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News round-up: The Wadah Khanfar affair 26 June 2007

Posted by foray in al-jazeera, qatar, خنفر.
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Wadah Khanfar – who has been dropped from the al-Jazeera board of directors – remains in the position of ‘Director General of al-Jazeera’. That, at least, is the title the Qatari press continue to give him. Khanfar put in an appearance yesterday on behalf of the channel at a ceremony to underwrite closer cooperation with Qatar University.

Egyptian online daily al-Mesryoon claims there is discontent and confusion among al-Jazeera staff since the new General Manager Ahmad al-Kholeifi has assumed many of the responsibilities previously held by Khanfar. It says the management reshuffle has favoured the US-friendly ‘liberal’ faction at the channel. (Some commentators have identified three competing ideologies within al-Jazeera: the Arabist, Islamic and liberal factions)

Nuri Yalcin cites a former al-Jazeera employee saying: “There will definitely be policy changes: Fewer veiled women employees and fewer Bin Laden tapes, for example.”

The following is an article that appeared in the Jordanian weekly al-Majd from 4 June (The original Arabic article is here) as translated by BBC Monitoring:

Khanfar’s removal from al-Jazeera board of directors preliminary step towards removal as director general

Media quarters in Qatar were surprised by the decision to remove Director General of al-Jazeera network Waddah Khanfar, from its board of directors. Media sources considered this step “illogical,” because Khanfar is the director general of all al-Jazeera satellite television channels, including the Arabic news channel, the international news channel, the documentary channel, the sports channel, and the children’s channel, as well as the aljazeera.net electronic website, its training and research centres, and its international printed newspaper, which is expected to be issued soon.

Khanfar’s removal came into effect in pursuance of an amiri decision that was issued by Heir Apparent Shaykh Tamim Bin-Hamad Al Thani and according to which a new board of directors was announced. There have been some changes in the new board of directors, which now comprises all-Qatari members except for Mahmud Shammam (a Libyan). It was also eye-catching that Ms Maryam Rashid Yusuf al-Khatir became the first woman to join the al-Jazeera board of directors.

Well-informed media sources hold the view that “the removal of Khanfar from the al-Jazeera board of directors was the first step towards removing him from his position as director general of the network.” They said that “his removal came in response to outside US and Palestinian pressure.” They explained that “the Americans and the Palestinians accused Khanfar of empathizing with the Muslim Brotherhood in general and with the Palestinian Hamas Movement in particular.”

The sources noted that “an official close to Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas visited Doha recently and handed Qatari officials a security dossier on Waddah Khanfar.” They said that “an Arab intelligence service delivered to Qatar a similar dossier that proves Khanfar’s association with the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.”

The same sources said that “the amiri decision was issued following a media campaign that Qatari newspapers waged against Khanfar a few months ago.” They added that “Qatari newspapers accused Khanfar of excluding Qataris from key posts in al-Jazeera.”

The sources said that “Qatari Amir Shaykh Hamad Bin-Khalifah Al Thani had long been the umbrella under which Khanfar continued to occupy his post over the past period.”

They added that “however, the Qatari amir has been under constant pressure, which he could no longer tolerate. As a result, he instructed his son, Heir Apparent Shaykh Tamim Bin-Hamad Al Thani, to issue in his absence an amiri decision to form a new board of directors. The duration of term for the new board was amended from one to three years.”

The new board of directors was formed under the chairmanship of Shaykh Hamad Bin-Thamir Al Thani and with the membership of Ahmad Abdallah al-Khulayfi, Hamad Bin-Abd-al-Aziz al-Kawari, Abdallah Mubarak al-Khulayfi, Mahmud Shammam, Abd-al-Aziz Ibrahim Al Mahmud, and Maryam Rashid Yusuf al-Khatir. It is worth noting that Abd-al-Aziz Al Mahmud, whom Waddah Khanfar had previously removed from his post as al-Jazeera.net (al-Jazeera website) chief editor, was appointed as a member of the new board of directors.

The sources said that they “have noticed some changes in al-Jazeera news coverage. This was clearly manifest in its coverage of the recent clashes between Fatah and Hamas.” They said that “Al-Jazeera was relatively biased towards Fatah. It hosted persons who belong to Fatah or who are considered Fatah proteges and gave them the opportunity to criticize Hamas.” They added that “it was also noticed that al-Jazeera has absented a number of Hamas leaders, such as former Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmud al-Zahhar, member of the Hamas Political Bureau Muhammad Nazzal, and Hamas spokesperson in Gaza Sami Abu-Zuhri.” The sources attributed the absence of these names to “their hardline criticism of a number of Fatah leaders.”

British rebel MP George Galloway also alluded to the events at al-Jazeera in a Guardian opinion piece, saying:

“A recent reshuffle has brought outspokenly pro-US directors on to the board, including a former Qatari ambassador to Washington…  but these moves have already backfired and caused huge controversy not only in Qatar but throughout the Middle East, and there is every chance that what is in effect an attempted coup at the station will be reversed”.

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