Al Jazeera Debates the Winds of Change in the Arab World: Political Leaders and Activists Ask: Has the Future Arrived?
By Danny Schechter, Author of The Crime Of Our Time
Doha, Qatar: When I arrived in the capital of Qatar, as one of the guest participants in the 6 th annual Al Jazeera Forum focused on the Arab world in transition, it was clear the mood had changed.
In years past, the humiliation and oppression of the region was driving the discourse, but this year, events had taken a positive turn with popular youth revolutions catapulting the Al Jazeera TV networks into the global spotlight with governments falling and a new future emerging.
A revolt in Libya was topping the news, being described as civil war--whether it is or isn't--with Western intervention in the form of a no fly zone on the horizon to either protect that country's people from a mad dictator, or in Col. Gadaffi's view, use humanitarianism as a cover for an armed effort by foreign interests to seize the country's oil wealth.
Just as the Forum begun, we learned that an Al Jazeera Cameraman, Hassan Al Jaber, who I met at an earlier Forum was killed in Libya, likely a targeted killing because the Al Jazeera people I met believe Gadaffi put money for their heads.
Soon, the story it came to discuss also lost its standing at the top of the media agenda. The disaster in the East had displaced the crisis in the Middle East.
News waits for no man, woman or TV network , so within a few hours, as fate would have it, the natural calamity in Japan riveted the world.
Even Al Jazeera was leading with it, with some excellent reporting from the scene. The channel also tapped some of the images and analysis on Japan's NHK which offered a round the clock funereal telethon of a region dying along with it so many of its people. It was as gripping as it was so unbearably sad
A natural earthquake and tsunami had displaced a man made one We clearly need to know more about Japan's nuclear plants. especially since the Obama Administration was planning to shovel billions to the same company whose plants are exploding and melting down.
The sounds of freedom in Tahrir Square had become yesterday's story even though that revolution is unfinished and demands follow-up. When the cameras go, public awareness often goes with them.
There have been rising death counts in the battles in Bahrain,
Yemen, and Libya, Now Syria has seen protests and even Qatar is bracing for a
"day of rage.'
Political disruptions pale in importance as the world's attention is mesmerized by the dreadful sights of villages and peoples being destroyed by a crush of water and moving earth. Exploding nuclear plants gave us all something new to worry about just before Hollywood releases a new wave of terrifying disaster movies. Apocalyptic fiction can never keep up with harder to comprehend "faction.'
Back at the opulent Sheraton Hotel in Doha, ironically and perhaps prophetically designed to look like a pyramid, the young bloggers and activists who came to tell their story seemed a bit out of place. Sleeping in a posh hotel certainly beats sleeping in the streets, but the setting added to the surrealistic spectacle of a people oriented gathering held where the elite meet to eat.
On the other hand, why not some luxury for these media warriors? Why shouldn't some of the kazillions earned in Qatar from fueling the cars of the west go into funding Middle East movements for justice?
The Gulf States can afford to pay back (or forward) --and should, even as their rulers of Saudia Arabia and The Emerites have invaded Bahrain to try to contain protests that could come their way.