Egyptian authorities ordered Al-Jazeera’s offices in Cairo shut down on Sunday
morning following the network’s nonstop coverage of the massive protests against
The move triggered a sharp response from the Al-Jazeera,
which released a statement accusing the Egyptian authorities of
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“Al-Jazeera sees this as an act designed to stifle and
repress the freedom of reporting by the network and its journalists,” read the
statement, adding that the closure was aimed at “silencing the voices of the
According the official Mena news agency, Egypt canceled
the network’s broadcast license and was acting to withdraw accreditation from
all its staff as of Sunday.
Al-Jazeera vowed that it would keep covering
events in the country, assuring “its audiences in Egypt and across the world
that it will continue its in-depth and comprehensive reporting on the events
unfolding in Egypt. In this time of deep turmoil and unrest in Egyptian society
it is imperative that voices from all sides be heard.”
and the reach of Al-Jazeera’s exhaustive coverage over the weekend is what
likely prompted the outgoing Egyptian information minister Annas al- Fikki to
issue the ban.
A week after unleashing the “Palestine Papers,” and
several weeks after it led the coverage of the Tunisian upheaval, the Qatari
news outlet was again front and center in the global media coverage of a major
Mideast event, this time in Egypt, as demonstrations have swept the country
since January 25 and brought President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year regime to the
So far the protests have led to the dissolution of the cabinet,
though Mubarak himself remains in power, contrary to what the demonstrators have
demanded. The unrest has also led to Mubarak appointing intelligence chief Omer
Suleiman as vice president, the first time anyone has held the post since
Mubarak took power 30 years ago.
Despite a communications blackout
ordered by authorities just after events began to intensify following noon
Friday prayers, Al-Jazeera was one of the only news networks to maintain
consistent, and often exclusive coverage, online and on its satellite channel of
the events as they unfolded.
The blackout was “unprecedented in Internet
history,” according to Web monitoring firm Renesys, and lead to a nosedive in
Egyptian Internet activity, with 93 percent of network providers in the country
unreachable on Friday and part of Saturday.
The move further enraged
protesters and their supporters, many of them young and Web-savvy, and showed
that despite the lack of media access, demonstrators were able to organize and
keep the momentum of their message going. Some even managed to upload videos and
photos from the events as partial Internet connections became active again on
Throughout the weekend, Al-Jazeera English broadcast 24-hour
live scenes from Cairo, Alexandria and Suez, showing thousands of people
marching in the streets, tearing down Mubarak posters, clashing with riot police
and fraternizing with the military, which was called in Friday evening to
replace the police in restoring law and order.
Al-Jazeera English also
maintained an active Twitter feed, where it encouraged its 87,000 followers to
watch a live stream of its coverage.
Al-Jazeera’s Egypt section on its
website provided timeline and background information, a live blog on the
protests and exclusive photo galleries of scenes on the ground. Its Facebook
page directed its over 290,000 followers to relevant reports and kept them
up-to-date on incoming information.
But the live stream proved to be its
most important feature and in a statement on its online coverage, Al-Jazeera
revealed on Saturday that it has even been “twice as popular as the website
itself, putting more pressure on US cable platforms in particular to air the
channel. [The live stream] has been viewed for 26 million minutes in the last 12
Al-Jazeera anchors on its English satellite channel directed
viewers to follow the live Twitter feeds of its correspondents across the
country who were updating on a consistent basis via satellite connection. It
also noted other prominent Twitterers and significant tweets, such as
@Jan25Voices, which was taking calls from protesters and eyewitnesses and
tweeting their messages in real time, circumventing the blackout in a creative
The network itself also found ways to bypass restrictions over the
weekend, issuing a statement detailing its efforts: “While ordinary Egyptians
have not had access to social networks like Twitter, Al-Jazeera have been using
Skype to record messages by members of the public. It has made the
recordings available on Audioboo, promoting them through Facebook.”
the reported death toll rose drastically, from five on Friday evening to more
than 95 by midday Saturday, Al- Jazeera broadcast graphic footage from inside
hospitals and morgues, of bloodied bodies and of distraught family
On Saturday, it showed scenes of laughter and amiable exchanges
between protesters and soldiers. Military personnel were filmed kissing young
children and handing them back to their parents.
Also on Saturday night,
Al- Jazeera’s live coverage provided viewers with real-time footage and
reporting from Cairo as events descended into chaos when looting and vandalism
became rampant, and thousands started escaping from prison.
its often exclusive access within Egypt, Al- Jazeera announced on Friday that it
was releasing some photos and videos under a Creative Commons license, which
would allow other news networks, as well as bloggers, to use these licensed
products free of charge as long as there is proper attribution to Al- Jazeera
and as long as they are not altered. On Saturday night, Israel’s Channel 2 and
Channel 10 were showing Al-Jazeera footage.
Al-Jazeera’s combination of
mainstream coverage of the events on its satellite channel and website,
including correspondents’ reports, expert commentary and interviews, and its
staff’s savvy use of social media tools has maximized its influence and has
again shown that Al-Jazeera is a force to be reckoned with.
prominence in this Egyptian picture did not go unnoticed and has earned it wide
admiration, not least from The New York Times, which wrote up a full report on
its efforts: “Al-Jazeera kept up its coverage despite serious
The broadcaster’s separate live channel was removed from its
satellite platform by the Egyptian government on Friday morning, its Cairo
bureau had its telephones cut and its main news channel also faced signal
interference, according to a statement released by the station. The director of
the live channel issued an appeal to the Egyptian government to allow it to
broadcast freely. Still, there was little doubt that they provided more
exhaustive coverage than anyone else.”
Despite the praise, Al- Jazeera is
not without critics.
It has been accused of biased coverage in many Arab
countries and of harboring sympathies for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. It
is also criticized for not reporting on events in Qatar, where it is
Following the release of the Palestine Papers earlier this month,
a senior Palestinian Authority official announced that Al-Jazeera had “declared
war on the Palestinian Authority.”
The network was banned in the West
Bank in 2009, a decision that was rescinded shortly after.
banned in Morocco and Kuwait. It has faced restrictions in Saudi Arabia, Iraq
and Israel and has faced off with several other countries in the region.