Don't Miss Out!
Get a free weekly digest of FPJ's latest delivered straight to your inbox.

You can unsubscribe at any time, and FPJ values your privacy. Your email will never be sold or shared with third parties.

Understanding Arab Politics, Understanding Arab Media

The Syrian uprisings divided media into two directions that resulted media war. This picture captured from Dunia TV a pro-Syrian regime criticizing how media conspires and attacks Syria, the land of resistance!

The Syrian uprisings divided media into two directions that resulted media war. This picture captured from Dunia TV a pro-Syrian regime criticizing how media conspires and attacks Syria, the land of resistance!

The world has been witness to unprecedented uprisings throughout the Arab World. The so-called “Arab Spring” has ultimately introduced a new perception regarding Middle Eastern politics, society and culture. It has carved out a new map of Arab politics, and it has brought national sovereignty and self-determination. The new political landscape of the Arab world seeks new movements to illustrate modernity, civility, liberty, and collective actions that will build a new stage for new Arab politics. Arabs understand that the fear that lived in the deepest parts of them no longer exists, as it has no place in their present daily routines or in their futures. The Arab sedition is shaping a new tone in Arab politics, and is modifying new Arab cultures in such a way as to decentralize the hegemony of the state and shift the power to the people. It is also empowering citizens to take matters in their own hands and make their own decisions, which challenge the centrism of the government monopoly and regime hegemony. No one predicted that such an act would plunge the whole region into rebellious movement. These masses of protests were created by the energy and ideas of young people who take risks and make themselves visible by demanding dignity, liberty, equality, and decent lives. Arab citizens have suffered from its lack of social and civil rights, and now the young Arabs try to gain freedom and social justice; they demand democracy, freedom of expression, open government, and the end of brutal humiliation and insult brought on by tyrannous regimes.

These protest movements are directed at citizens, as it is the people whose voices need to be heard in order to affect change. Arabs in these movements demand democracy as well as political and economic reforms. The protests movements in the new landscape of information allow for widespread participation, which means that people from all over who possess the same ideology can form a collective identity. It makes politics a form of citizens’ needs and choices. The identity in these new social movements has been established as a new public sphere through the cyberspace environment, which is indicated when citizens’ grassroots movements develop and are organized through social networks and other forms of information technologies. The mass protests in the Arab world have been comprised of the youth who are educated and moderated, and who sacrificed in order to demand political reform, democracy and social change.

The culture of political mobilization in the Arab world is a fledgling one compared to that of the West, since Arabs lack political structure, a constitution, and democracy, and all of these factors led Arab people with individual ambitions and revolutionary ideas that have grown embittered with the political state apparatuses and devices to take more action in demanding reforms and thus establish a new form of social movement. These manifestations have established an alternative way for a non-democratic society to develop a new landscape for social and political democracy and even create new Arab politics. The Arab mainstream media, on the other hand, lacks professionalism due the lack of political structure having been controlled by the authority.

New media and other social networks, along with other information and communication technologies like cell phones, have eased the access to widespread information beyond its former boundaries that were imposed by an authority that censored the information that was disseminated among its people. The ability to gain information easily has led to the decentralization of the monopoly of power and the hegemony of information that empowers citizens into more aggregated and grassroots movements and mass protests. The new media landscape entails exploring a phenomenon in the Arab world and its media, since the Arab mass rebellions are still relatively new and have only recently passed their first anniversary. Even though the collision of the revolution has shifted the peaceful movement into chaos and political conflict, the Arab Spring is an ongoing process, and there could be a way to analyze the Arab mainstream media constructers during the revolutions. Without knowing the roles of the Arab media mainstream and national channel networks during the uprisings, we cannot understand the politics in the Arab Middle East and its political position toward the revolutions.

Arab Media and Political Position

The Arab Spring has accentuated the descents of the Arab uprising and its implications. Yet, a quasi-absent role of the Arab mainstream media coverage has been missing since the new media took most (if not all) of the attention on the roles of social media and communication information technologies during the uprisings. The pivotal function of Arab mainstream media in coalescing popular aspirations must be considered in terms of understanding Arab politics. Nonetheless, there is a somewhat unattended scene on how Arab mainstream media reflects on the political positions of the rebellions and how the contradictions, double standards, and hypocrisy work during the mass revolts. The Arab media have introduced a new theme of Arab politics when state media categorized its enemy, its friend, and its sectarian political dilemma, and became a counterrevolution to one state and a pro-revolution to another state depending on the political interests. Hence, politics in the Arab media are not solely embodied by political power, political regimes, and political authority, but through new landscapes that are changing the socio-political environment of the Arab world. The Arab Spring has introduced a new perception in understanding politics in the Arab world, through the Arab media. When media became a political tongue of the state, its mission was only to reflect the state’s political position toward the Arab revolutions.  Understanding Arab politics and certain Arab countries’ positions is achieved through media ideologies and media tendencies. For instance, Saudi media support the revolution in Syria by claiming the victory of the Free Syrian Army. That supportive position reflects the Saudi political position regarding the revolution in Syria, while that was not the case with regard to the coverage of the Bahraini uprisings. In other words, the state doesn’t need to make any declaration about its opinion or tendency toward an uprising, as the state media are presenting that.

