clear that the prime minister shares a belief in trying to do what we need to do rapidly and to try to affect this [crisis] most effectively, through the Syrian opposition coalition."

Kerry also defended US President Barack Obama’s “clear” stance in support of the Syrian people by working to impose sanctions on Syria’s government, and working to identify and strengthen the opposition. 

However, Kerry made no indication that the United States would take any stronger action in Syria.

The other major line of questioning at the press conference had to do with the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, which the Qatar prime minister referred to as “dead”.

"The stalemate, or the dead peace process, we hope can be revived seriously and genuinely by the key sponsor - the United States," Al Thani said.

Thoughts?

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With reporting from Layal Itawi

A Qatari court has granted an appeal for Mohammed Rashid al-Ajami, the poet sentenced to life in jail for attempting to overthrow the government, and set Jan. 27 as the date for arguments.

The Qatari national, who goes by the poetic name Mohammed Ibn Al-Dheeb, appeared at the Court of Appeals this morning in a blue prison outfit, surrounded by 10 armed Internal Security Force soldiers.

Court proceedings were short as his lawyer, Najeeb al-Nuaimi, presented a document of the irregularities during Al-Dheeb’s initial trial and asked for his client to be released on bail. Although the case was schedule to be the 10th heard this morning, the judge pushed it up to first due to the high security.

Three of Al Dheeb’s brothers were in attendance, and told Doha News that he was not guilty of the charges.

Private recitation

The lawyer Al-Nuaimi said that, despite the long list or irregularities in the initial trial, the biggest issue is the fact that Ibn Al Dheeb did not present his poem in public, which is a requirement for proving he “sought to overthrow the regime.”

While studying Arabic literature with a group of students in Cairo on Aug. 24, 2010, Al Dheeb was reportedly approached by another Qatari poet named Khalil al-Shabrami. His lawyer argues that Al-Shabrami provoked Al Dheeb into presenting a poem that was indirectly critical of the ruling family, and the exchange was secretly recorded. 

That poem was then uploaded to YouTube, and spread on Twitter and Facebook.

"He doesn’t know how to use the [Internet], so he was not the one who released it," Al-Nuaimi said. "Somebody was sitting there and released it. He mentioned to me, Mohammed, that it’s not the first time they secretly released it."

A poem released about Tunisia and the Arab Spring has also been highlighted as contributing to Al Dheeb’s arrest in Nov. 2011, in which he criticizes Arab rulers by saying “we are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive elite.”

Credit: Photo courtesy of Lex Paulson

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Despite being sentenced to life in prison in absentia last week, Qatari poet Mohammed Rashid al-Ajami remains upbeat and will fight the ruling, his lawyer has told Doha News.

Today was Najeeb al-Nuaimi’s first meeting with Al-Ajami since he was given the life sentence on Thursday for “inciting the overthrow of the ruling regime” with his poetry.

Al-Nuaimi, who is only allowed to visit his client on Mondays, said he confirmed the sentence to Al-Ajami, who was not permitted in court and learned of the verdict from other prison inmates.

After visiting al-Ajami at the Qatar Central Prison, his lawyer said:

"He’s not defeated by this wrong miscarriage of justice by the court.  He said ‘I’m not feeling down at all, I’m OK.’

This sentence has made Mohammad an international figure… he’s going to be the Gulf’s Mandela. He’s a poet, he can publish a lot of things about living on the inside.”

Al-Ajami, who uses the name Ibn Al-Dheeb for his poetry, was arrested in November 2011 after his “Jasmine Poem” was shared on YouTube. He recited the poem at private gathering in Cairo and says it was recorded and published without his knowledge or consent.

In the poem, about Tunisia’s revolution, he criticizes Arab rulers, saying “we are all Tunisia in the face of the repressive elite.” Al-Ajami was eventually charged with “insulting the Emir” and “inciting the overthrow of the ruling regime.”

