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Tonight's Meet the Author program features Marc Lynch. Mr. Lynch received his Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1997 in the department of Government. He has held teaching positions at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater the University of California Berkeley, and is now associate professor of Political Science at Williams College. His articles have appeared in the Wilson Quarterly, Foreign Affairs, and the Middle East Report. He maintains the Abu Aardvark blog, a widely-read running commentary on the Arab media, American public diplomacy, and Arab popular culture. Mr. Lynch is author of two books: State Interest in Public Spheres: The International Politics of Jordan's Identity, and recently, Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, Al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today. In Voices of the New Arab Public, Mr. Lynch explores how Al-Jazeera and other satellite television stations have transformed Arab politics over the last decade. These new Arab media have challenged the status quo by encouraging debate about Iraq, Palestine, Islamism, and other vital political issues. In his new book, Marc Lynch draws on interviews conducted in the Middle East and analyses of satellite television programs, newspapers, and public opinion polls to examine the nature and influence of the new Arab public sphere. Doctor Lynch traces the evolution of Arab public opinion in the 1990s and in the war in Iraq and shows how it will continue to shape the future of the Middle East. Please join me in welcoming Marc Lynch. Thanks and uh, thanks to everyone for coming out here, it's a real pleasure for me to be here and back in the Bay Area, actually I addressed... can you all hear me? I actually was able to address the World Affairs council in Sonoma about eight years ago and it was a great experience, so it's really great to be here. Um, so I came here tonight to talk about the book, Voices of the New Arab Public, but I thought as a way of introduction, it might be worthwhile to say that that's not actually the book that I set out to write. I started out, I had been working for several years on a book about the sanctions on Iraq, and I was trying to figure out exactly why it was that the sanctions seemed to be crumbling, this was around 2000-2001, and at that time, I actually didn't place a great deal of weight on Al-Jazeera, or the new Arab media, and it's not just because I don't watch TV much, it's just that I had grown up and learned about Middle East politics in an era where the media just didn't matter all that much. I had come up through a period where Arab television was really, unbelievably boring, you know, to the point of being useless. I had sat through watching Jordanian TV with a solid thirty, forty minutes of King Hussein shaking hand after hand at the airport, or watching, you know just the most unbelievably useless stuff, and so I didn't think that TV mattered very much. Of course I had read the same things you all read, I read Tom Friedman in the New York Times telling me that Al-Jazeera was a new hope for democracy, and, well, you know, well I said Tom Friedman says lots of things, and so, it didn't affect me very much, and I didn't really take Friedman or Al-Jazeera seriously until the spring of 2002, when I was in Jordan and a number of other Arab countries, and was talking to a large number of activists and intellectuals and journalists and the like, and they were the ones who told me that I was asking the wrong questions and I was looking at the wrong things, and I very clearly remember a long conversation Azmahad (sp?) there who is a, who was a Jordanian civil society human rights activist who sadly passed away from cancer several years ago, but I remember her telling me about something that they had done, they wanted to stage a protest against the sanctions, and the Jordanian authorities didn't want them to do it, and she told me how they managed to do it. They used their mobile phones, actually, and used text messaging, and they flashed the location, and they were able to get there ahead of Mukhabarat, the secret police, the intelligence. They beat the Mukhabarat by about ten minutes, and I said Azma, what can you do in ten minutes? And she said: No, we had the Al-Jazeera guys' cell phone too. And the Al-Jazeera guys got there with a camera, they filmed it, and we might as well have had fifty thousand people on the streets instead of the fifty of us. The camera was worth a hundred times, and you know, when Tom Friedman said it it was one thing, but when I was told this by someone who was putting her life at risk by trying to get something done, I took it seriously. But still, Al-Jazeera, you know I had read the same Fouad Ajami piece in the New York Times Magazine that I'm sure a lot of you had read read telling me that Al-Jazeera was a cesspool of anti-Americanism, giving us a steady diet of Islamic radicalism and the like, and of course reporting about Saddam Hussein and the like, and I distinctly remember when I had to kind of change my thinking about that, and that was in August 2003, when I was watching Al-Jazeera and a talk show came on, it was The Opposite Direction, which is the most popular talk show on Al-Jazeera, hosted by a man named Faisal al-Qasim, who is probably the most inflammatory talk show host that you would ever hope to meet, he makes Bill O'Reilly look pretty tame, and he's also, you know if you ever saw him, he has a kind of a combover over his hair, he doesn't look very incendiary, but he is. And he was hosting a show, the title of it, or the concept of it was: Do the Iraqi people have the right to demand an apology from the Arabs for their support of Saddam Hussein over the years, and I was like "Wait, wait, I thought that this was the sort of thing they didn't talk