C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 CAIRO 001351
NEA FOR A/S WELCH, PDAS CHENEY, DAS CARPENTER NEA FOR ELA NSC FOR DNSA ABRAMS TUNIS FOR MEPI (MULREAN)
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/06/2016 TAGS: PGOV KDEM EG SUBJECT: NEXT STEPS FOR ADVANCING DEMOCRACY IN EGYPT
Classified by Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone for reasons
1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (C) Summary and Introduction: Sometime in the next six years, Egypt will undergo a leadership succession. The United States’ goals for this succession should be to promote an opening to establish a representative government that will secure Egyptian stability, prosperity, and friendship for a generation. There is scant movement in that direction now. Whether or not 77-year old Hosni Mubarak survives his six-year term, his regime is ossifying and increasingly out of touch. His enlightened economic cabinet has a negligible political base and gets little credit outside of elite circles. The National Democratic Party’s popularity is in decline. The military still expects to inherit the Presidency. But the Muslim Brotherhood’s confidence is growing.
2. (C) Egyptians want reform, or at least an end to stagnation. The disagreements arise over breadth and speed.
Egyptians care more deeply about reforms that will improve their living standards–and they are growing less patient.
But the GOE insists on its own pace: moderately slow for economic reforms, glacial for political opening. With no elections for the next fifteen months, the high visibility focus of our democracy strategy needs replacement. President Mubarak’s proposed reform program, as stated in his campaign promises and subsequent speeches, although modest, provides the starting point for USG engagement. In addition, we should:
–Urge the regime to broaden its agenda to include electoral, media, police, and anti-corruption reform–and at least begin planting the seeds of transformation within the military.
–Continue to help the legal political parties through IRI and NDI, with a focus on the ruling NDP.
–Continue USG support through USAID and MEPI to Egyptian civil society, including advocacy for structural reforms through key legislation and technical assistance.
–Ensure the political success of the economic reform program and review our military assistance program with a focus on IMET.
–Broaden our diplomatic strategy to build support for the democracy agenda among regime elites, including the First Lady. End introduction and summary.
3. (C) Proposed next steps are based on the following assumptions:
–Mubarak remains our indispensable regional ally but will move too slowly on the reform agenda. Reforms not blessed by Mubarak will not be achievable during the remainder of his rule.
–The NDP will remain the dominant political party in Egypt with control over the parliament through 2011. The party leaders themselves recognize that its “popularity” is based almost entirely on patronage and control of the security apparatus; internal reforms are needed, but breaking with old habits and entrenched interests will be slow and difficult.
–The Muslim Brotherhood’s appeal will grow as long as it continues to fill the void in public services left by government, and the void in political space left by the absence of any other meaningful opposition.
–The Brotherhood’s parliamentary election success–which confirmed both its organizational skills and popular appeal–has entrenched GOE resistance to electoral reform.
–Civil Society elites will remain engaged in reform discussions but without influence or capacity to effect meaningful systemic change before Mubarak leaves office.
–The economic cabinet will remain in place but will be reluctant to tackle aggressively painful steps, such as rationalizing subsidies. Economic reform has not yet benefitted the Egyptian “street.”
–The Emergency Law will be extended in May 2006 for twenty-four months; the parliament will continue to work on a replacement anti-terror law ostensibly modeled on western statutes that will stress state security requirements rather than the protection of individual liberties.
–The security apparatus will resist change on the grounds that it is de-stabilizing. The military will be a drag on reform but will not actively engage unless its economic equities are threatened or it perceives a serious threat to stability.
4. (C) Extend ESF-funded technical assistance to GOE ministries and the parliament to sustain and, if possible, to accelerate and expand the Mubarak political reform program.
Stated GOE goals include the following:
– Replace emergency law with anti-terror legislation, modeled on western anti-terror statutes.
– Seek Parliamentary input on constitutional reform.
– New judicial authority law.
– Amending the press law, including eliminating the imprisonment penalty for defamation (to protect journalists).
– New law amending criminal procedures, including provisional detention.
– New law aimed at supporting decentralization and strengthening elected local councils’ supervisory roles.
We currently have no direct cooperation with the Parliament. Previous support has foundered on Egyptian efforts to use assistance as patronage. Assistance should be low-key; emphasis should be on the technical. We can provide much information assistance through normal mission resources, at minimal cost, outside of USAID programs. We should also ensure coordination between technical assistance and pilot programs already underway in the field. For example, efforts on decentralization legislation should benefit from USAID’s existing work with governorate-level councils. We can use normal advocacy measures to support reformers pressing for higher-end reforms than Mubarak now seems to envision, e.g., supporting Governors who advocate constitutional change to permit local election of Governors.