His lawyer Al-Nuaimi, who once served as Qatar’s justice minister, said an application for appeal will be filed tomorrow outlining numerous irregularities in al-Ajami’s case, including:

  1. Not charging al-Ajami within the first six months of his arrest;
  2. Moving al-Ajami from detention to the Central Prison after eight days without possibility of bail, and keeping him in extended solitary confinement;
  3. Appointing the investigating judge to oversee court hearings, despite clear animosity between the judge and the defendant and against Qatar’s judicial laws;
  4. Holding court hearings in secret, without Al-Nuami and Al-Ajami being permitted to attend, and disallowing a verbal defense; and
  5. Tampering with court transcripts to make it appear that Ibn Al-Dheeb admitted to reciting his poem in public.

Lex Paulson, an international observer involved in Al-Ajami’s case who was present at the courthouse on Thursday, told Doha News that Qatar’s prosecutor denied most of the irregularities when confronted with them.

He added that during the trial, two poetry experts from the Ministry of Arts, Culture and Heritage offered identical testimony, confirming that in their interpretation, Al-Ajami’s poems called for the overthrow of the regime.

International reaction

Al-Ajami’s sentencing has drawn fire from international human rights groups, who had over the past few months stepped up calls for the poet’s release.

“It is deplorable that Qatar, which likes to paint itself internationally as a country that promotes freedom of expression, is indulging in what appears to be such a flagrant abuse of that right,” Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director, said in a statement.

But in Qatar, reaction from the local community has been fairly muted, with no apparent mention of it in local newspapers. Doha-headquartered Al Jazeera English reported the sentencing on its website two days after it happened, and the Doha Centre for Media Freedom has thus far abstained from comment.

Lawyer Al-Nuaimi says Al Jazeera and Qatari society in general are afraid to talk about Al-Ajami’s case now, thinking they could be next. 

"Human rights groups are now going to submit his name for the Nobel Prize," he said. "He is the first free man who said a poem for the Arab uprising and has been arrested for life."

Thoughts?

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Syrian opposition groups agreed last night in Doha to move forward against the government of President Bashar Al-Assad under a new leader.

The groups elected Ahmed Muaz al-Khatib, the former imam of the Ummayad mosque in Damascus, as president of the new National Coalition for Revolutionary Forces, and named prominent Syrian businessman Riad Seif and female activist Suhair Al-Atassi as its deputies.

Qatar had sequestered leaders of opposition groups in exile and commanders from rebel groups on the ground in Syria at the Sheraton Doha hotel for four days in order to come to an agreement. Earlier in the week, the less-representative Syrian National Council met here to try to reform itself ahead of the weekend meeting.

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, called Qatari Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani yesterday to congratulate him on his role in securing a new Syrian leadership, Qatar News Agency reports.

Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, who is also Qatar’s foreign minister, meanwhile, has said the international community must support Syria, and the new opposition coalition. “This work has ended but the next step is more important,” he told reporters.

DOUBTS CONTINUE 

Despite Qatar’s public pledge of support, skepticism remains that the new group is ready for the daunting task as it looks to gain international recognition. The Wall Street Journal's Nour Malas reports:

It faces a challenge in controlling the sprawling patchwork of rebel militias and councils fighting regime forces and, in some parts of the country, already governing rebel-held areas. And the new coalition could flounder in the coming days as it finalizes its administrative bodies.

Michael Stephens, a Doha-based analyst for the Royal United Services Institute, has expressed greater doubts, calling the Syrian meeting “a lesson in time wasting.

Aside from a separate United Nations-backed plan to create an inclusive transitional government in Syria, he says the new opposition body has bigger issues:

There is … the inescapable problem of fighting on the ground bearing no relation to the politicking going on outside it.

The five star luxury of the Sheraton is hardly comparable to the destroyed and broken cities and towns that are now home to Syrians unable to flee from the unending violence.

I doubt those fighting street battles in Idlib really have much to say to Syrian exiles enjoying free lunches and dinners at Qatar’s expense.

Thoughts?

Credit: Photo of anti-Assad protesters in Qatar earlier this year by Omar Chatriwala

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Hundreds of Qatar residents marched toward the US Embassy in Doha after Friday prayer today, joining their voices to protests being held across the region against a YouTube video that disparages the Prophet Muhammad.

Police estimated at least 2,000 people turned out for the tightly-controlled rally, which was called for by prominent Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi.

