By Ali Younes — The closure of Al Jazeera offices in Morocco last week was not a surprising act by the Moroccan government given that most Arab countries treat the media, especially Al Jazeera, and the freedom of the press as a threat to their monopoly on dissemination of information. Al Jazeera has become, perhaps, the biggest threat to Arab governments’ stranglehold on freedom of information, and the right to get informed, and by extension on power since the founding of Arab Nation States early in the twentieth century.
The Moroccan government claimed that it closed A Jazeera offices and decredentialed its journalists citing “unfair reporting” by the Pan-Arab channel which according to the government statement, “damaged the country’s reputation”
Al Jazeera the 23rd Arab State
Al Jazeera’s main problem is that it exists in a bad neighborhood where the concept of freedom of press, civil rights is an alien concept. Arab governments realize that Knowledge is empowering and that Al Jazeera has become an empowering factor and with this in mind it has become an engine that is reshaping perceptions, and convictions of the entire Arab World. Al Jazeera’s release of 400,000 of secret Wikileaks Iraqi war documents, last weekend testifies to Al Jazeera’s power and adds to the Arab governments’ nervousness about Al Jazeera’s ability to make an impact not only in the region but also on the global stage. For the 22 Arab countries, Al Jazeera might as well be the unofficial 23rd Arab state that boldly pulls the strings in so many different directions.
According to the latest Press Freedom index of 2010, which is published by Reporters without Borders, Morocco ranked 135 out of 178 reported countries.
Last year Morocco’s ranking was a little bit better and faired 127 in ranking. In fact most Arab countries did not make it in the upper half of the index, most ranked closer to the bottom. Egypt for example ranked 127, Jordan 120, Saudi Arabia 156 and Syria 173. Certainly those numbers are scandalous, but there are underlying reasons as to why Arab states rank so low on freedom of Press Index.
The main reason for that is the Existing Expectations or Conditions, according to research done on Media and conflicts at George Mason University in Washington that are prevalent in the Arab World.
Political immaturity, democratic deficit, instability, traditional tribal values, and economic disparities are among the conditions that are behind the Arab governments reasons for shutting down outlets such as Al Jazeera, or arresting journalists and bloggers in various parts of the Arab World.
As a consequence to Morocco’s decision to shut down Al Jazeera’s offices in the country, its freedom of the press index will be pushed further behind because this closure becomes an existing expectation or condition. Lack of democratic values in the Arab world and with it the crack on freedom of speech and press pushes the ranking even further.
Freedom of speech and of the press is part of an overall freedom that most Arab countries lack. It is difficult, therefore to imagine authoritarian Arab governments becoming so friendly to journalists, bloggers or to popular news channels such as Al Jazeera, while they are inherently undemocratic.
Ali Younes is a writer and analyst based in Washington D.C. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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