UAE journalists in Qatar pressured to quit


The row between Qatar and its Arabian Gulf neighbors over its support for the Muslim Brotherhood has spilled over into the media sector.

At least eight journalists from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia were recently forced to resign their posts working for media outlets in Qatar.

The resignations follow the decision by Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to withdraw their ambassadors from Qatar. They complained that the Gulf nation was interfering with their internal affairs. Qatar had gained notoriety for its Al-Jazeera coverage of the Arab Spring as well as support for controversial Egyptian cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

The three Gulf Cooperation Council states had tried to get Qatar to “withdraw its support for the Muslim Brotherhood and stop being a launching pad for dissidents and activists not only in the wider Arab region but also in the Gulf itself.” The three nations apparently pulled their envoys after those efforts proved fruitless.

The media resignations began on March 8 when two Emirati sports journalists—Fares Awad and Ali Al Kaabi—announced on Twitter they were quitting their analyst jobs at Al Jazeera’s sports channel. Then Emirati football analyst Sultan Rashed said he would stop working with Qatar-based BeIn Sports and commentator Hassan Al Jassmi announced he would no longer appear on BeIn or Alkass, another sports channel headquartered in Qatar. BeIn broadcasts football matches from the English Premier League and the Spanish La Liga across the Middle East to millions of fans.

In Twitter posts, Awad and Al Kaabi did not indicate whether they were ordered to quit. However, a Saudi columnist, Samar al-Mogren, who wrote for the Qatari daily newspaper Al-Arab, tweeted on March 9 that the “Saudi ministry of culture and information has decided to end the collaboration of Saudi writers with Qatari newspapers.”

Al-Mogren named three other Saudi writers who would no longer be working for Qatar newspapers.

As with all news from the region, the news was not entirely clear since the governments made no formal announcement. The editor-in-chief of Al-Arab told Al-Jazeera that some Saudi columnists had not resigned.

The editor-in-chief said that another Emirati columnist had quit more than a month ago after “pressures from his government to stop writing for a Qatari newspaper.”

It appears clear that the governments of the UAE and Saudi Arabia orchestrated the media resignations.

In addition to the resignations, Saudi authorities will reportedly shut down the Riyadh office of Al Jazeera. The Arabic newspaper Al Hayat also reported that the UAE had requested Emirati officials stop traveling to Qatar.

The media resignations point to the increased tension between Qatar and its Gulf neighbors. Saudi and the UAE in particular are worried about the impact of the Muslim Brotherhood on their countries. The two countries have pledged billions of Euros of aid to the Egyptian military government that removed the Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt, Mohammad Morsi, from office in July. Saudi Arabia declared on March 8 that the Muslim Brotherhood was a terrorist organization.

According to one report, Saudi Arabia threatened to block Qatar’s land and sea borders if the government didn’t take steps to rein in the Muslim Brotherhood, shut down Al Jazeera and kick two US-based think tanks out of the country.

Qatar was reportedly not taking the sea blockade threat seriously, but the land border—through which a large number of food and goods flow—could potentially be closed easily.

The demand to shut down Al Jazeera is quite audacious. The channel has millions of viewers across the Middle East and the world. Al Jazeera English commands respect as a vehicle of responsible journalism, even once receiving praise from then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Its Arabic news channel has been accused of bias in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood and siding with protesters and calls for reform in Arab countries.

Saudi Arabia touts its own news outlet. The Saudi-owned, Dubai-based Al Arabiyya enjoys popularity throughout the Middle East as well. The channel’s reporting tends to take a friendly view of Saudi Arabia policies and rarely reports on internal strife, such as occasional protests in eastern part of the country.

Qatar’s cabinet voiced “regret and surprise” at the decision to withdraw ambassadors from Doha. But the government vowed to not withdraw their own envoys as a response and insisted that it remained committed to “security and stability” of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The GCC consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.