5. (C) Pressing the GOE to expand its reform agenda to include major electoral, media, and police reform, and anti-corruption:
–On elections, we favor establishment of an independent electoral commission, based on the Iraqi model. Given GOE ambivalence, we should use speakers programs, IVs and other indirect messaging to promote this idea, until it is adopted as “Egyptian.” IFES also proposes an ambitious civil society focused project to build domestic support for electoral reform.
–USAID has already embarked on a $16 million program to support private media and encourage media privatization. This effort was dealt a setback when Mubarak himself told journalists on March 1 that state-owned newspapers would not be privatized. Nonetheless we should engage the cabinet and the parliamentary leaders on public sector media reform, even as we find ways to support private media.
–On police reform, DS and S/CT have presented a proposal for counter-terrorism training that would expand our in-country cooperation. Post has also solicited an INL proposal for a Strategic Leadership Course for senior police commanders aimed at promoting community policing, regard for human rights and developing a more professional police corps. Deployment of in-country police and Justice attaches could promote new levels of law enforcement cooperation. The Ministry of Interior and perhaps the Presidency are opposed to what they regard as a covert intelligence effort, but Mrs. Mubarak has pressed MOI to accept more U.S. “transformational police training.” We should continue to seek an arrangement that will address their concerns.
–The GOE needs to pursue a meaningful anti-corruption program if it wishes to take this cudgel away from the MB. We can provide technical assistance and public affairs programming. Global metrics are readily available.
6. (C) Technical support to legal political parties through IRI and NDI: Having assessed the elections, the institutes now recognize what the parties need. The NDP will likely not participate with other parties in the room, so it may be necessary to develop separate tracks in the program for the ruling party and the opposition. Even with the NDP on board, we can expect blowback by anti-reform elements. The institutes should keep their programs low-key and the USG apprised. Their programs should incorporate the full range of Egypt’s civil rights priorities, such as bringing more women and Christians into the political process. The 2007 Shura elections and the 2008 local council elections–and the development of the legislation promised to reform the later–will be the key medium-term tests. In addition to continued support for international implementers like NDI and IRI, we should also proceed with supporting additional engagement on Egypt by additional international NGOs such as Transparency International, Freedom House, and the American Bar Association.
7. (C) Continue USAID’s and MEPI’s work with civil society organizations: The Ibn Khaldun Center and others produced impressive results on domestic monitoring during the parliamentary elections and merit continued support. With no elections for fifteen months, these groups need a new focus.
The next phase should bring civil society into a process for identifying new priorities and concerted action. This must be an Egyptian process, but we should advocate our priorities, such as human rights, religious freedom, women’s and children’s rights (including female education), and involvement by the citizenry in local education policy.
USAID’s new Family Justice Program will engage NGOs to raise public awareness about the legal rights of women and children, as well as the legal services available to these disadvantaged groups. These efforts will also face reactionary criticism of “bribery” and “meddling.”
8. (C) Recognize that economic reforms complement democratic reform: We should revitalize the Free Trade Agreement and move forward with notification to Congress at the earliest possible political opening. Failing that, we should develop new programs to maximize the benefits of the QIZs. The biggest challenge facing Egyptian manufacturers in the QIZ program is finding Israeli content. Expanding outlets for Israeli content would create Egyptian jobs and exports. USAID could usefully study how to optimize the QIZ benefit. USAID should also continue work with the Egyptian economic cabinet on tackling subsidies in a politically sensitive manner. The current initiative to shift USAID economic support to “sectoral reform programs” linked to several benchmarks, including democratization, can play a key role.
9. (C) Initiate an internal long-range review of U.S. military assistance: This issue requires much further discussion but we need to define the linkages between our military assistance program and Egypt’s progress towards representative government. At a minimum, this review should expand IMET programs–the most purposefully “transformative” form of U.S. military assistance–to bring more Egyptian officers for training in the United States.
10. (C) In addition to programmatic steps, we need a fresh approach with Mubarak. He resents and ridicules the U.S. reform agenda. We should aim at influencing the narrow group of individuals that surround him. These are: EGIS Chief Omar Soliman, Presidential Chief of Staff Zakariya Azmi, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, and Gamal and Suzanne Mubarak.