about on Al-Jazeera," 'cause I hadn't, wasn't working on this book yet, and, you know diversity, people off, he took Abdel Bari Atwan, who's the editor in chief of the most Arab Nationalist newspaper, and the most pro-Iraqi newspaper in the Arab world and faced him off against Entifadh Qanbar, who was the spokesperson for the Iraqi National Congress, Athmichala (sp?) based Iraqi National Congress, and he sits them down next to, sort of across the table from each other, and he starts asking a series of questions, this is how he starts every show, with a long series of questions, and he starts off, and he was reading from the Fouad Ajami script, he says, "Do the Iraqis have the right to demand an apology from the rest of the Arabs, should the Arabs actually make such an apology, or should the Iraqi people send their thanks to the Arab regimes for all the terrible things they did to the departed regime? Aren't they the ones who conspired with Saddam, and allied with occupiers against him? Don't they want an apology from the Arab regimes which enforced the embargo? don't we hear the Iraqis demanding an apology from the Americans and the British who starved them and blockaded them, and enslaved them? Who's the real traitor to the Iraqi people? The one who supposedly minimized Saddam's crimes, or the one who rode American tanks to occupy Iraq?" He's playing to script here, right, this is what you would expect from Al-Jazeera. And then, he stopped: turned around, pivoted 180 degrees, and he says: "But why were the Arabs silent politically and in the media for so many years about the horrors of the Iraqi regime? Aren't all of those who defended Iraq in the past now free to apologize to the Iraqi people after seeing the mass graves? Doesn't the revelation of the mass graves give the Arab states moral responsibility for the crimes of the old regime? Why did the Arab rulers and information ministers and editors and chiefs of newspapers and television stars incline towards Saddam and not towards the people? Why, why do some use the questions of the relation between the Iraqi opposition and the Americans to justify their refusal now to condemn the oppression of the Iraqi people under Saddam?" And, you know, this to me, I said, "Wait a minute, this is not the sort of stuff I should be hearing if the story's right." So that sent me off to write this book, and what I ended up doing to write the book was basically watching a lot of Al-Jazeera and collecting about twelve-hundred full transcripts of Al-Jazeera talk shows and looking at them and reading them very carefully and seeing what exactly it was that Arabs actually talked about, and how they talked about it, and what the impact of their talking was. And that's what I'm going to talk about for the rest of my time today. The bottom line of what I'd like to say, and just unlike leaving any surprises to the end, and the bottom line is going to be that Al-Jazeera and the Arab satellite television really has revolutionized Arab political life, and there's no going back. The Arab media today is so different from what it was before that the things that we learned and thought that we knew about Arab politics for decades simply don't apply anymore. It really is revolutionary. The most revolutionary thing about it is that it has shattered, I think forever, the ability of states, of Arab regimes, to monopolize control over information, to monopolize control over political discourse. Basically it's impossible for Arab states to control this stuff anymore, and they're certainly gonna try, Arab states, I always like to call them nasty little weasels, they're gonna find ways to try and regain that control, but it's a lost cause. That's gone, it's over. However, it is very much unclear what this revolution is going to produce. And it is very unclear whether this is going to push in the direction of liberalism, pluralism, and democracy, or if it's going to push in the direction of populism, radicalism, of greater extremism in society. And that, I think, is the single biggest question facing Arab politics today, and I think that the Arab media, in all of its forms, is going to take a decisive role in determining which route that that takes. Now, let me give you just a little bit of background, get a sense of, you know, where we are today and how we got there. Back in the 1950s-1960s, you had plenty of transnational media, but mostly radio broadcasting, and it was controlled by states, and what you saw back in the 1950s-1960s was some really, really entertaining political discourse, basically, you know if you have an idea in your heads of rational critical discourse, civil discussion... okay. Take the opposite. That's what you had in the 1950s. My single favorite line was broadcast, that I had the fortune of hearing a tape recording of in which Camal Abd al-Nassir's voice of the Arabs called on King Hussein of Jordan, he said that "Any day now, the Midget King will be hanging from the gates of the American Embassy and joining his quizling cousin." You know, that's the kind of political discourse they had then, you know, I don't, uh.. It uh.. it was very, I suppose entertaining in its own way, but it was not exactly the foundations of democracy or pluralism or the like, it was entirely strategic, it was entirely mobilizational, it was dictators trying to use their media to get other, other populations to rise up and revolt. That went on through the 1950s-1960s until the '67 war, the passing of the Nassir era and the rise of basically the Saudis using their money to basically buy up control of the Arab media and impose a stifling, stifling consensus over most of the Arab media. It's the 1970s is the period in which the Arab media became the delightful festival of the laugh riot of shaking hands at the airport that I described at the outset of,.. They just... they just shut it down and basically said, "We don't want to deal with this anymore." So they used their oil well to buy it up and close it down and so from the 1970s-1980s the, uh just the absolute stifling conformity and repression, and self-censorship of the Arab media in virtually every country could hardly be exaggerated. In the early 1990s you began to see some stirrings of life, mostly in the press, and in a number of Arab countries you saw some limited press openings and some adventurous journalists and newspapers doing some pretty interesting things but it was very local, and it was always subject to the whims of the dictators, you know, so you could have the uh, you know, some enterprising newspapers raising questions in Jordan, but the king could always come and shut it down and no one outside of Jordan really cared. the electronic media continued to be tightly controlled. 