Major global media have been reporting on the Al Jazeera coverage of the Gaza crisis while omitting the Muslim Brotherhood and possible Hamas background of Wadah Khanfar (aka Waddah Khanfar), the station’s General Manager. In October 2006, one of Al Jazeera’s own correspondents stated that Mr. Khanfar had a Muslim Brotherhood background and asked him about it directly, receiving a non-denial and evasive reply:
Mr. Waddah, you have and Islamic background, specifically Muslim Brotherhood, don’t you think that this is conflicting with your position as a head of the biggest Arab media organization now?
– In fact, I do not classify myself as belonging to a certain political ideological movement, this is firstly an important issue which is very ..
(interrupting) ..Or you were belonging ..
I think that firstly I belong to this Nation including its collective legacy and mind, and that this something I value and am keen on it, but I tell you clearly and frankly, Aljazeera taught us always that our affiliation to Aljazeera- as an administration or press- is an affiliation to an institution with deep-rooted rules and with a clear identity based primarily on proficiency and respecting the opinion and the other opinion, and it isn’t absolutely based on differentiating between people on ideological, intellectual or party bases.
According to a report in a Mideast business publication, Wadah Khanfar was born and educated in Jordan where, consistent with a Muslim Brotherhood background, he was educated as an engineer. The same report indicates that he also was a student activist, organizing a student union an activity also consistent with a Muslim Brotherhood background. In a TV interview, Khanfar stated that started his career as a journalist as an analyst on African affairs, mainly on Al Jazeera, while living in South Africa where is was doing graduate study in international politics and African studies at the time. He also described himself in the interview as “a researcher and consultant in Middle Eastern economics and political affairs.” In 1997, Khanfar became the Al Jazeera correspondent in South Africa.
However, while living in South Africa, Khanfar was also was the Director of Human Resource Development for the International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations (IIFSO), an organization closely tied to the global Muslim Brotherhood. A memo purporting to be a 1998 briefing document prepared for the South African President Thabo Mbeki has long been posted on the Internet and describes the IIFSO as working closely with Hamas:
According to information HAMAS members in South Africa does not recognise the MUSLIM YOUTH MOVEMENT (MYM) as the official organ representing the Muslim youth in South Africa. HAMAS is of the opinion that the MYM have lost their control of the youths representation. Based upon this situation HAMAS, with the help of the INTERNATIONAL ISLAMIC FEDERATION OF STUDENT ORGANIZATIONS (IIFSO) are busy to establish institutions for the Muslim youth in South Africa to take over the role of the MYM. These youth centres are implemented in Pretoria and Cape Town.
The memo also identifies an individual called Wahdan Abu Ahmed KHUNFUR who it says was a Trustee of the Al Aqsa Foundation in South Africa as well as a Hamas contact. The Al Aqsa Foundation is one of the organizations comprising the Union of Good, the worldwide coalition of charities collecting money for Hamas and directed by global Muslim Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi. The memo appears to be genuine, containing substantial detail and matching the time that Khanfar was known to be living in South Africa, but cannot be verified as genuine or that these are the same individuals. It should be noted, however, that a Jordanian newspaper reported recently that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gave Qatari officials a file demonstrating Khanfar’s Hamas/Brotherhood connections.
In 2003, Khanfar became head of the Al Jazeera Baghdad bureau and shortly thereafter station General Manager. A recent report in Nation Magazine attributes the support by the Al Jazeera television station for Islamic movements to Khanfar’s influence. According to the report, Al Jazeera coverage changed when Khanfar took over in March 2003:
“How things are covered, the prominence of things, what words are used–sometimes you do see that very clear Islamist subtext, depending on the issue,” says Alberto Fernandez, the director for press and public diplomacy in the Bureau of Near East Affairs at the State Department. “We see the unconditional support of Islamic movements, no matter where they are: Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan,” says a Jordanian official who did not wish to be identified because of what he characterized as the deteriorating relations between his country and Qatar. Dozens of hours of viewing Al Jazeera for this article confirm the charge. Whether it’s reporting the Hamas perspective from the occupied territories without mention of the Palestinian Authority’s version of events, or the fawning depiction elsewhere of Islamist parties and militias as the grassroots reflection of Arab sentiment, Al Jazeera has moved away from its ideologically diverse origins to a more populist/Islamist approach. After the March 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Al Jazeera replaced its longtime secular bureau chief in Baghdad, Faisal Yasiri, with Wadah Khanfar, who had reported from Afghanistan after the American invasion in 2001 and then Kurdish-controlled territory as the war with Iraq was launched in 2003. Shortly thereafter, the secular head of Al Jazeera, Mohammed Jassem Ali, was ousted and replaced by Khanfar, whom nine current and former employees of the station interviewed for this article characterize as an Islamist. It was around this time that Jazeera’s Iraq bureau “became a platform for [Sunni] extremists,” says Shaker Hamid, a secular Jazeera correspondent in Baghdad from 1997 to 2000, who left to work at another Arab satellite station after getting what he says was a better offer. “I can’t say that Jazeera’s rhetoric is completely against Shiites,” Hamid says. “The Americans introduced this, but the media should not make it worse, and Jazeera did.”
The report goes on to say that the trend toward Islamism at the station is continuing:
Former employees of Jazeera interviewed for this article say the newsroom is becoming more religiously conservative. “Everyone is complaining about the new trend now–that the liberals, the secular types, the Arab nationalists are getting downsized and the Islamic position is dominating the newsroom,” says Hamid, the former Baghdad correspondent. Mirazi, the former Washington bureau chief, told Al Hayat: “From the first day of the Wadah Khanfar era, there was a dramatic change–especially because of him selecting assistants who are hard-line Islamists.”
Previous posts have reported that Khanfar appeared to have been on his way to being dismissed over his alleged connections with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, but that does not appear to have taken place. Given the role of Al Jazeera in helping to propagate the Muslim Brotherhood/Hamas narrative during the Gaza crisis, the Muslim Brotherhood and possible Hamas background of the station’s General Manager would seem to be of some importance.