"There is no god but God and Muhammad is his messenger, Muhammad is our prophet, Muhammad is our love," was the initial chant as protesters marched from the Omar ibn Al-Khatab mosque alongside the Doha Expressway.

But another chant taken up by some was more controversial: “Obama, Obama, we are all Osama,” in evident reference to Osama bin Laden.

When asked about the Osama chant, one rallier, Hisham Al-Jindi, said it was meant to send a message. “We are at peace in everything, except our prophet. We can fight only for our prophet,” he said.

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Others explained that they were at the rally to show their disappointment in the film. “The prophet is a good person, even non-Muslims agree on this. So, why is this always happening?” asked Indian citizen Asif.

Ahmed, from Egypt, told Doha News: “This is my prophet, my Islam is not like the movie.”

Attendees, however, said they also condemned the deaths of Americans at the US embassy in Benghazi, Libya. “The person who did this should be punshed,” said Asif.

Al-Jindi, too, felt the United States wasn’t at fault for the film, but wanted to send a message that its creator needed to be held accountable. “[If] one American makes bad things, it doesn’t mean all American are bad,” he said.

This was the same sentiment expressed by Sheikh Qaradawi himself. During the Friday sermon, he told those gathered in the mosque:

"It’s unfair to put all the guilt on a full nation, they are few Americans and some Christian Egyptians who live in the US [that are responsible]…

Going to the embassies and breaking it or throwing rocks at it or burning it is not the right solution. We need to ask the USA to have an official stand against such acts of insulting religions, like other European countries.

He also said Qatar is producing its own film about the Prophet Muhammad and spoke at length about Syria, saying that Qatar, Arabs and Muslims all support the revolution there.

Qaradawi called on all Arab countries to help Syria, in many ways, including sending soldiers and weapons to the Free Syrian army. “It’s their duty,” he said. 

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The post-prayer rally opposite the US Embassy was separated by the multilane Doha Expressway, and didn’t end up last long. Held in temperatures over 40° C, those gathered gradually dissipated before a much smaller group marched back to the mosque to end the rally about an hour later.

Credit: Reporting by Omar Chatriwala and Mostafa Sheshtawy. Photos by Omar Chatriwala

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Al Jazeera has confirmed that subscribers of its SMS breaking news alerts were sent false updates when its system was hacked this evening.

UPDATE: The Syrian Electronic Army, a group of hackers who support Syria’s embattled government, was quick to claim responsibility for the cyberattack. 

A message was apparently sent out claiming that an attempt had been made to assassinate Qatar’s prime minister, but he had survived. Another update falsely stated that Sheikha Moza, the wife of Qatar’s emir, had been “lightly wounded.”

The network later posted updates on its @AJALive Twitter account to inform Al Jazeera Mobile subscribers that it had been hacked, and the alleged assassination attempt was fake:

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An Al Jazeera spokesperson told Doha News that the network was still looking into how the incident had occurred.

It isn’t the first time the network has been the target of a cyberattack. Just last week its English website aljazeera.com was taken offline temporarily through DNS-poisoning.

Fake news stories have also been disseminated in the past about an assassination attempt on Qatar’s emir, and a non-existent failed coup. Analysts have said supporters of Bashar al-Assad are behind a smear campaign being leveled at the state of Qatar and the Al Jazeera Network for their critical stances against the Syrian government.

Credit: Photo by Osama Saeed

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Aljazeera.com, the front page of Al Jazeera English, was hacked this evening by a pro-Syrian government group calling itself Al Rashedon, ostensibly for the channel’s critical coverage of Bashar Al-Assad.
The hackers employed DNS poisoning, according to one analyst, which meant that it was inconsistently delivered across servers around the world.
In our own informal tests, we were able to see the normal site when using the www, and the hacked site without. Other reported similar results, while still more said they only received a 403 server error while trying to load the page.
The Hacker News reports that AlJazeeraSport.net website was offline earlier as well, but it now appears to load normally. They also offer up this translation of the text Al-Rashedon posted:

“In response to your attitude against Syria (the people and government) and your support to the Terrorist and Armed Groups, and sharing Fake news, your site has been hacked and this is our response to you.”

