TEL AVIV – In an apparent bid to distance itself from the Muslim Brotherhood and appease its powerful neighbors, Qatar on Monday announced plans for a new television station to serve as a counterweight to its homegrown powerhouse Al Jazeera.
Funded by Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani (pictured), the ambitious, globally minded young Emir of Qatar, the new station will be called Al Araby and will be broadcast in Arabic from a base in London. Palestinian Azmi Bashara, who served as an Israeli parliament member before fleeing his home country in 2007 under accusations of treason and aiding an enemy state during warfare, has been tapped as director.
The plan had been for Al Araby to bow this past January but the launch date has been delayed more than once, according to a report in the National.
Doha-based Al Jazeera was launched from the tiny, oil-drenched nation of Qatar in 1996 with the help of Al-Thani’s father, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and has since grown into a multilanguage media conglomerate with a presence in more than 100 countries.
During the 2011 street revolution in Egypt, however, the station was widely considered to be sympathetic to the uprising. Egypt, where the tides have swiftly turned against the once-triumphant Muslim Brotherhood, continues to hold three Al Jazeera journalists in detention on what most view as trumped-up charges of endangering national security.
The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia both consider the Muslim Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization, and Qatar, which has made no secret of its desire to become a powerful player in Gulf diplomacy, has found itself in several diplomatic spats with its neighbors over its handling of the Egyptian Islamist group. Al Araby, insiders say, is meant to soothe those concerns and continue Qatar’s initiatives of soft diplomacy.
Bishara, who, according to media reports, is cozy with Sheikh Al Thani and serves as director of Doha’s Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, is an open opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood. According to Israeli media reports, since fleeing the country, he has received Qatari citizenship.