A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, October 8, 2009

You Can't Make This Stuff Up: Haim Saban Wants to Buy Half of Al-Jazeera?

Okay: strangest story so far today (but it's early): Haim Saban wants to buy half of Al-Jazeera?

Now Haim Saban is a media mogul, born into the Jewish community in Alexandria, Egypt; he owns pretty much whatever he fancies. (And is the benefactor of the Saban Center at Brookings.) But for all his financial clout, he's a strong supporter of Israel and lives there part of the time: can he really persuade the Amir of Qatar to let him buy half of Al-Jazeera? Especially now that the report is public?

Ah — but let's read the story a bit more. Key words: The Egyptian newspaper Al-Mesryoon Reported This Week.

Aha! Al-Misriyyun is an Egyptian independent newspaper; a bit sensational at times (at the moment they're headlining the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood doesn't accept Muhammad al-Baradei as a candidate for President of Egypt, which would only be interesting if he had a chance) and here's the original Haim Saban/Al-Jazeera story for those who read Arabic. It would not be outrageous for this to be a piece of disinformation aimed at discrediting a) Al-Jazeera, b) Qatar (neither of which are very popular with Egypt right now), or c) both.

Oh, I don't doubt that Haim Saban, a strong supporter of Israel, would like to own half of Al-Jazeera (wouldn't you?) But can anybody really picture this happening, at least in the present Arab-Israeli environment? Since the Qatari Royal Family would be involved?

I think this is a case of an Egyptian paper rabble-rousing against Al-Jazeera, even though there may be a nugget of truth deep down in there somewhere. I'm a little surprised that Ha'aretz played the story so straight.

Reading that story it strikes me as the sort of sensational story that turns up too often in the Egyptian press raising specters of Israeli takeovers of all sorts of Arab institutions. It's pretty much unsourced (Egyptian sources working in Qatar) and may represent some echo of a feeler put out by Saban — if that. I don't see Al-Jazeera being half-controlled by Haim Saban anytime soon.

The odd part, I still think, is not that Al-Misriyyun ran this, but that Ha'aretz did.

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