The political position of any Arab state toward the Arab uprisings will be seen and understood through the state’s media, even in a large-scale channel network like Aljazeera. Through the mainstream media, one should understand Arab politics and political reflections toward the rebellions movements. The Arab media coverage of the uprisings reflects the state’s position rather than an integral position and independence from the state. However, this media reflection of state politics is not exceptional in the Arab media. Since the revolution started in Tunisia, Aljazeera, in particular, has played a significant role in determining the political position of the new Tunisia. Even some scholars and other observers have noticed that Aljazeera played significant roles during the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions; its coverage toward Bahraini uprisings, however, was somewhat restrained, as is the case regarding the other Gulf countries, which include Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, and Qatar. That exercise of restraint resulted in biased, imbalanced news that lacked objectivity. Aljazeera, as a leading channel network in the Arab world, played a significant role in covering Tunisian, Egyptian, Libyan, and Yemeni revolutions; this outstanding coverage of the Arab revolutions has shifted in the case of Bahraini revolution. However, this is not only applicable to Aljazeera, as it applied to most media in the region. Aljazeera and other media Gulf outlets, such as Alarabiya, have played the same roles as Aljazeera did toward the uprisings in Bahrain. However, the political ideology of both Saudi Arabia and Qatar has only served to connect the two in the case of Bahrain and Syria, as well as Iran, which was certainly not the case in the past. One intellectual figure has concluded that Aljazeera and Alarabiya’s coverage in Syria is reflective of the political position toward the crisis in Syria, as the state is using its propaganda to establish its political interests and its political ideology. However, before the revolutions, Aljazeera’s political position was with the reluctant states that included Syria and Iran and other resistance organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, but that position changed after the Bahrain uprisings. Yet, the overall visions toward Hamas and Muslim Brotherhoods did not change.

Politically speaking, there could be a mutual agreement between Qatar-Aljazeera and Saudi Arabia-Alarabiya, two prominent channel networks, in the cases of Syria and Bahrain. However, ideologically, Aljazeera was supportive to Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist Egyptian candidates, while Alarabiya continues to support the old regime. During the presidential election in Egypt, for instance, Aljazeera was looking at the Egyptian presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Abul Fettouh as a favorable candidate, then to Mohammad Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhoods candidate. Meanwhile, Alarabiya focused more on Ahmad Shafeeq and Amr Musa. How the networks view these candidates is a reflection of the political ideology that exists within Saudi Arabia and Qatar.


About the Author

Anas Alahmed

Anas Alahmed is a PhD student in journalism school at Indiana University. He teaches Arab media and politics. He is more interested in media politics in the Arab worlds. 
  • Justin

    Cold War ?

    More like Arab invasion !
    The world stands by and many look idle as Syria
    is destroyed, by many other Arabs

  • عبدالرحمن المضحي

    وفقك الله للخير..مقال جيد في مجمله…مع شيء من الطول…أعجبتني فيه ملامسة دور الإعلام الجديد.

  • a free bird

    {Arabs in these movements demand democracy as well as political and economic reforms.}

    Stop your LIES at once. How dare you call the terrorists in Libya and Syria are fighting for ‘democracy’ unless you are one of them? These terrorists are trained by CIA, MI6 and are zionist supporters let by individuals like Redwan Ziadeh,

    http://ikhras.com/2011/10/radwan-ziadeh-calls-for-war-on-syria/

    SFA, who is a petty NED agent receiving his instruction from Clinton. How dare you call these terrorists who are supported by McCain and zionist pro Israel Bernard Henry Levy, like in Libya. How dare you call the terrorist activities in Libya and Syria, liberating movement, where they are trained and armed by CIA paid by the most reactionary Arab head of states responsible for the disastrous sitution of Muslims around the world by cooperating with the west against Muslims.

    Stop your f**king lies at once.
    Ziadeh is a member of Halifax security forum, extension of NATO

    Radwan Ziadeh, the Syrian ‘opposition leader’ among the war criminals and CIA agents pose as ‘human right activists’ or ‘journalists’

    http://halifaxtheforum.org/2012-forum/speakers/

  • CJUS

    Very well written article. This is absolutely true and shows you the power of the media. Just like Fox and MSNBC here, AlArabiya and AlJazeera are trying to outdo each other in propaganda.

    • Mike Thompson

      CJUS, I have to say that I find Al Jazeera is as balanced as the BBC, several Middle Eastern countries have objected to Al Jazeera programs that have delved beyond the headlines.

      I`m surprised you consider it`s output as simple “propaganda” to compare with Fox news, a company that readily admits it`s Zionist stance.

      Can`t comment on MSNBC or Al Arabiya, they are unknown entities to me.

  • Maxwell Ha

    This article is one of the best essay that analyzes the relationship between media and politics in the Middle East. I really appreciate the writer in delivering such an important topic on something that is not very well-covered in the West. I found it fascinating on how media war appeared via media rhetoric and media narrative between Iran and Saudi Arabia which remind me the cold war in the post WWII when U.S tried to propagate communist states in South America. The Shia-Sunni “divide and conquer” policy has similar tendencies on Catholic-Protestants in Ireland and Polanda. The history repeats itself again and again.