Ariadna Theokopoulos: Listening to Sadat?

By Ariadna Theokopoulos
Special to

AlJazeera marked the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli (which should properly be called the Israeli-Arab war in view of the recently declassified Johnson administration documents and diplomatic cables*) by publishing an informal public opinion poll they took in Cairo, asking the randomly selected interviewees to reflect on the Israeli-Arab conflict and to state their feelings about engaging in a comprehensive peace treaty with Israel.

A random, instant sampling of opinion managed to catch –in the familiar tradition of Western press polls—a wide array of walks of life: a bus driver from Giza, a “private company employee” from Minya, a student, a janitor, a surgeon and a journalist (the last four from Cairo). What better guarantee for the reader that their views are representative of the Arab (or at least Egyptian) “street”?

All these responders agreed that:
1. It is not possible to engage in a comprehensive peace treaty with Israel because of “lack of Arab unity.”

2. Arab unity is not possible because of “some Arab leaders” who simply use Israel as a “prop,” so they can manufacture an enemy against which to rally their people and thus stay in power.

3. It is “regrettable” that “the Arabs did not listen to Sadat” and made peace with Israel. Had the Palestinians done so, now “they would have a country of their own.” All that is required is to “sit down at the negotiating table with Israel.”

4. “Arabs need to decide once and for all: do they want war or peace.”

It is not specified what the Israelis need to stop doing, e.g., stop false flag operations in and air space violations over Lebanon, the incursions and raids in Gaza, the ethnic cleansing, end the occupation of Palestine, or withdraw from occupied territories of their neighbors? It is however clearly stated what they must do: “We should acknowledge the reality of the situation on the ground. Discard the slogans of the past.”

Oh, those! Silly things like freedom from occupation, justice, respect for international laws and human rights. They are so last century, so not “on the ground” and thus not part of “reality.”

Aside from the astounding consensus of this group (belying the lamented lack of Arab unity), equally striking is the identical format of the respondents’ statements, all of whom start by offering a paragraph or two of “history” praising Sadat’s wisdom and vision.

Even better, and here I have to rely on the accuracy of the reporter’s translation into English, the stylistical levels and breadth of vocabulary are identical among the bus driver, the surgeon, the janitor, the student and the journalist.

Perhaps I am being too exigent; AlJazeera is still young and learning. We should not expect it to have mastered the finesse that gives such authenticity to the interviews published in the Western media.

Note to AlJazeera reporter: in the future, simpler language, even a grammatical slip here and there from the presumably less educated interviewees will add a great touch of spontaneity and authenticity.

One of those interviewed, the “private company employee,” went so far as to link the Egyptian-style peace with Israel with the promise of “stability and economic prosperity,” a conviction undoubtedly shared by all the fellahin in Egypt. A poll taken by the same reporter in Jordan would probably net similar results.

All considered it is a report that illustrates AlJazeera’s new Code of Ethics, which has been implemented since 2004 – slowly, not to jar its following — but firmly.

“Balanced and sensitive reporting” are the bywords (“Fair and Balanced” having been already appropriated by Fox News) and they can be used to justify just about any reporting sin of omission or commission.

We knew AlJazzera had turned a new leaf when its revamping was “welcomed” by none other than the veteran of all veterans of the US State Department, Richard Boucher.

The new Board of directors (including a former Qatari ambassador to the US) instituted radical changes of editorial approach. One may even argue that these changes may have saved lives of ALJazeera reporters, some of whom might have been accidentally killed otherwise in one stray US bombing or another, as it happened in AlJazeera exuberant beginnings. The change has not, however, been helpful to AlJazeera’s editorial integrity. Looking hopefully ahead when the English version of AlJazeera (AJE) first started, Ramzy Baroud once wrote: “Will AJE be that third voice that speaks truth to power, yet is neither self-congratulatory, nor reactionary? Is that even possible, considering how AJE is itself funded and politically shielded?”

Lately it seems that what AJE does is to whisper truth to power from time to time, but too often it speaks truth according to power. Maybe it never became the third voice but the second and a quarter…. You can still get your news there about the ME but you have to employ some decoding skills and to wear special goggles to see through the “balanced and sensitive” fog.

* The recently declassified documents of secret Johnson administration communications paint a picture of strenuous Egyptian efforts to defuse the tension and failed US attempts to restrain the Israeli “tiger” from the first strike it was bent on delivering. (Foreign Relations, 1964-1968, Volume XIX, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1967)

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