Al Jazeera IT says it is working to restore full functionality to Aljazeera.com, but the site can be loaded normally through the www. version.

Aljazeera.com, the front page of Al Jazeera English, was hacked this evening by a pro-Syrian government group calling itself Al Rashedon, ostensibly for the channel’s critical coverage of Bashar Al-Assad.

The hackers employed DNS poisoning, according to one analyst, which meant that it was inconsistently delivered across servers around the world.

In our own informal tests, we were able to see the normal site when using the www, and the hacked site without. Other reported similar results, while still more said they only received a 403 server error while trying to load the page.

The Hacker News reports that AlJazeeraSport.net website was offline earlier as well, but it now appears to load normally. They also offer up this translation of the text Al-Rashedon posted:

“In response to your attitude against Syria (the people and government) and your support to the Terrorist and Armed Groups, and sharing Fake news, your site has been hacked and this is our response to you.”

Al Jazeera IT says it is working to restore full functionality to Aljazeera.com, but the site can be loaded normally through the www. version.

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The sudden dismissal of an American journalism professor at a UAE university is making ripples across the Gulf and raising questions about media freedom in the region.

Matt J. Duffy, who taught journalism and media ethics at Zayed University, went public with his story on his blog on Tuesday, saying his contract was terminated suddenly and his residency visa canceled with no reason given other than that it was on order from “outside the organization.”

H added that his wife Ann, who worked with the Abu Dhabi Education Council, had her contract canceled “effective immediately” earlier this summer.

Duffy, who makes clear that his ousting did not come from his employer, cites his lack of self-censorship in the course of his professional work as a possible reason for his family’s hasty exit.

Condolences and questions poured in online as news of Duffy’s departure spread across the Tweetosphere yesterday.

In remarks to Doha News, Jan Keulen, director of the Doha Centre of Media Freedom, said:

The UAE security forces have not given any reason for the forced departure of Dr. Duffy. But it seems a cold wind is blowing in the UAE with the detention lately of over 50 political activists, the closure earlier this year of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and other international NGO’s and now the termination of Matt Duffy.

It’s bad news for academic freedom and press freedom in the UAE.

Duffy broke his silence with the post "I’ve been kicked out of the United Arab Emirates," where he said:

So, I appear to have discovered the limit for the tolerance of academic discourse in the UAE.

During my two-year tenure, my colleagues and others constantly warned me that such a fate could await me. Still, I felt I had a duty as an academic and professor at Zayed University to speak and teach with minimal reservation about my area of expertise—journalism, international media law and communication ethics.

Actions he said may have led to his dismissal include pushing forward standards of journalism, questioning UAE media laws and associating with other outspoken or critical groups.

Lest some cast attacks on him and his work, Duffy also shared the recent termination notice thanking him for his service and a glowing performance review dated April 30, 2012, adding that he still had a year left on his contract.

His ejection from the country is perhaps a lighter sentence compared to the some 50 people who have been arrested - some even stripped of citizenship - as part of what Amnesty International calls the crackdown on dissent in the UAE since March. Most of those detained have been labeled Islamists seeking to destabilize the country.

Groups perceived to be critical of policy in the UAE, including Gallup Abu Dhabi, US-based National Democracy Institute and German think tank Konrad Adenauer Foundation, have also been told to leave.

Parallels for Qatar

The media environments in Qatar and the UAE are not dissimilar.

With both countries holding low rankings on international press freedom indexes and working under media laws that are decades out of date, it’s hard not to ask if the same could happen here.

Indeed, in December of 2009, a firestorm erupted after a longtime Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar professor made disparaging remarks about locals following National Day.

Lisa Clayton maintains the outcry that ensued, including a Facebook campaign started by her own students, was the reason her contract was quietly not renewed at the end of the semester.

Thoughts?

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Cirque du Soleil is doing final prep work for its first-ever show in Qatar tomorrow night at the Aspire Dome amid boycott calls over its August performance in Israel.

Organizers say two 747 cargo planes were needed to carry all the material, cast, crew and more than 80 tons of equipment for the performance, which is entitled Saltimbanco and will run from July 4-7. 