1996, as I'm sure many of you know, Al-Jazeera launches. And Al-Jazeera is really the product of a historical accident in a lot of ways. There was a palace coup in the state of Qatar and a young Emir who wanted to kinda put himself on the map, happened to coincide with the failure of a Saudi-British joint venture in satellite television broadcasting, which, you know, exactly as you'd think, fell apart when they aired a documentary the Saudis didn't like, so the Saudis pulled the plug, and uh, and that was the end of it. But you had a core of well-educated, very professional journalists who were suddenly out of work and available, and the emir of Qatar staffed them up and put them in charge of a station, Al-Jazeera, at which point they set out to do something really revolutionarily different, which was to report news from an explicitly Arab perspective, and to break taboos wherever they could find them. Now at first, this was easy pickings. No one had been talking about stuff, anything, for so many years that it was pretty easy to cause a sensation, that all you had to do was, you know, start talking about things like democracy, or corruption, or the idea that a lot of the elections where the dictators won 99% of the votes maybe weren't so representative, or that, you know, these kinds of things which, you know, were pretty revolutionary at the time... they still are, and uh, but uh, this was the moment in which things really started to change and in 1997, Al-Jazeera has been broadcasting for only, you know, less than a year and they were already rendering the rest of the Arab media obsolete. By 1998-1999 it would not be an exaggeration to say that Al-Jazeera was hegemonic in terms of political media, political discourse. Basically, it was the one station which everybody watched, I mean everybody. Starting with the politically elite, and it spread out into society with the spread of cheap satellite dishes, it's free to view, all you gotta do is get a cheap satellite dish and watch it, and uh, Iraq was big for it, the bombings of Iraq, the sanctions, that was a big part of their appeal, along with the talk shows, and this kind of, the way it recorded events, and basically, you know, market research is still an infant science in the Arab world, but a combination of anecdote and market surveys that are available pretty much confirm what observers already knew that by 1998-1999, as I said, it was pretty much the only game in town. And Al-Jazeera used its position as the only game in town to do two, I would say, really extraordinary things. The first was to establish a narrative about Arab identity and Arab politics which continues to the present day to pretty much shape the way almost everybody in the Arab world talks about politics. And basically what it did, as a regional, transnational, as an Arab regional network, was to take everything that happened to Arabs and place it into a common storyline so that, if you had, you know, riots in Yemen, or a crackdown on Islamists in Morocco, or elections in Egypt, instead of being isolated events, they were part of the same story and they, the way they juxtaposed events in the news coverage, the way they talked about them, they put them into this common storyline. Now this had the effect of really bringing people together in the sense of Moroccans suddenly cared a lot more about Egypt than they used to, or Saudis cared a lot more about, well, you know no one really cares about Qatar, and importantly, Al-Jazeera never said anything about Qatar, so we'll leave Qatar out of the story for the moment, but maybe they cared about Jordan in a way they didn't care about before. It framed it in this term, but the other thing that it did, by virtue of casting things at the regional level was that it necessarily heightened the profile of the United States in Arab political discourse and political debates. In other words, when you had local media, you know, the United States might loom at a certain level in Jordan, and at a different level in Saudi Arabia, and a different level in Yemen, but at the regional level, the United States loomed large in the big stories, the Palestinian story, the Iraqi story, and the general story which was, in many ways, Al-Jazeera's favorite story, the incompetence, corruption, and general uselessness of most of the existing Arab regimes, which was really a particular delight of theirs to talk about. All of this linked together in such a way that the United States became central, more central than it had been before, I'd say, and it was kinda there. It was also, and this is very important especially after October 2001, when the United States, when the Bush administration decided to initiate a de facto boycott of Al-Jazeera in protest over its coverage of the Afghan War. It meant Arabs were talking about the United States more and more and at precisely that moment, the United States disappeared from the conversation and basically just took itself out of the arguments and let Arabs just talk about it among themselves