The Role of the Media in Arab Spring: A Case Study of Al-Jazeera

Introduction

Various scholars define the term media variously, depending on their professional and personal orientation. Many of them, however, agree that media refers to a variety of information channels available in the society. In our society today, the media plays an important role in enlightening people on issues that influence their life, as well as those issues surrounding them. Conventionally, the media gathers information, which is then passed on to the audience via different channels. The various channels used in passing the information include, among others, newspapers, television, and magazines. Depending on the form of media that is used, the information is passed to a large number of people within a relatively short period of time.

Another major role played by the media involves addressing the various social issues affecting members of the society. In the past, the media was seen as a platform through which people could spread their ideologies and beliefs to other members of the society (Dabashi, 2012).

It is through the media that such issues as the need for gender equality and human rights are voiced and made public. The media is also used as a tool for influencing opinion among members of the public. To this end, the coverage of issues by the media enlightens many people on the state of affairs in other parts of the world. The people can voice their opinion regarding what is happening in other parts of the world.

The media is also an important tool when it comes to enhancing accountability in the society. As a result of increased media independence in contemporary society, almost all matters and events are subject to media scrutiny. As a result, community leaders are kept in check and their activities monitored. The aim of such monitoring is to ensure that things are done in the rightF manner. Leaders, on their part, can take advantage of the media to communicate their policies to the people. It is for this reason that media becomes an important aspect during elections in a democratic country. The leaders use the media to pass the message to their constituents. As a result of wide media coverage, information is passed over long geographical distances and to a large number of people.

The media played a significant role in the recent uprising in the Arab world. For example, it is believed that the demonstrations in Egypt were organized using messages passed over such online social platforms as Facebook and Twitter. In this paper I seek to show the role of Al-Jazeera in the recent revolutions in the Arab world. The revolutions are famously and controversially referred to as the Arab Spring. The paper will especially focus on the role that Al-Jazeera played in the uprisings that were witnessed in Egypt. Furthermore, the paper seeks to analyze the events leading to the ouster of long- serving Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak. The consequences of these uprisings in the country will also be addressed.

Thesis Statement

The role of the media in any given society cannot be fully comprehended.

The Role of Al-Jazeera in the Ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt

Al-Jazeera is a Qatar based satellite television channel. The channel succeeded the BBC Arabic Television (herein referred to as BBCATV). BBCATV was an experimental channel that was set up to update the world on the events that were taking place in the erstwhile ‘unexplored’ Arab world (Seib, 2005). Before the launch of the channel, the events taking place in the Arab world remained largely unknown to the rest of the world. The channel gained international recognition back in the year 2001 after it carried a story depicting the attack orchestrated by the United States of America attack against Muammar Qaddafi.

From that time, the channel has remained on the forefront, covering stories from all parts of the world, with special focus given to events taking place in the Arab world. The channel has also been on the forefront in informing the world on the progress made during the revolutions that were dubbed the Arab spring. The media house covered the events that saw the exit of President Hosni Mubarak from Egyptian political world.

The revolution of the Arab Spring in Egypt is what commonly came to be popularly known as the Egyptian Revolution. The revolution started at the beginning of the year 2011 and was spread all over the country especially in the urban areas and most notably in the capital Cairo. At the start, the revolution was generally characterized by civil disobedience, resistance, as well as, a spate of labor strikes all over the country (Zayani, 2005). Though the revolution was greatly inspired by the Tunisian revolution, a couple of legal and political issues fueled the protests in Egypt. The revolution having attained international recognitions, tens of media channels offered coverage to the proceedings in the country. One of the most vocal of the channels was the Al-Jazeera satellite channel.

A number of factors inspired the Egyptian Revolution. Key among the major reasons for the revolution was oppressive policies by the government. Prior to the revolution, the country was operating under Emergency Law for over thirty years (Lynch, 2012).

Under the law, non-governmental political activities, such as demonstrations and picketing, were banned. Even before the start of the revolution, the Al-Jazeera channel often highlighted the oppression of the Egyptian people by the Hosni Mubarak’s leadership. The police were used by the government as a tool to suppress any political revolutions in the country that saw the arrest and subsequent imprisonment of thousands of activists across the country without trial. Al-Jazeera’s coverage of police brutality across the country fueled the protests in the country. Economic challenges across the country often as a result of corrupt government officials also angered the Egyptian people and were also a major cause of the revolution.

