As the world watched Egyptians throng Tahrir Square to call for the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak's regime, they turned their TVs to the Qatar-owned Al Jazeera. And Wadah Khanfar, the channel's top executive for eight years before he stepped down this past September, is the one responsible for transforming the pan-Arab satellite network into the most influential media source in the Middle East and a revolutionary inspiration in its own right, giving voice to the long-suppressed aspirations of a new generation of Arab citizens.
Whether the United States, Iran, or pre-revolutionary Egypt, Al Jazeera's coverage has long been a target of unhappy governments. In 2004, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld excoriated the channel's coverage of the Iraq war as "vicious, inaccurate, and inexcusable," and Mubarak's goons attacked the station's Cairo bureau and arrested its reporters during the height of this year's uprising. But Khanfar brought the network into its own during this year of Arab revolt, providing granular detail and a level of cultural understanding that was simply unmatched by its competitors and getting millions of viewers around the world addicted to its online live feeds from Tahrir Square. During the height of the Arab Spring, Al Jazeera witnessed a whopping 2,000 percent increase in visits to its English-language website, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the network for delivering "real news" from the region.
Khanfar's allies have bedeviled him as much as his enemies: Qatar's ownership of the network led to persistent questions of objectivity, and diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks that showed him altering Al Jazeera's coverage under U.S. pressure may have hastened his departure. Nevertheless, Khanfar's decision to focus on the stories of Arab citizens, and not their brutal, venal rulers, has been vindicated. As he put it, "It is the growing periphery of the Arab world -- the masses at its margins, not its feeble and decaying center -- that is shaping the future of the region."
Muse: The youth.
Stimulus or austerity? A bit of both. Austerity should focus on defense and foreign interventions, and stimulus to create jobs.
America or China? America.
Arab Spring or Arab Winter? Arab Awakening.
Reading list: A Peace to End All Peace, by David Fromkin; Secret Channels, by Mohamed Heikal; Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future, by Stephen Kinzer.
Best idea: Trust the choice of people in defining their destiny.
Worst idea: Becoming subservient to the centers of power.