themselves in ways that often tended to, as you might imagine, the unflattering. So that's one thing, what they did, was in covering the news they helped to create this narrative, which I think shapes almost everything, the way people think about politics today in the region. The news also, the news coverage, just very briefly, It also helped to really shift the balance of power between states and society across the region. And what I mean by that is that it basically made it possible for people like Azmaghad there to do the things that I was describing, for activists to wield power that they couldn't wield before, with the Al-Jazeera cameras becoming a crucial intermediary in the political process, something which nobody was used to. And what this means, and to me one of the clearest examples of this this is the Kafiah (sp?) movement in Egypt last year which I'm sure many of you followed in the news, you know, this group of protesters who were saying Kafiah, enough, to the incompetence and corruption of the Egyptian regime. Basically what Kafiah was, I mean it was a number of things, but really, if you wanted to boil it down, it was you know, a couple of protesters standing on the street corner with signs. Ten years ago, they would have done the exact same thing and had no impact whatsoever because they would have just been ignored the way Egyptian state media tried to ignore them this year, last year, when they were doing it. They've sort of been some nuts on the street corner. With Al-Jazeera they became a major political force, in fact probably more so then they actually objectively warranted because they were able to very creatively and effectively use the Al-Jazeera cameras to give themselves power, to protect themselves from immediate state repression and state crackdown while also leveraging this Arab storyline, this narrative, and making themselves seem like the players of history, That this is the Arab street acting against incompetent regimes, and all these other stories come together in our story, and they masterfully played that, and it's a really good example I think, of the way in which Al-Jazeera's news coverage helped to change the balance of power between states and societies. What they used that power for is, of course, you know, it's neutral to that, so the same kinds of technologies that, or, this change in the political landscape that allowed them to protest effectively for democracy in 2005, it's the exact same things that allowed them to protest against Israel, and on behalf of the Palestinians in 2000 and 2001, to protest against the United States and Iraq over Iraq in 2002-2003. In other words, the technology is neutral. What the actors do with it is very much open to their choice, but a structural change, I think, is pretty undeniable. It doesn't mean that the states are doomed, it doesn't mean the regimes are gonna fall under the weight of this because, as I said, they're nasty little weasels and they're fighting back. Anybody who watched the coverage of the parliamentary elections and the presidential referendum in Egypt saw the impunity with which regime thugs went out and beat up journalists, and groped female protesters and female journalists and the Al-Jazeera cameras couldn't stop it. We should be under no illusions that this has actually shifted power away from governments to the people, that's not the case, but maybe it's equalized them in a way which is, um, which is really a change. That's the news coverage. Those of you who saw Control Room, the fabulous documentary about um, about Al-Jazeera, that focused on the news coverage and it showed you how they covered the war in Iraq and, and that side of it, but Control Room basically left out what I think is actually a more revolutionary part of Al-Jazeera, even more revolutionary than the news coverage that I've been describing, and that's the talk shows. And that's what most of the book is actually about, is about the talk shows, because it was in the talk shows that for the first time you have Arabs arguing in public about the most contentious, most core issues of their political life and not simply agreeing, not simply finding, uh, finding ways to shout louder about the same things, but actually to be disagreeing about things. And in the uh, when I, when I constructed this massive database of transcripts and then spent far too many hours reading through them, and translating the key passages and the like, I was able to break them down and code them in terms of what they actually talked about on Al-Jazeera, on these talk shows. I chose like five of the most important general interest talk shows, not the specialized ones to get a sense of this and it's very interesting. As you'd expect, Palestinian issues were really big. Palestine was very good to Al-Jazeera, especially in 2000-2001 after the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada, which they covered very heavily. In 1999-2000 roughly a quarter of all the talk shows were about Palestinian issues. And that, that's pretty big. 2001-2002 that goes up to thirty-five percent. So thirty-five percent of all the talk shows are about something to do with the Palestinians. What's interesting about them is that even though this is the area. without question, the area of the greatest consensus in Arab political life, they still had a lot of shows there, the most famous I think being Faisal al-Qasim's show, titled "Is the Intifada a Waste of Time?" I mean, the idea that you could ask that question is, in itself pretty, pretty important, especially when you have, um, you have one of the guests and a number of participants saying, "Yes". Again, that's, that's kind of interesting. But all told, I feel, on Palestinian issues, the general approach of Al-Jazeera was more mobilizational than it was really argumentative. There's pretty much consensus on that, and I never saw, in