US commands Al Jazeera affiliate AJ+ to register as foreign agent

Al Jazeera news network has suggested the move was orchestrated as part of the UAE-Israel normalization agreement.

The Al-Jazeera Media Network logo is seen on its headquarters building in Doha, Qatar. (photo credit: REUTERS)
The Al-Jazeera Media Network logo is seen on its headquarters building in Doha, Qatar.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The US Justice Department ordered the Qatar-based Al Jazeera affiliate AJ+, a digital news network, to register as a foreign agent on Tuesday, according to a report by The New York Times.
The report came as high-level officials from Doha visited the US in order to strengthen Qatar-US diplomatic and economic relations.
“Our partnership has grown beyond just defense and economics into one of true friendship and community between our people and our two countries,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the onset of the bilateral discussions.
“The Trump administration is eager to see this dispute resolved and to reopen Qatar’s air and land borders currently blocked by other Gulf States. I look forward to progress on this issue,” Pompeo said in reference to ongoing Saudi Arabia-Qatar tensions.
Al Jazeera news network, which has backing from the Qatari Royal Family, noted in the statement to the the Times that the move was tied to the UAE-Israel normalization deal signed on Tuesday.
“The UAE has confirmed it presented the United States with preconditions prior to announcing the Abraham Accords, and we received DOJ’s letter the day before the UAE signed the Accords,” said Al Jazeera’s statement.
“Hobbling Al Jazeera was one of the top conditions of the UAE’s blockade against Qatar and the Justice Department just gave the UAE what it wanted.”
However, Al Jazeera's claims were denied by the UAE's ambassador to the United States Yousef al-Otaiba, who told the the Times that “at no point in our discussions was Al Jazeera or even Qatar raised.”
“They’re really not as important as they think they are,” he added.
The UAE and Qatar have had a contentious relationship for the last three years, as the former is a strong ally of Saudi Arabia. In June 2017, Saudi Arabia and its Sunni-dominated Gulf allies, including the UAE and Bahrain, in addition to Egypt, Jordan and numerous Sunni states in North Africa, cut off relations with Qatar and banned flights originating from the country from entering their airspace due to the country's alleged support for terrorism and Islamist militant organizations in the Middle East, such as the Muslim Brotherhood and even ISIS.
The Muslim Brotherhood, of which the Gaza-based Hamas terrorist organization is an offshoot, has widely challenged government authorities in Sunni Arab states throughout the region, and has been banned as a terrorist organization in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Bahrain and dissolved in Jordan. Turkey and Qatar are widely considered to be their main supporters in the Middle East.
In addition to this factor, Saudi Arabia has also criticized Al Jazeera media coverage of their country, which happens to be a competitor of Al Arabiya, the Saudi-owned news station based in the UAE, along with Qatar's continued relations with Iran.
According to a letter received by the the Times, the Justice Department said that AJ+, which largely produces short videos for social media websites such as YouTube in multiple language, has been engaging in “political activities” for Qatar, prompting its order that the news network register as a foreign agent.
Likewise, the letter claimed that Qatar provides funding for the network and appoints its board of directors.
“Journalism designed to influence American perceptions of a domestic policy issue or a foreign nation’s activities or its leadership qualifies as ‘political activities’ under the statutory definition,” the letter noted, which included the signature of the chief of the Justice Department’s counterintelligence division Jay I. Bratt.
Refuting the claims of politicization,  Al Jazeera Media Network, AJ+’s parent organization, said that AJ+ is an independent organization and should not have to register as a foreign agent. The statement added that Al Jazeera was “considering" its "options.”