President Obama on Thursday hosted Emir Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani of Qatar, otherwise known as the Boss of Al-Jazeera, for a meeting in the Oval Office. Obama called him “Your Highness” and “His Highness,” even though the Emir dropped his robes of royalty for a business suit. Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani financially sponsors Al-Jazeera and its most famous personality, anti-American and anti-Semitic cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has just returned to Egypt from Qatar to supervise the transformation of that one-time U.S. ally into an Islamic state.
“In addition to our efforts in Libya,” Obama said, “we have a strong relationship between our two countries. It is an economic relationship. It is a military relationship. It is a cultural relationship. And obviously, Qatar has done very well under His Highness’s leadership, but his influence extends beyond his borders. And so we’ve had discussions about how we can continue to promote democracy, human rights, increased freedom and reform throughout the Middle East.”
The influence “beyond his borders” could be a reference to Al-Jazeera, described in one of the WikiLeaks cables from the U.S. as an instrument of foreign policy for the Qatar regime.
The Emir gave an interview to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer the same day he met with Obama, and made the rather absurd comment that although he, and the government of Qatar, finances Al-Jazeera, “it is impossible for me to have influence to tell Al Jazeera what to do. Because they are journalists, and they will understand if the emir of Qatar is interfering in their—in their job. They will not respect the job they are doing. Even internationally, Al Jazeera will not be respected.”
This is laughable, of course. In addition to the WikiLeaks cable about the regime using Al-Jazeera as a foreign policy instrument, the U.S. State Department’s own human rights report on Qatar notes, “Al- Jazeera and the government claimed that the channel was independent and free of government influence, but the government exercised editorial and programmatic control of the channel through funding and selection of the station’s management.”
Maybe Blitzer believed the Emir—he certainly didn’t challenge him—but the idea that Al-Jazeera’s journalists won’t respect him if he influences their reporting, and therefore he doesn’t, does not pass the laugh test. The Emir pays the bills—and the salaries of the journalists who work there.
Although Obama talks about human rights and democracy in the Middle East, the White House report on the meeting said nothing about the imprisoned Qatari blogger, Sultan al-Khalaifi, who was apprehended on March 1 by Qatar’s security forces and has not been heard of since. His detention is further proof of how the Emir controls the media in that country.
The White House said, “Qatar’s location in the Persian Gulf has made it an important ally in a region vital to U.S. economic and security interests. As democracies continue to grow and flourish throughout the Arab world, working with nations like Qatar will become ever more important.”
In fact, Qatar is a dictatorship with no freedom of the press. It is also a state sponsor of terrorism, though not officially designated as such, even while hosting a U.S. military base.
As we have noted, “…the 9/11 commission demonstrated (page 90) that Qatar has been protecting terrorists, including the mastermind of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. A recently released cable from WikiLeaks goes further, saying that Qatari nationals were involved in 9/11 and may still be on the loose.” One cable released by WikiLeaks said that the regime has “adopted a largely passive approach to cooperating with the U.S. against terrorist financing” and that terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda “exploit Qatar as a fundraising locale.” The cable adds that Qatar’s security services “have been hesitant to act against known terrorists out of concern for appearing to be aligned with the U.S. and provoking reprisals.”
An AP story said, “Obama said afterward he appreciated the emir’s leadership in Libya, where rebels, spurred on by popular uprisings elsewhere in the region, are trying to force Gadhafi to step down.” The story made no mention of reports that the rebels include members of al-Qaeda.
The story noted a moment of levity, saying, “Obama also congratulated the emir on Qatar’s selection as host of World Cup soccer in 2022. He noted he’ll be an ex-president by then and made a pitch for good seats.”
“I will not forget to send your tickets for the World Cup,” the Qatari dictator said. Obama replied, “Thank you, my friend.”
Once again, the United States is getting rolled by an Arab dictatorship, this time Qatar, and the major media pretend not to notice.
As I put it in a recent column for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “…Qatar’s Arab monarchy cultivates good public relations by spending lavishly on American politicians and congressional staffers—as well as journalists and academics—to come to the capital of Doha for junkets and opulent conferences. The tours usually include visits to Al-Jazeera.”
Qatar is represented in Washington, D.C. by Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, a Republican-oriented lobbying firm that worked with the staff of Barack Obama on behalf of Qatar when he was a senator.
The money also continues to flow to the media. Former CNN anchor Tony Harris has joined Al-Jazeera English in search of the petro dollars flowing from its owner, “His Highness” the Emir. Harris, however, is not the first journalist to bolt from CNN to Al-Jazeera. Lucia Newman, who is based in Buenos Aires for Al-Jazeera English, had been CNN’s Havana bureau chief and correspondent.
It is significant that Al-Jazeera is a member of the U.S.-Qatar Business Council, which includes several major U.S. oil companies, Qatar Petroleum, Qatar Airways, and Brown Lloyd James, the public relations agency trying to get more carriage for Al-Jazeera in U.S. media markets. Brown Lloyd James also represents the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Qatar.