that period, a great deal of questioning of the core basic commitments. It was about supporting the Palestinians and how do you help them better wage their struggle against the Israelis. I didn't. there wasn't. I never saw a great deal of questioning of core assumptions on Palestinian issues. It was not the case on Iraq, which was head and shoulders the number two issue, always well below the Palestinian issue. But it was always the one that was the second, head and shoulders above anything else. In general, between 1999 and 2001 about ten percent of all talk shows looked at Iraqi issues, on the sanctions, on the weapons inspections, and there were a number of interesting programs about the Iraqi opposition, in which they would talk about the various opposition factions, and attempts to unite them, and that sort of thing, and it was fairly steady at about ten percent. In 2002 it jumps up to 17 percent, and 2003, 44 percent. It absolutely comes to dominate Arab political discourse, driving out everything else. In 2003, Palestine dropped to 13 percent, dropped from 35 percent to 13 percent between 2002 and 2003. Last year at the end of the year there was another Jimjabiya (sp?) mega-poll looking at Arab political priorities and it found that the Palestinian issue, which had always been number one, in survey after survey after survey had dropped to number six in the rankings, and a lot of people were surprised by that. I wasn't, because, following these talk shows, this is not what people are talking about anymore, people are talking about Iraq, they're talking about reform and democracy and things like that. They just weren't talking about the Palestinian issue anymore. Doesn't mean that they don't care about it. It doesn't mean that all of a sudden they've changed their minds about the Palestinian issue. It just wasn't at the front of people's minds anymore. What they were talking about was Iraq. The other big issue which dominated the Al-Jazeera talk shows was reform, democracy, and a general critique of the status quo. This basically held steady at, and this one's harder to measure because you know, there are a lot of like episodic kinds of shows, there's an election, so they would talk about the election. There would be, something happens, and they would talk about that thing, but in general it held fairly steady until 2003 when, along with Palestine, it drops off the radar. And it's not that the invasion of Iraq triggered a discussion, immediately triggered discussions of reform. It actually killed discussions of democracy and reform for about six months because Iraq was all anybody could talk about. But in December 2003, another program that I remember really vividly... December 2003, a more mild-mannered very thoughtful Al-Jazeera talk show host named Hassan Bibidou(sp?) hosted a program with two names who, figures you might recognize, you might not, Hassad bin Ibrahim probably the best-known Arab liberal and Fahmi Huweidi, a widely respected kinda moderate Islamist, Egyptian journalist. Two of the most respected, I'd say, and heavyweight intellectuals in the Arab world, and their debate was about "If everybody in the Arab world wants democracy, should they accept American help to get it, or not?" Hassad bin Ibrahim said yes, Fahmi Huweidi said no, but even he was kind of thoughtful about it. And that sort of let open the floodgates. In 2004, you saw an outpouring of discussion about reform and democracy. And it wasn't that they had never been talking about it before. Like I said, they'd been talking about this since the late nineties, really quite openly and vigorously. But in 2004-2005, you do then see a new, as my friend Amy Hawthorne, who's from the area, described it, a "new ferment" in Arab political discourse about democracy and a lot of that was carried on Al-Jazeera and its competitors. But something else is going on in 2003-2004 which is extremely important and which, I think, some people have not fully appreciated which is, you know, you never want to put an exact date on things, but why not, it's fun. February 2003 the Al-Jazeera era ended. It's over, and Al-Jazeera knows it, and people who specialize in the Arab media know it. The reason I give the date February 2003 is that that's when the Saudi competitor to Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabiya launched. It's not the only one, there's probably a dozen now really competitive solid political news and discussion satellite television stations broadcasting now who are intensely competitive with each other. Al-Arabiya, which is Saudi-owned, and I emphasize that for reasons which will become clear, represents a real, kind of region-wide threat to Al-Jazeera's hegemony. According to most polls, Al-Jazeera is still the one station which everybody watches, in the Zagbi(sp?) mega-poll from last December, only ten percent of respondents said that they never watched Al-Jazeera. Everybody watches it, but in every market now, Al-Jazeera faces at least one, and often more than one, strong competitor. Al-Arabiya is very strong in Saudi Arabia and in Iraq for example. LBC and Future TV are very strong in Lebanon, and you can go down the list. There's a strong competitor in almost every Arab country. The competition is interesting because it's not actually market competition as we've come to understand it in that none of these stations really depend on advertising revenues. They don't need market share, but they equate market share with power and with influence, and they are intensely competitive with each other in their pursuit of market share. From 2003 to the present, and for the foreseeable future, we are in an era of intense competition among these television stations. This has interesting implications in a number of different directions. I'm just going to lay out a couple of them and then stop and open it up for questions and discussion.