By Adelle Nazarian
Al Jazeera has been banned from Sudan’s airwaves, with the new government finding its programming “too extreme.”
Al Jazeera has presented videos from al Qaeda and the Islamic State and featured guests from terrorist groups, including Hamas, and extremist members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The irony? Sudan itself is listed as a state sponsor of terrorism by the U.S State Department. Sudan claims it has been working with the CIA and other U.S. government agencies to fight Islamic extremism.
Sudan is the second Arab nation to ban al Jazeera’s broadcasts, following Saudi Arabia. Several others, including Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, block al Jazeera’s websites.
All of al Jazeera’s assets—including office and broadcast equipment– in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, were seized by the government in the past few weeks. None of al Jazeera’s journalists were jailed. Some foreign al Jazeera workers may face greater scrutiny of their work permits.
Sudan’s war on al Jazeera is part of a much larger regional struggle. The Transitional Military Council – which seized power in a bloodless coup in April—moved to stop distribution of Qatar’s state-run Al Jazeera channel in May. This follows a move by Sudan to staunch the flow of Qatar’s billions for development and peace-keeping projects in their country. This funding was essential to the Darfur peace deal, brokered by Qatar. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two rival nations of Qatar’s, have agreed to match the funds once supplied by Qatar. This is part of a larger conflict in the Arab world that pits Qatar against Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and the UAE.
Sudan’s longtime president Omar Al-Bashir, who had served since a 1989 coup, was toppled in on April 11. Bashir was referred to the International Criminal Court for his alleged role in genocide and other crimes against humanity in Darfur, a vast Connecticut-sized region in the west of his country.
Bashir made his first public appearance this week, since being ousted, in the nation’s capital city Khartoum, in the prosecutor’s office where he was read the corruption charges against him.
Al Jazeera wrote that the decision to shutter the network in Sudan was without “any reason” and issued a statement, calling it “a complete violation of the freedom of the press” and demanded its operations be allowed to continue.
Another Qatar-backed publication, The Peninsula Qatar, QPC-flays-Sudan-military-council precent25E2 precent2580 precent2599s-decision-to-close-Al-Jazeera-office”>reported that the closure “is not a punishment for the network, but is the punishment of millions of Sudanese and Arabs in the region by denying them access to coverage of the developments in Sudan.”
Sudanese officials dismissed concerns about Al Jazeera’s free-speech rights, contending that the state-run network is a propaganda outfit of Qatar. The Gulf Arab state has publicly acknowledged funding Hamas, an anti-Israel group that has been officially listed as a terrorist entity by the United States, the European Union, Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
Al Jazeera isn’t just another media outlet, Sudanese officials say. Since its inception in 1996, al Jazeera has been used by Qatar to strategically project power throughout the region. Its reach and influence allow its editorial decisionmakers in Doha to inflame tensions, inspire Islamist revolutions and, as in Libya, to push nations like the United States into war, they said.
Qatar was, until recently, among Sudan’s largest Arab investors, pouring billions of dollars into the troubled east African country.
The Gulf nation supplied millions of dollars to pay the leaders of many of Darfur’s 88 Major tribes to refrain from armed raids on their neighbors. The Darfur crisis peaked as a humanitarian crisis in 2003; Qatar’s money diplomacy has been credited with bringing peace. The cash infusions, critics note, largely went to Islamist leaders linked to Sudan’s former Islamist Speaker of the House of parliament. Under house arrest, he organized the Darfur Liberation Front which funded warlords known as “Janjawid” – which translates as “devil on horseback.” These mounted raiders killed thousands and sold women captives into sexual slavery.
Following the coup against Bashir, Sudan has turned in a pro-Saudi Arabia direction. Saudi Arabia has joined four other Arab nations in closing its air and seaports to Qatar and withdrawing its ambassadors. Saudi leaders claim Qatar is allied with Iran and is itself a terror sponsor. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are also fighting Qatar- and Iran-backed Houthi tribesman in neighboring Yemen.
Sudan’s ban on al Jazeera is seen as a part in a larger effort to unite the Arab world against the petroleum-rich peninsula, Qatar. Al Jazeera means “the peninsula” in Arabic.
Qatar has cooperated closely with Turkey and Iran to boost its support for the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities in Sudan, Libya, and elsewhere. The Muslim Brotherhood’s most prominent jurist and supreme guide, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, loudly supported his fellow Islamists in Sudan. Al Jazeera, for many years, presented a weekly Arabic-language broadcast hosted by al-Qaradawi.
Osama bin-Laden and Al Qaeda made Sudan their home for about five years before moving their headquarters in 1996, after the Clinton Administration demanded that Sudan expel all the suspected terrorists. For its part, Sudanese officials claimed that they offered to arrest bin Laden in 1996 and turn him over to the U.S. The Clinton Administration, facing reelection that year, feared putting bin Laden on trial in the U.S. in the years before he was linked to a Major terrorist attack. At the time, the U.S. State Department thought bin Laden was a “moving bank,” a terror financier, and not a direct leader of a terrorist group.
The September 11 attacks, which claimed nearly 2,000 lives in New York, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania, occurred almost four years later.
Bin Laden, in his memoirs, praised Al Jazeera and emphasized the impact the Muslim Brotherhood and, specifically, Qaradawi had on his approach to adopting the ideology of a global jihad. “Al Jazeera, thank God, carries the banner of revolution,” he wrote. “Qaradawi, if he talks, that will help and boost popular confidence that the [Libyan] rebels are right,” he wrote of the Muslim Brotherhood leader. “Qaradawi’s shift [means that] Qaddafi is over.”
In a testimony to the 9/11 Commission before Congress, Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl, bin Laden’s former business associate, said Bin Laden told him in 1993 that the Qatar Charitable Society, which was later renamed to Qatar Charity, was one of Bin Laden’s several sources of funding. He also said he personally cooperated with the Qatar Charity’s Director in the late 1990s, Abdullah Mohammed Yusef, who was affiliated with al Qaeda and also engaged with the National Islamic Front; a Sudanese group that protected bin Laden.
In February 2015, the Sudan Tribune reported that Yahia Sadam, an official of the Minni Minnawi Sudanese liberation movement accused Qatar of endorsing the Darfur genocide which was created by Sudanese militiamen by funneling money through the Sudanese branch of the Qatar Charity, which has been active in Darfur since 2010. Sadam accused the Qatar Charity of “building housing complexes in remote and isolated areas to harbor and train extremist groups” including ISIS militants.
A month later, members of the intelligence community convened at the United States Institute for Peace in Washington, D.C. to voice concern over Bashir’s hosting of Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS training camps in Darfur.
Bashir denied a role in the genocide and claimed to have no control over the remote reaches of his country. At the time, no roads joined the capital with Darfur.
Bashir’s rule began to crumble in 2018. Following months of protests by Sudanese citizens after the price of bread had tripled, Bashir was overthrown and jailed by the Sudanese army. Bashir’s cell overlooks his former home, an army barracks converted into a walled personal residence.
When Sudan’s transitional council ousted Al Jazeera, it marked a sharp break its main benefactor, Qatar. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Qatar’s main Gulf rivals, have jointly pledged $3 billion to help transition the post-Bashir government. Presumably, these nations will influence the new regime in Khartoum to take an anti-Islamist position similar to their own.
Al Jazeera is not expected to return to Sudan’s airwaves. Meanwhile, Sudan announced it is supplying new fighters to assist the Saudis in fighting Qatar’s proxies in Yemen.
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