Qatar’s Source of Arab Springs

CAMBRIDGE – There’s a joke making the rounds in the Middle East these days: three of Egypt’s former presidents, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar el-Sadat, and Hosni Mubarak, meet in hell and ask each other how they fell. Nasser replies “poison”; Sadat says “assassination”; and Mubarak answers “Al Jazeera.”

During the 15 years that it has broadcast from Qatar, Al Jazeera has served as far more than a traditional television station. With its fearless involvement in Arab politics, it has created a new venue for political freedom, which has culminated in its unreserved support for Arab revolutions.

Al Jazeera has pushed the boundaries of information by providing live coverage of major developments in the Arab world and elsewhere. It is a platform for political and religious opposition groups in the Arab countries. It hosts Israeli spokespersons and embraces state-of-the-art broadcasting techniques. In short, it has become a global brand and a role model for other Arab media.

Success breeds confidence, but it also attracts envy. Al Jazeera has no shortage of enemies, from the most radical Islamic fundamentalists to American and Israeli intelligence gatherers. And, between these two extremes, there is fierce debate over whether Al Jazeera is friend or foe.