Al Jazeera’s director general, Wadah Khanfar, has announced that he will step down after eight years as the network’s top executive. Khanfar said he had been discussing his decision to step down with the Chairman of the Board for some time. In a farewell note to Al Jazeera staff, Khanfar mentioned that upon his appointment he spoke with the chairman and they set the goal to establish Al Jazeera as global media leader. In final discussions, they agreed that this target had been met and that the organisation is in a strong position going forward. Khanfar, who began as a correspondent with the network in locations such as Africa, Afghanistan and Iraq, said his time in the field had taught him the importance of a free press with the human being at the core of its agenda. In his note to staff, Khanfar said: “When we launched in 1996 ‘media independence” was a contradiction in terms. “State media was prevalent and was blatantly used for propaganda and misinformation. Within such an environment the public probably doubted that Al Jazeera would fulfill its promise of independent journalism. “We managed to pleasantly surprise them by exceeding all expectations. “Yet we remained steadfast in our editorial policy – in fact, each attempt to silence us further emboldened us and increased our resolve.
Read Khanfar’s resignation letter here.
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 he 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 memopurporting 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 Nation report, Al Jazeera coverage changed dramatically to a far more “populist/Islamist approach.” when Khanfar took over in March 2003. An analysisposted by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs traces Mr. Khanfar’s connections to the Muslim Brotherhood:
The meteoric rise of the network and its increasing popularity have led many political and media commentators in the Arab world to wonder exactly who or what was behind what appears to be its main purpose: encouraging opposition and promoting incitement against Arab regimes, exposing the corruption of their leaders and their entourage, while holding to an extreme Arab nationalist attitude against the US and Israel and extolling the values of conservative – and sometimes extremist – Islam. It did not take long for one name to emerge: the Muslim Brotherhood. This hypotheisis is supported by a number of facts. The director-general of the network, Wadah Khanfar, was a member of the organization in Jordan, where he was arrested. Today he is one of the closest advisers of the emir. Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi is also a member of the inner circle of the emir and is known to work closely with Khanfar. Both support Hamas. Arab researchers have succeeded in uncovering a number of other Brothers working for the network, but it is surmised that there are many more. The general consensus is that Qaradawi is the visible tip of the iceberg. In an article published in 2003 in the London-based Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat, Maamun Fendi, a well-known Egyptian liberal thinker today living in the US, wrote that some 50 percent of the network’s personnel belong to the Muslim Brotherhood. He added that their influence in Qatar was rising both in the network and among government circles. According to him, the Brotherhood had intended to hold its world summit in Qatar in 2003 but had to scuttle its plan when it became known. These summits are usually held in a European capital far from Arab countries, in conditions of the utmost discretion, if not secrecy. Fendi believes that Qatar, by embracing the Brotherhood, an extremist Islamic organization quite popular in the Arab world, while hosting American bases, has found the perfect formula against retaliation by Arab leaders and attacks by all other Arab and Islamic extremists including al-Qaida.
In July 2009, Al Jazeera’s opened a bureau in Washington DC, representing the station’s first entry into a major U.S. commercial market.
There has been some speculation that Khanfar’s resignation might have been sparked by the release of a U.S. State Department cable showing that Khanfar had had several meetings with U.S. officials but internal Qatari politics cannot be ruled out. In March 2010, Qatar appeared to seize control of the IslamOnline, ousting Global Muslim Brotherhood leader Youssef Qaradawi from the board of the organization that controlled the station.