(The older Mubarak son Alaa has apparently renounced politics.) Of these key players, the person with whom we have the least contact is Suzanne Mubarak. In her meetings with the Ambassador, the Egyptian First Lady has expressed concern over Egypt’s standing abroad and acknowledged the importance of, for example, police reform. It was Mrs. Mubarak that persuaded the Ministry of Interior to change course and allow UNHCR to have access to Sudanese asylum-seekers detained after the December 30 tragedy. More than an advisor, she is a shrewd political player in her own right, and is able to promote a range of programs, most recently to combat trafficking in persons. Mrs. Mubarak will not take on the nuts and bolts of reform, but she could strengthen the political reform wing of the leadership. The one-year anniversary of the FLOTUS visit to Egypt will be in May. It would be gracious and possibly productive to invite Mrs. Mubarak to the White House for a return visit.
Whither the Ikhwan?
11. (C) The Brotherhood remains a major challenge. In many ways, it is Egypt’s essential civil society, having been working in the fields of social welfare and citizen mobilization since its founding in 1928. Its impressive political mobilization skills, demonstrated in its success rate in the 2005 parliamentary elections (88 seats won out of 150 contested), put the NDP and the other opposition to shame. We cannot engage directly with the Brotherhood, but we must urge the GOE to find a formula that can co-opt, win over, or otherwise effectively thwart the direct threat of the Brotherhood. We have been trying to persuade influential Egyptians that the GOE/NDP tactics toward the MB (stop/start repression) is failing, and that they should confront the MB’s ideology head-on, with direct debate by articulate secularists. The GOE also could press the MB by posing a number of key wedge issues (QIZs, regional peace, women’s rights, religious minorities, FTA, etc.) as a price for legalization. Another (possibly tandem) tack would be to consider a Track II approach that would send ex-USG officials to meetings with the MB leadership in neutral places to gauge the depth of the MB’s commitment to democratic reform.
12. (C) In all likelihood, it will not be possible to make great progress on democratic reform as long as President Mubarak remains in office. Nonetheless, his firm rule offers space and time to prepare civil society and some institutions of the GOE for the day of his departure. These proposals have the advantage of establishing a stronger framework for cooperation on political action and reform across the political spectrum for the years ahead, and positioning us to create and take advantage of any opportunities. We do not have a silver bullet, but we can press reforms that will lead, inexorably, to the “death by 1000 cuts” of Egypt’s authoritarian system. There will be no “Orange Revolution on the Nile” on Mubarak’s watch, but we must aim to consolidate each modest democratic advance. A steady, incremental approach will continue to stretch Egypt toward a democratic future.
DE RUEHEG #3423/01 3401507 ZNY CCCCC ZZH O 061507Z DEC 07 FM AMEMBASSY CAIRO TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 7663
C O N F I D E N T I A L CAIRO 003423
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/05/2017
TAGS: EAID PGOV EG
SUBJECT: EGYPT´S FY 2009 ESF: PROPOSED BUDGET FOR D&G
REF: A) CAIRO 3343 B) CAIRO 3420
Classified by Ambassador Francis Ricciardone for reason 1.4 (d).
1. (C) SUMMARY AND INTRODUCTION: After a great deal of deliberation, in which Embassy Cairo participated fully, the inter-agency agreed to allot $66.5m for democracy and governance programs in Egypt for FY08 and $75m for FY09. These figures represent annual totals of our support for civil society — both US and Egyptian NGO´s — and also for programs carried out with the Government of Egypt in the areas of administration of justice, media reform and decentralization. We believe that the likely negative Egyptian response to this level of funding, and the inability of US and Egyptian NGO´s to spend at this level with intended results and required accountability, argue for reducing the FY09 D&G figure to $50m. If conditions change, or our projections prove too conservative, we could consider adding funds from other Egypt ESF sources. END SUMMARY.
2. (SBU) The political party institutes, NDI and IRI, as well as IFES and Freedom House, are conducting commendable programs in Egypt under very difficult circumstances. Regrettably, there is no reason to believe that they will be registered and permitted to carry out the full range of national activities originally envisioned in their grants. NDI and IRI received new grants in FY07 for $1.5m apiece. This covers the cost of their Cairo offices and off-shore programs. The NDI grant is for two years ($750,000 in FY 2007 and $750,000 in FY08); the IRI grant is for one year.
