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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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