There is an information blackout in the United States concerning the recent events in the Arab world. This is not for lack of coverage, but for the poor quality. We can see this by comparing Al Jezeera’s and the New York Times coverage of the Egyptian, Bahrainian and Syrian revolutions (among others). Thousands of people are calling for freedom and American press continuously publishes horror stories of the rise of Muslim extremism and of how democratic revolution in the Arab world can only lead to the rise of the most extreme in the region. Months after millions of Egyptians stood as one in opposition to Mubarak’s characterization of Egypt as having only two choices: extremism or dictatorship, the American press is still trapped by the same misconception.
Mubarak’s warning of extremism has been used by other dictators as they cling to power and has been perpetually echoed in the American press. Although far from perfect, Al Jezeera has provided a clear alternative to this paradigm. While other outlets seem distracted by pro-Israel and pro-US agendas, and thus highly cynical of the moderate Arab majority, AJE stands in contrast as having a simple agenda of anti-dictator and pro-popular will. Some will say that the coverage has been exaggerated with a clear desire for further unrest. These opinions need to be heard, and in some cases may be accurate, however its clear that AJE provides a valuable voice in the coverage – and one that needs to be heard. Mainstream exposure to AJE through major cable and satellite networks carrying the channel would be the best step.
The absence of AJE from most Americans’ Middle East reading list is one clear reason why slanted coverage is being mistaken by the public as the reality on the ground in the Arab world. A strong contrast in coverage will only add to the depth of popular understanding of the Middle East in the United States. The Times, and the Washington post- two of the more liberal American outlets- have only mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood’s intention not to field a presidential candidate as a way of casting doubt, or raising fear about the group. Likewise, Hamas and Fatah’s statements of unity are avoided, or chosen selectively to make the point that any deal can only be bad for Israel and empower terrorists. This is not true. It’s not that simple, and while that particular perspective may be valuable, it is not the only one, and regional scholars writing for AJE have often expressed academic analyses in a more nuanced fashion.
The Arab world is complicated. It demands coverage by real regional experts, not “international correspondents” who’s travel experience is presented as credentials for understanding events that are truly unique to each Arab country. The introduction of AJE to American mainstream media will force American outlets to adapt and improve coverage. The Washington Post, The New York Times, and other outlets are brought into the classroom by teachers nationwide and through the classroom, the living room. Al Jezeera should be as well. The ripple effects will be a more educated American public, a better-informed electorate, and a more accountable American foreign policy.
Joyce is a student at Princeton University