3. (SBU) On November 29, NDI´s regional director told us that, under the current constrained environment, NDI does not envision asking for additional funds through the end of FY09. On December 3, IRI´s Egypt director told us that IRI is preparing a proposal to substantially increase its current grant to provide training in the lead-up to the Spring 2008 municipal elections. We expect that this may be as much as $6.5 million in FY08 funds, in addition to $1.5 million granted in FY07.
4. (SBU) Freedom House received a $900,000 grant in FY06 to support the development of civil society advocacy and reform in Egypt. They have spent approximately $400,000. Freedom House´s deputy director of programs told us in Cairo November 7 that they will probably not be able to spend this money by March 2008 but should be able to finish by September 2008. We also expect them to submit a new proposal asking for as much as $5 million in FY08 money.
5. (SBU) IFES currently has a one-year grant for $1.3 million, signed in FY07. They are spending this money on schedule, and expect to continue to do so. IFES has requested additional $750,000 in FY08 DRL funding to spend in Egypt. We also expect them to ask us for another $1.5 million in FY08 ESF.
6. (SBU) While it is conceivable that both IRI and Freedom House could expend significantly more funds than they are spending now, given their records here in Egypt we doubt that they can do so under their own and USG standards for results and accountability.
(U) Current and projected spending is as follows:
– FY06 FY07 FY08 (millions of US dollars)
IRI 1.5 1.5 6.5* NDI 1.4 0.75 0.75 IFES 1.3 1.3 1.5* FH 0.9 0 5.0* TOTAL 5.1 3.55 13.75
*Our estimate of potential requests; we have not yet seen written grant proposals from IRI, IFES or Freedom House.
7. (SBU) In addition to the funding for the institutes, we have given direct grants to about forty Egyptian NGOs. We believe we are funding very nearly every organization in Egypt that wishes to work with us and meets the direct grants criteria. Again, these organizations are working under the most difficult circumstances. They cope with onerous GOE restrictions, both in operating within Egyptian law and in accepting foreign donor funding. Some are also struggling to meet USAID accountability requirements. Indeed, AID has designed a contract to lend technical support to help them handle USG funds properly and responsibly. After receiving a total of $15.5m in multi-year grants in FY06 and FY07, and possibly up to $15 million in FY08, we believe that this sector has reached its absorptive capacity. We judge that expenditures at higher levels in FY 09 would undermine their effectiveness. As evidence of this, we would cite the $7 million pipeline of obligated but unspent FY06 and FY07 money for Egyptian NGOs.
8. (U) Existing bilateral programs with the government continue to make important inroads. For instance, the government has adopted a USG-supported decentralization policy that will devolve political, fiscal and administrative authorities to the governorate and district levels. This gives those entities the resources and authority to address local needs more directly. It also gives residents a stake in monitoring and participating in their own local governments. This program, as well as programs in justice and media reform, need continued funding at roughly current levels of $25 million per annum.
9. (C) Following the visit of Minister of International Cooperation Fayza Aboul Naga to Washington in November, the Egyptians have begun to recognize that their FY09 assistance will be cut from $415m in FY08 to $200m. Since these discussions, and in meetings with EB PDAS Elizabeth Dibble in Cairo, they have registered frustration, disappointment, anger and denial. On November 21, Deputy Minister Wafaa Bassim told the DCM that the Egyptians found it “unfair” that IRI was receiving funds from the Egyptian ESF account, which is now being cut in half. We believe that if we commit $75m in FY09, we will invite a further negative reaction from the Egyptians that could include retaliation against the US and Egyptian NGO´s alike.
10. (C) Political conditions in Egypt could change substantially and suddenly at any time within the next few years, if President Mubarak dies or is incapacitated before completing his term in 2011. Until then, GOE restrictions affecting the operations of civil society groups are unlikely to improve substantially or quickly. Nonetheless, if our projections prove too conservative or civil society groups prove they can take on more activities in Egypt, we can replenish funds from the Egyptian ESF account. In any event, we do need to consult with the Egyptians on the democracy and governance account. They are angry that they were not able to have input into overall funding levels. We owe them an answer soon on the D&G account.
Is the rapidly expanding Middle East satellite television network and voice of the Arab Spring as independent as it claims?
BY OMAR CHATRIWALA|SEPTEMBER 19, 2011
Al Jazeera has been making waves in the Middle East ever since it aired its first broadcast on Nov. 1, 1996. In its news dispatches and talk shows, the pan-Arab satellite channel, which is funded by the state of Qatar, has been a strident critic of U.S. foreign policies in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Palestinian Territories, even while it has been a thorn in the side of many an Arab autocrat. But after the last dump of leaked U.S. diplomatic cables by WikiLeaks, on Aug. 30, articles have begun to circulate -- especially in Iranian and Syrianmedia outlets -- about Al Jazeera's closerelationship with a surprising interlocutor: the U.S. government.