Corrupt elections, as well as, the manipulation of election results were also a major cause of the Egyptian revolution. Until the year 2005, Hosni Mubarak was the only candidate running for the presidency (Seib, 2005). The Al-Jazeera channel coverage of a story behind the arrest and imprisonment of Ayman Nour, a presidential candidate just before the 2005 general elections saw people from all over the world condemn Hosni Mubarak’s style of leadership. To protect the government from criticism from the international community, Hosni Mubarak’s administration started censoring what was to be communicated over the media, as well as bloggers.

This was contrary to the freedom of speech that had been provided for in the Egyptian constitution. During the revolution, the government suspended media activities so as to curb the spread of revolutionary ideas. The Al-Jazeera channel was not spared either with the government ordering the close of its offices and further arresting six of the channels journalists. The Channels equipment was also seized thus disrupting coverage.

The Consequences of the Egyptian Revolution

The Egyptian revolution saw the deliverance of the people of Egypt from the oppressive leadership of Hosni Mubarak. The ouster of President Mubarak from power necessitated fresh elections to replace the just over thrown government. Al-Jazeera as a channel was in the forefront monitoring the progress in Egypt as well as to oversee the creation of a democratic system of governance. Having a large audience from across the world, coverage of live events From Egypt ensured accountability by the new government (Dabashi, 2012). Steps were also taken against key leaders in the previous regime thus discouraging leaders from engaging in such acts of bad leadership in future. Mohamed Morsi was elected as the new president of Egypt.

Thought the success of the Egyptian revolution has brought hope that the country’s economy will soon recover from the effects of corruption practiced by Hosni Mubarak’s leadership, the revolution impacted negatively on the county’s economy (Korotayev & Zinkina, 2011).

Property of an unknown worth was destroyed during the violent encounters of the demonstrators with the security forces. The closure of businesses during the revolution also saw the government and members of the public lose billions as a result of trade disruptions (Bradley, 2008). Scores of reproductive people were also killed and other injured. Al-Jazeera was not spared either with its equipment being seized or destroyed by the government during the protests. The revolution however increased Al-Jazeera’s popularity and has contributed to the channels growth (Beinin & Vairel, 2011).

After months of demonstrations and civil disobedience against Hosni Mubarak’s, leadership, the war against the oppressive regime was won by the Egyptian people. The victory to the Egyptian people however came at a price with over 846 people being killed as the protestors crashed with law enforcers. Reports show that over six thousands Egyptians also attained serious injuries during the protests with others having acquired disabilities. Footages from media houses particularly the Al-Jazeera showed security personnel use excessive force in a bid to stop protestors from carrying out their activist activities (Korotayev & Zinkina, 2011).

The security agencies went to the extremes of using life bullets to disperse protestors. The revolution was a source of misery to many families and the society at large since a large number of people were killed or injured during the violence (Bradley, 2008). Al-Jazeera journalists also had a share of the violence with many of them being caught up in the violence as well as facing arrests.

Conclusion

The role of media in the society cannot be overlooked. Besides being a communication tool, the media also plays an important role in influencing opinion among people. The coverage of the Egyptian story by the media enlightened the world on the proceedings in Egypt concerning the Egyptian revolution. After the Revolution, calm and peace slowly returned in the country. Citizens however had to pay the price for their freedom through a lot of sacrifice. Many of them were killed and scores injured during the protests. The country’s economy at the time was also greatly severed. After months of the revolution, peace and calm prevailed and the Egyptians are striving to rebuild their country.

References

Beinin, J., & Vairel, F. (2011). Social movements, mobilization, and contestation in the Middle East and North Africa. Stanford, USA: Stanford University Press.

Bradley, J. (2008). Inside Egypt: The land of the Pharaohs on the brink of a revolution. New York, USA: Palgrave Macmillan.

Dabashi, H. (2012). The Arab Spring: The end of postcolonialism. New York, USA: Palgrave Macmillan.

Korotayev, A., & Zinkina, J. (2011). Egyptian revolution: A demographic structural analysis. Revista Interdisciplinar, 13(1), 139–165.

Lynch, M. (2012). The Arab uprising: The unfinished revolutions of the new Middle East. New York, USA: Public Affairs.

Seib, P. (2005). Hegemonic no more: Western media, the rise of Al-Jazeera, and the influence of diverse voices. International Studies Review, 7(1), 601–615.

Zayani, M. (2005). The Al-Jazeera phenomenon: Critical perspectives on new Arab Media. Doha, Qatar: Paradigm Publishers.