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Most tickets types are still available at prices between QAR 130-750 - although VVIP seats are apparently sold out - and can be purchased on cirquedusoleil.qa,  virginmegastore.me or in person at Souq Waqif, Lagoona Mall and Landmark Mall’s Virgin Megastore.

As Cirque gets ready to launch though, some activists have been calling for a boycott of the performance. 

A group calling itself the Qatar Youth Opposed to Normalization published a letter to the director of Cirque du Soleil last month saying:

We were dismayed to learn that Cirque du Soleil is scheduled to perform in Tel Aviv this August, after first performing in Doha in July.

Doha has a rich history in welcoming and advocating arts and cultural exchange, but the choice by Cirque du Soleil to perform in Israel is tantamount to condoning the policies of an apartheid state.

As people of conscience we are writing to ask you to respect the Palestinian Civil Society Call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions

The petition the group posted on Change.org has only garnered 339 signatures out of a goal of 2,000. Similiar campaigns have also been started in Jordan and Canada.

Qatar’s campaign though, has been lambasted by at least one critic though, who says it “smacks of extreme hypocrisy” given the poor migrant labor record in the country.

What do you think? Who’s going, who’s not?

Credit: Photo courtesy of Cirque du Soleil, graphic by Qatar Youth Opposed to Normalization

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Iran’s English-language broadcaster PressTV this morning is reporting a failed coup attempt in Qatar, citing Saudi-backed channel Al-Arabiya. 

But Al Arabiya doesn’t even have that report on its website.

The PressTV report is only one sentence:

A military coup has reportedly been staged against the regime of US-backed Qatari King Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani but has failed.

No one else appears to have this story.

Anyone heard or seen this anywhere else? Is there any truth in it? Or is this just another example of a misinformation campaign targeting the Qatari government?

UPDATE 1: Saudi journalist Ahmed Al Omran reports it is a false story:

No coup d’état in Qatar. It is apparently a rumor started by a Facebook page created by pro-Assad groups.

— Ahmed Al Omran (@ahmed)

April 16, 2012

Meanwhile, Press TV has added a full article saying the following:

A number of high-ranking military officers rose against the Qatari Emir, triggering fierce clashes between some 30 military officers and US-backed royal guards outside the Emir’s palace, the report said on Tuesday.

Again, an Al Arabiya report is credited as the source of their information, but the story doesn’t appear on their website.

UPDATE 2: Al Arabiya apparently did have the story online earlier, but removed it (presumably due to its inaccuracy): 

Qatar coup story on Al Arabiya

The Al Arabiya website editor Muhammad Jamal also reportedly tweeted about the story, before deleting those updates:

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As @QatariGuy explains:

@dohanews @msjamal cited the fake Qatar revolution Facebook page as the source of the news, and said there was a split in the army.

— Abdallah⁢ عبدالله (@QatariGuy)

April 17, 2012

@dohanews @msjamal also said that the Emir and Sheikha Mozah have left the palace in the protection of special units from the US army

— Abdallah⁢ عبدالله (@QatariGuy)

April 17, 2012

The incident was supposed to have occured last night, while the Emir was in Italy. The story also looks identical to one that was posted in February of 2011 on Arabic forums like altanaya.net.

UPDATE 3: PressTV have now rewritten their story with the headline "Saudi, Qatari media in power struggle," although it remains unclear what role Qatar’s media had in the story other than calling out false news.

Their idea, apparently, is that Al Arabiya reporting and then deleting inaccurate news is “a new dimension” in “simmering tension between Saudi Arabia and Qatar.”

UPDATE 4: Al Arabiya now has a story up saying the article was posted to their website  by the Syrian Electronic Army (pro-government hackers).

Why it took almost a day to post that information isn’t addressed. An internet analyst we spoke with also said it would be difficult for hackers to have that much access to Al Arabiya’s content management system unless they had really poor security.

What do you make of all this?

Credit: Thanks for the tip @CanuckInArabia

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Bloomberg this week waded into a growing debate in Arab media on whether Doha-based news network Al Jazeera is transitioning away from its position as regional champion of independent journalist toward a new role as  ”Qatar mouthpiece.” 

