Alex Rowell

July 29, 2015

HuffPost Arabic’s Muslim Brotherhood connections

Editorial line of the Huffington Post’s new Arabic-language site is in the hands of two prominent Islamists




From top to bottom: Wadah Khanfar re-tweets Yusuf al-Qaradawi; Anas Fouda tweets article praising Qaradawi; Fouda writes “Only after the latest Israeli aggression on Gaza did I realise the number of Egyptian Jews has increased greatly since the coup” (Source: @khanfarw and @anasfouda Twitter accounts)
Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the sectarian cleric admired by both Khanfar and Fouda, speaking on Al Jazeera Arabic (Source: YouTube)

“Don't be shocked if you expect one thing and find something entirely different,” writes Anas Fouda, editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post’s brand new Arabic-language edition, HuffPost Arabi, in his inaugural editorial.


The warning is apt, for presumably few readers indeed will have expected the liberal American media juggernaut to launch a venture headed by two prominent figures of the Middle East’s religious right.


Fouda, previously an executive producer at Al Jazeera Arabic (AJA), is managing the website in partnership with his old boss, former AJA director general Wadah Khanfar. Their profiles may make for interesting perusal for existing Huffington Post readers unfamiliar with the Arabic-language media landscape.


An Egyptian national now living in Turkey, Fouda was arrested in the United Arab Emirates in 2013 on suspicion of affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) – an affiliation which he freely admitted had existed since 1988, though he claimed to have held no formal party role since 1995. A browse of his Twitter timeline shows his politics to be fairly bread-and-butter MB; recommending, for instance, articles praising “His Eminence” Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Holocaust-revisionist cleric who routinely denounces Shiite and Alawite Muslims, to say nothing of Jews. Indeed, Fouda has himself on occasion found less-than-obliging things to say about his Semitic cousins, e.g., tweeting last July that, “Only after the latest Israeli aggression on Gaza did I realize the number of Egyptian Jews has increased greatly since the coup.”


Khanfar, however, is the heavyweight of the pair; the man who made Al Jazeera the titan of Arabic media that it is today. He’s also, according to ex-colleagues, the man who made Al Jazeera the Muslim Brotherhood mouthpiece that it is today. A former Baghdad correspondent complained that once Khanfar took over the reins, “the liberals, the secular types, the Arab nationalists [were] getting downsized, and the Islamic position [was] dominating the newsroom.” Former AJA Washington bureau chief Hafez al-Mirazi similarly said that “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.” Khanfar has defended his Brotherhoodisation of the editorial line as simply a reflection of a new “political reality” in the Arab world – never mind any Arabs who may seek to challenge that reality.


Western Anglophone audiences, too, have been treated to Khanfar’s perspectives in the past, in articles that may well indicate what he has in store for HuffPost. Whether it was his 2011 Guardian column titled, “Those who support democracy must welcome the rise of political Islam,” or his 2012 celebration in the same newspaper of Muslim Brother Muhammad Morsi’s electoral victory in Egypt as “a clear message that the Arab spring was still alive,” the message has been as persistent as it has been one-dimensional. On Twitter, he re-tweets Qaradawi directly.


In her own note introducing HuffPost Arabi, Arianna Huffington told readers to expect “original reporting by independent journalists” covering “problems and crises like gender inequality” and “the devastating rise of […] extremism.”


Khanfar, on the other hand, when asked in 2011 after his resignation from AJA what he planned to do next, replied, “I'm going to continue in the same spirit of al-Jazeera.” It’s too soon to tell which of these two visions – Khanfar’s or Arianna’s – will prevail on the pages of HuffPost Arabi, but it certainly can’t be both of them.