In particular, a newlyreleasedcable issued by the U.S. Embassy in Doha and signed by then ambassador Chase Untermeyer, details a meeting between an embassy public affairs official and Wadah Khanfar, Al Jazeera's director general, in which the latter is said to agree to tone down and remove what the United States terms "disturbing Al Jazeera website content."
There have been longstanding accusations that Al Jazeera serves as an arm of its host nation's foreign policy, and earlierleakeddocuments referred to the news organization as "one of Qatar's most valuable political and diplomatic tools," which could be used as "a bargaining tool to repair relationships with other countries." Another document urges Sen. John Kerry to engage the Qatari government on Al Jazeera during a visit to the Gulf country, saying, "there are ample precedents for a bilateral dialogue on Al Jazeera as part of improving bilateral relations."
Despite those assertions by U.S. diplomatic sources, both the network and the Qatari government fiercely insist that it is editorially independent and free from interference.
Skeptics take the latest leak as proof, though, that Al Jazeera is susceptible to external pressures, not least in part due to the document's summary:
PAO [Public affairs officer] met 10/19 with Al Jazeera Managing Director Wadah Khanfar to discuss the latest DIA [U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency] report on Al Jazeera and disturbing Al Jazeera website content.... Khanfar said the most recent website piece of concern to the USG [U.S. government] has been toned down and that he would have it removed over the subsequent two or three days. End summary.
In what some are seizing upon as evidence of an American-Qatari conspiracy, the cable, dated October 2005, continues with a quote from Khanfar saying, "We need to fix the method of how we receive these reports," mentioning that he had found one of them "on the fax machine."
Later, there is a reference in the memo to a sort of understanding that's been reached between Al Jazeera and the U.S. government:
On a semantic level, [Khanfar] objected to the use of the word "agreement" as used in the August report on the first page, under the heading "Violence in Iraq", where a sentence reads: "In violation of the station's agreement several months ago with US officials etc". "The agreement was that it was a non-paper," said Khanfar. [A non-paper is diplomatic jargon for a proposal that is unofficial and has not been committed to.] "As a news organization, we cannot sign agreements of this nature, and to have it here like this in writing is of concern to us."
Leaving it at that, the cable appears to be a smoking gun showing Al Jazeera at the U.S. government's beck and call. Iran-owned Press TV uses this to conclude that "the US government has previously had a say in what content to appear on the al-Jazeera website." The website ArabCrunch similarly denounced Al Jazeera for responding to U.S. pressure, and says the cable "might have revealed the reason behind the AJ one sided coverage of Iraq in the recent years." Read in their full context, though, this and other leaked cables tell a very different story.
Khanfar could not be reached for comment, and Al Jazeera has made no official response to the latest claims, but a source at the channel told Foreign Policy that these sorts of meeting between high-level Al Jazeera management and U.S. officials are standard practice, and continue today. Elaborating, he said that representatives of numerous diplomatic missions regularly bring lists of complaints to Al Jazeera, but that doesn't mean they are heeded or given undue weight.
The controversial cable actually backs up this comment to a certain extent, detailing Khanfar arguing with some points made in the U.S. government report presented to him by the embassy representative. "Some are simple mistakes which we accept and address," he said. Other points, such as airing views not favorable to the United States, are taken out of context, given that the contrasting opinion would have its due in a later report, he said. Khanfar also tells the representative that some grievances can't be addressed, including the use of "terrorist tapes" on air, which he insists is the network's policy so long as they are edited for newsworthiness. And obviously, he states, he can't very well prevent guests or interviewees from using language deemed by the U.S. government as "inflammatory."
Reviewing the "troublesome website material" Khanfar agreed to tone down, the U.S. public affairs officer cites a sensationalistic report carried by Al Jazeera's Arabic website:
The site opens to an image of bloody sheets of paper riddled with bullet holes. Viewers click on the bullet holes to access testimony from ten alleged "eye witnesses"...
The unnamed U.S. officer tells Khanfar that the report "came across as inflammatory and journalistically questionable." It then says, "Khanfar appeared to repress a sigh but said he would have the piece removed."
