Office raids, expulsions, popular anger, staff resignations, verbal abuse, and the loss of a friendly government in Cairo. It's easy to see why this wasn't Al Jazeera's week.
On July 3, hours after the military putsch that ousted Mohamed Morsy's government from power in Egypt following days of protests, attention turned to the Muslim Brotherhood's media enablers. Egyptian security forces raided Al Jazeera's office in Cairo -- along with those of other Islamist-leaning channels -- detained several staff members, and took the channels off the air. Three days later, another raid was reported by Al Jazeera.
A number of Egyptian expatriates have since petitioned the military-appointed interim president, Adly Mansour, to cancel Al Jazeera's license and block it from broadcasting on the Egyptian-owned satellite operator Nilesat. Cairo's prosecutor general also issued an arrest warrant for Al Jazeera's Cairo bureau chief, Abdel Fattah Fayed, (the same reporter who was expelled by fellow journalists from an Interior Ministry news conference on July 6) over charges of threatening national security and public order by airing inflammatory news. Fayed was released on bail the next day -- not that you'd know any of this from reading the Egyptian press syndicate, which chose to remain silent over the assaults on Al Jazeera's staff and offices.
But let's back up to what prompted Egypt's wholesale rebuke of the network that rose to global prominence covering the Arab revolts of 2011. As Arabs rose against their governments in those heady, hopeful days, Al Jazeera provided nonstop coverage -- often against the will of dictators -- of the unfolding revolutions. But once the dust settled, the network was accused of taking the side of Islamists. "Many of the editors and anchors in Al Jazeera Arabic are de facto Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers," said Fadi Salem, a Dubai-based researcher specializing in Arab media. "This has been reflected in the channel's pro-Islamist coverage over the past two years, relying heavily on a combination of incitement, bloody scenes, and Islamic preachers and media commentators."
Al Jazeera's slow descent began with the advent of the Syrian civil war, when it blatantly abandoned journalistic standards in favor of a specific narrative. Since then, I have recorded various instances of Al Jazeera's biased coverage, some of which have veered into the comical -- like when live reporters in man-on-the-street interviews hastily snatch their microphones back from Egyptians who dare to criticize Morsy or praise Mubarak on camera.
Qatar, Al Jazeera's home country and financial patron, gave billions of dollars in aid to Morsy's government in the past year and has been accused of supporting regional Islamist movements, much to the chagrin of neighboring Arab states. At the height of the Egyptian uprising against the Brotherhood on June 30, Al Jazeera disregarded the protests and instead aired an interview with a Syrian dissident -- as well as soccer training updates. Al Jazeera's live Egypt service, a 24/7 news affiliate of the Qatari media giant, did cover the protests, but it isn't as widely available in the region. Al Jazeera's live Egypt service, moreover, is equally biased in favor of the Brotherhood -- so much so that Brotherhood spokesman Gehad El-Haddad directed his followers on Twitter to tune in following the fatal shooting of 51 Morsy supporters by the army on Monday, July 8.
Al Jazeera's bias is often subtle, as when its Cairo bureau chief announced on Morsy's second day in office that the Rafah border crossing with Gaza has been turned "upside down" -- a considerable overstatement. At other times it can be glaring, like in June 2012, when it aired a report claiming that Morsy deserved a military salute simply because his wife asked to be called "Um Ahmed" instead of the first lady. This week, it didn't win any sympathy from non-Brotherhood Egyptians with a controversial report headlined "US bankrolled anti-Morsi activists," which declined to mention that many of the civil society organizations it cited received funds even during Hosni Mubarak's era.
To Al Jazeera's twisted coverage of events, Egyptians reacted with rage. On July 8, leaflets featuring a hand dripping with blood were dropped outside the network's Cairo office. They read: "The makers of the news" and "Sedition and the Other Sedition," a play on Al Jazeera's motto, "The Opinion and the Other Opinion." Foreign Policy reported that another leaflet was distributed near Al Jazeera's offices, reading "A bullet may kill a man, but a lying camera kills a nation."
Even journalists showed their frustration. At a news conference held by spokesmen for Egypt's Interior Ministry, also on July 8, Egyptian journalists were heard chanting "Barra! Barra!" or "Out! Out!" at Al Jazeera's bureau chief. The journalists accused the network of broadcasting images from the Syrian civil war, alleging they had taken place in Egypt. Ironically, the Interior Ministry spokesman pleaded with everyone to calm down. "We are in Egypt, the land of freedom of democracy," he said.