How Middle East Regimes Are Reasserting Control Over the Media

How Middle East Regimes Are Reasserting Control Over the Media
Muslim pilgrims use their mobile phones upon arrival for the annual hajj pilgrimage, outside of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Aug. 30, 2017 (AP photo by Khalil Hamra).

Last month, Snap—the parent company for the popular social media app Snapchat—announced it would remove Al-Jazeera, the pan-Arab satellite network, from its platform inside Saudi Arabia in “an effort to comply with local laws,” as a Snap spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal. Snap’s decision came on the heels of a June ultimatum by Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries to their rival Qatar, which owns Al-Jazeera, to close down the network completely—one of 13 conditions for ending their ongoing economic blockade of the tiny Gulf country.

The move to “silence freedom of expression,” as an Al-Jazeera spokesperson put it, by restricting the region’s largest broadcaster, along with threats facing social media platforms, bring into sharp focus the rollback of media freedom and influence across the Middle East over the past six years. Arab governments have steadily restricted the media environment that had made them vulnerable during the popular uprisings of the Arab Spring.

To better understand what is happening now, it is important to understand the power and influence exercised by Al-Jazeera and its patron, Qatar, over the past two decades, and why they have receded. In some ways, social media platforms in the Middle East are struggling with pressures similar to those that have hamstrung Al-Jazeera, and the restrictions on both are a loss to media freedom in the region.

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