Qatar’s Emir setting up alternative to Al Jazeera?

Qatar’s Emir Tamim doesn’t have so much a Brotherhood problem as father issues. That’s the more likely explanation of a new television project that Qatar is involved in, people familiar with the project say. Tamim has set in motion a project to set up a channel, whose name could be Al-Arabi or Al-Arabi Al-Jadid, based out of London.

Why bother? Qatar already has Al Jazeera (and its state channel). Tamim’s problem with Al Jazeera is that it’s his dad’s baby, so even if he wanted to alter its Islamist slant he would have trouble making it happen. So he decided to set up his own TV station. While it will inevitably rely on some technical cadres from the Al Jazeera network, the idea is that it will not replicate it, rather it will give more space to the leftists and liberals who have been crowded out on Al Jazeera in favour of Islamists in recent years. Not unconnected is Qatar’s resident Arab nationalist Azmi Bishara’s attempt to set up a newspaper in London, though whether Bishara ends up as manager, advisor or start guest is not clear at this stage.

This development is telling on a number of levels regarding the dispute between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours over Qatar’s backing for political Islam. 1. Tamim wants to assert himself (and the Saudi narrative is that he pleaded to King Abdullah that he was too weak before his father to take immediate action against the Islamists). 2. He seems unable or unwilling to do that with regards to Al Jazeera. 3. Qatar wants to return to its previous policy of promoting the three trends of Arab politics – Islamist, Left, liberals – in a more balanced manner.

At the level of policy, a new channel would open the door to recalibrating Qatar’s position on Syria since Al Jazeera would no longer be seen as the gauge of Qatari positions, while there have been some signs of late that Qatar is prepared to throw in the towel on bringing down Assad. Further, while not amounting to a shift on the Brotherhood, it will buy Tamim time with Gulf rivals, or at least those among the three who are more interested in resolving tensions.

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