Its two Beirut correspondents write:

The strength of the regional station, founded in 1996 and based in Qatar, had been that it offered an alternative to broadcasters controlled by national governments, whose coverage invariably reflected narrow regime interests rather than a popular understanding of events.

Now, Al-Jazeera is being accused of the same sin as those state-run enterprises — of being a vehicle for a regime, in this case that of Qatari Emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani.

In support of this argument are critiques by columnist Sahar Mandour in the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir, and Saudi writer Ramzy Baroud in the Arab News, questioning Al Jazeera’s reporting in Syria.

Last month, the editor-in-chief of Lebanon’s Al Akhbar, Ibrahim Al-Amin, wrote his own scathing denunciation of Al Jazeera, saying it has “dealt a blow to every genuine attempt to build strong and reasonably independent Arab media.” 

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Most notable in all of this though, is that all the criticism deals very specifically with Al Jazeera’s Arabic news channel, making little or no mention of it’s English news service.

Al Jazeera English (AJE) in fact, was recognized this year as "News Channel of the Year" at the UK’s 2012 Royal Television Society Awards, and has held the title of “News Channel of the Year” for three successive years at Britain’s Freesat Awards. 

And where Al Jazeera Arabic (AJA) has seen repeated criticized for its limited coverage of the conflict in Bahrain, Al Jazeera English (AJE) has won no less than three awards for its reporting on the uprising, and May Ying Welsh’s documentary “Shouting in the Dark.”

There are actually more awards and nominations for AJE that could be named, but I think the point is made. 

What do you think? Is AJE replacing AJA as the Middle East’s champion of free media? Or is AJA, the most-watched Arabic news channel, just the easiest target?

Credit: Photos of Al Jazeera Arabic and Al Jazeera English by Duncan Davidson

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Tayseer Allouni, Al Jazeera’s former Kabul bureau chief who has been under detention in Spain for some seven years, is finally free and back in Qatar.

He arrived in Doha this evening, and was received at the airport by Al Jazeera’s director general Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani, former DG Wadah Khanfar, the Arabic channel’s managing director Ibrahim Helal, former Guantanamo detainee Sami Al-Haj and a crowd of his colleagues.

In the above video, Allouni breaks down on air while being interviewed by Al Jazeera about his detention.

As Al Jazeera’s then Kabul bureau chief, Allouni interviewed Osama bin Laden in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks. A citizen of Spain, he was subsequently arrested three times by Spanish authorities for suspected links to al-Qaeda and sentenced to seven years in jail by the Spanish National Court in 2005. Six years of that sentence were served under house arrest, due to health concerns.

On January 17 of this year, the European Court of Human Rights ruled out the Spanish court’s decision, calling the trial unfair and illegal. However, Spanish authorities made Allouni complete his sentenced through February 25, and continued to withhold his passport until now.

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Hundreds of Syrians and other Doha residents turned out to protest against President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria in a second day of action in Qatar.

Some three to four hundred people rallied in an empty lot opposite Qatar Sports Club this evening, waving the 1932 Syrian flag, wielding posters and chanting slogans against the Al-Assad government in Damascus.

“We are rallying here against the criminal Bashar Al-Assad … who is currently committing mass massacres and killing innocent civilians,” said Abu Maher Halabi, a Syria resident of Qatar attending the rally. 

“We are rallying against all the countries supporting the regime… in particular Russia, China and Iran, and Hezbollah. They are considered for us enemies of freedom and justice,” said Halabi, who is originally from Aleppo in Syria.

Police, both armed with batons on foot and at the ready in Toyota Land Cruisers, maintained a cordon around the protest grounds, while others directed traffic in and out of the parking area.

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Interesting choice, but there’s no evidence he’s yet achieved the widespread influence his predecessor Wadah Khanfar achieved. It seems a stretch to name him most powerful person in the country.

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The Middle East magazine Arabian Business has launched a new list of powerful people in Qatar business, putting Al Jazeera’s director general Sheikh Ahmed bin Jassim Al Thani in the top spot.

It says the list intentionally excludes members of the ruling family (like the Emir and…