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Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The Middle East Conflict: Through the Lens of Al Jazeera

In a talk titled “The Middle East Conflict: Through the Lens of Al Jazeera” delivered at Washington State University, Pullman (WA), Ayman Mohyeldin said Al Jazeera played an integral part in the recent revolution, although many misunderstand that role.

Mohyeldin noted: “Some have gone so far as to say that Al Jazeera was the voice of the revolution, and to some extent describing it as a catalyst behind these revolutions,” he said. “And here, I would say that Al Jazeera was not the voice of the revolution, but perhaps more accurately, a microphone to the voice of the protesters.” Al Jazeera English spread the news across the Atlantic to the U.S., he said. Through the revolutions, a new cohesive relationship emerged between traditional media and social media. People have sent Mohyeldin a torrent of contact information via social media, hoping he can help them get their stories out.

Looking forward, Mohyeldin said despite Egyptian protesters’ success in deposing former President Hosni Mubarak, whether the nation will effectively transition to democracy is unclear. “Egypt today is definitely at a crossroads,” he said, “and for anyone who thinks that the revolution is over, that is absolutely incorrect.” Egyptians remain divided about how much power the nation’s military should have going forward, he said. Some have no faith in the military taking a leadership position and others want it to play an integral role in establishing the new structure of Egypt’s government.

“I wouldn’t necessarily trust the military 100 percent,” he said. “They have a long way to go to prove that they are capable of this transition.” Yet, Mohyeldin said he sees tremendous opportunity in the challenge ahead. “Egypt is on the cusp of enjoying new-found freedoms and new political pluralism that it has never known in its recent history,” he said.

Despite the hope for a better future, Mohyeldin said he knows all too well the threat of death that looms in his work each day in the center of action. A cameraman he knew was killed on the job in Libya recently, which Mohyeldin said has made Al Jazeera a little more cautious.

“There’s no doubt that that particular tragedy has changed a little bit of our posture in Libya,” he said. “We’ve reduced some of our staff. At one point, we had five or six teams in there and now we’re down to two teams outside of Tripoli and one in Tripoli.” Still, much of the uprising has been peaceful, Mohyeldin said, and Al Jazeera tries to cover that part of the story, as well. “We saw Christians and Muslims standing side-by-side in moments of prayer, and that didn’t fit the narrative that we had been told earlier,” he said. “And so our cameras really tried to capture the unity and the universality of the protesters.”

Introduing the speaker, Founding dean of The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication Lawrence Pintak praised Mohyeldin for his work and said it has brought Al Jazeera English to greater prominence the same way the Gulf War did for CNN. “Certainly there were plenty of good reporters on the ground in Egypt at CNN, the BBC and others,” Pintak said, “but (Al) Jazeera English, and Ayman in particular, really just outclassed everyone.” This praise was recognized even further as Ayman Mohyeldin was present the Outstanding Achievement Award by the prestigious Next Century Foundation’s on April 9, 2011, in London.

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Two Prestigious Awards to Al Jazeera's Rowland and Mohyeldin

Al Jazeera’s correspondent Jacky Rowland and Ayman Mohyeldin were presented the Outstanding Achievement Awards by the prestigious Next Century Foundation’s on April 9, 2011, in London. The Next Century Foundation is a charity established in 1989 and devoted to conflict resolution. The awards, according to the foundation, “…pay tribute to the skill, courage and determination of individual journalists when reporting from areas of conflict or political repression.” The annual awards, now in their seventh year, celebrate excellence in Middle East reporting and are awarded to Western, Israeli and Arab journalists recognized for their outstanding coverage of the region. BBC Urdu’s Dilawar Khan Wazir won the Cutting Edge Award for outstanding courage in face of risks. TV's Falah al Thahabi also picked the same prize. Among other journalists receiving other awards at the Saturday ceremony, which took place at the Oxford & Cambridge Club in London, were Alice Fordham, a journalist who has worked in Yemen and Adel Mousa Al Zaanoun, a Gaza based journalist for AFP. Alhurra Daoud Kuttab, who writes for Jordan Times and heads Arab world’s first internet radio, won the “Peace through Media Award” award for Outstanding Contribution to Peace. Also picking the same award was Haaretz chief Editor Don Aflon. The “Peace Through Media,” award is given to a journalist or broadcaster of outstanding caliber, “…selected because their work is of such quality that it has helped to foster a climate of peace and understanding.” Mohyeldin, a seasoned journalist with experience working for CNN and NBC News, put himself at the frontline of danger to cover the recent uprising in Egypt and give revolutionaries a chance to tell their stories. From May 2008 to May 2010, Mohyeldin was the only foreign journalist based in the Gaza Strip. Since joining Al Jazeera in 2006, he has reported from Europe, the U.S. and across the Middle East - where there have been uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and elsewhere.