Al Jazeera -- while lauded internationally for the quality of its broadcasts -- has more than once had to backpeddle on content carried by the Aljazeera.net website, which operates somewhat autonomously from the Arabic channel in an office across town. In 2007, for example, the site carried a poll asking readers if they "support Al Qaeda's attacks in Algeria." A majority of the poll's 30,000 respondents answered yes, sparking a furor from the Algerian media, accusing the channel of legitimizing al Qaeda. The website's manager later said posting the poll was a grave error and had been done without his permission.
Beyond this specific memo, WikiLeaks has published morethan 30 cables from the U.S. Embassy in Doha with the label Al Jazeera, and many more making mention of the news organization, ranging in date from September 2005 to February 2010. But the portrait the leaked cables paint is not evidence of any sort of conspiracy so much as an organization struggling to maintain professional standards.
The earliestavailablecable discusses preparations for the launch of "Al Jazeera International," the original name of Al Jazeera English, and the recording of a pilot called "The Hassan and Josh Show." Offering some insights into the younger channel's development, it says operations were "still in a somewhat chaotic embryonic stage" in 2005.
Curiously, that pilot, which never made it to air, was hosted by the two stars of the 2004 Iraq war documentary ControlRoom -- former marine Josh Rushing and veteran Al Jazeera journalist Hassan Ibrahim. The cable's author concluded that Ibrahim and Rushing were "clearly still amateur anchors and will need considerable practice to present a more professional and engaging program."
The next availablecable documents an earlier meeting between Khanfar and the embassy's public affairs officer, in which the Al Jazeera director likens the "War on Terror" to Osama bin Laden's tactic of saying, "You're either with us, or against us." Khanfar insists Al Jazeera belongs in neither camp.
Anotherdocument from 2005 describes steps Al Jazeera has taken to shore up shifting standards in quality:
Khanfar noted that he holds a daily 1pm meeting with an AJ quality assurance team entrusted with implementing AJ's code of ethics and conduct, which views and anlayzes all Al Jazeera programming, looking for lapses in professionalism, balance and objectivity. "That meeting is very tight, tighter even than your list," said Khanfar.
The author of that cable concludes that Khanfar "is clearly committed to bringing Al Jazeera up to professional international standards of journalism and ... seems to be not only open to criticism but to welcome it."
Following up, U.S. Embassy officials later met with Jaafar Abbas Ahmed, the head of Al Jazeera's Quality Assurance (QA) unit, who, they said was frank about "resistance and hostility" from the channel's older generation of journalists. Abbas told them some Al Jazeera staff treat the quality assurance team with suspicion, referring to them at times as the KGB and CIA.
"According to Abbas, the effort to professionalize Al Jazeera is an uphill one," the cable reads, indicating the biggest problem he faced was that "old habits die hard." It continues:
While AJ started out with a significant number of ex-BBC reporters, this cadre has shrunk over the years, attracted to other channels such as Al Arabiyya, Abbas said. He added that only a handful remains.
A majority of the remaining journalism staff are therefore ex-state TV reporters. They may be brilliant, but the journalistic culture they have absorbed is different from the one AJ is trying to cultivate, Abbas explained.
At least one expert who has studied the network in depth says Al Jazeera's culture may be the very thing behind the mixed standards in output.
"[My] academic research shows influence is not something that comes on a top-down level -- you have to look at the individuals working there," said Mohamed Zayani, a professor at Georgetown University in Qatar and co-author of the book The Culture of Al Jazeera: Inside an Arab Media Giant.
"What we got time and again was that there was a big margin of freedom... and journalists were empowered by it," he told me. But that also makes Al Jazeera more susceptible to the subjective views of individual employees, he said.
Al Jazeera has, if anything, become even more of a household name in recent years, and has been recognized in the West by no less than U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for offering "real news." The organization has aggressively covered the "Arab Spring" uprisings across the Middle East, even dropping popular programming to air around-the-clock coverage as revolts have climaxed in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Justifiably or not, though, critics accuse the broadcaster of ignoring the unrest in its own backyard, the Gulf.
In the case of Syria, Al Jazeera has faced backlash for covering the brutal crackdown on opposition protesters by the government there. Syrians have accused Al Jazeera of seeking to foment unrest in the country, and at least one media outlet even accused the Qatar-based broadcaster of setting up film studios to stage some of the uprising. It comes as no surprise, then, that some might seize on the latest leaked cables as a way to discredit the news organization as simply being a mouthpiece for the U.S. government.