Issandr El-Amrani compares and contrasts the different Arabic media coverage of Egyptian President Husni Mubarak’s announcement that he will run for another term:
Al Jazeera did not seem to have a correspondent on the scene but ran footage on a split screen, with commentators reacting. The studio anchor interviewed three people (at least that I saw) in succession. Magdi Hussein, the editor of the banned Islamist newspaper Al Shaab, ranted and wailed until he had to be cut off. He was followed by George Ishaq, a Kifaya leader, who made some very matter-of-fact commentary on the election being a farce, and finally Abdallah Senawi, the editor of the Nasserist weekly Al Arabi. All of these are well-known anti-Mubarak activists. I don’t remember seeing anyone giving the party line, but perhaps I missed it. In other words, the coverage was extremely hostile to Mubarak and makes me doubt these rumors of a deal between Al Jazeera and the government that have been floating around.
Next I tuned in to Al Arabiya. They had a correspondent on site covering the speech, and after interviewed NDP bigwig Mustafa Al Fiqi, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee in parliament. Although he was never going to be critical, the questions seemed pretty balanced. Still, no Mubarak critics and what you would expect from a generally pro-Egypt channel.
And finally I turned to Al Hurra. Whereas the other channels had switched to live coverage of the event — which I think was important enough to warrant it, whether coverage is positive or critical — Al Hurra was showing a documentary about Irish cooking and Guiness.
Okay, so let’s recap: Al-Jazeera is the channel U.S. officials love to hate, the media outlet accused by conservatives of hopping into bed with Islamic terroism; al-Arabiya is the upstart rival with connections to the Saudi royal family, and a channel that supposedly offers the more sympathetic, pro-Bush point of view that pleases the White House (after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, Bush agreed to go on al-Arabiya but refused to appear on al-Jazeera). Finally, al-Hurra is directly sponsored by and based in the United States. Yet somehow only “Jihad TV” manages to offer a platform for active dissent against an aging despot who has all but fixed the elections in his own country. Hmm…