DOHA: Mainstream Arab news channels downplayed Nelson Mandela’s death as their counterparts elsewhere in the world devoted considerable time to its coverage and flashed it as the top news of the day.
Popular Arab TV stations, on the contrary, continued to focus on bombings in Yemen, sectarian violence in parts of the Arab world, and the political situation in Egypt.
Al Jazeera Arabic almost downplayed the great leader’s demise in its news slots, giving it routine coverage much after main news items on Yemen and Egypt.
Its English-language version, however, was quick to air a special programme as part of Al Jazeera Magazine devoted to the departed leader.
The programme was titled ‘Nelson Mandela (1918-2013), a special issue’.
Al Jazeera Arabic devoted much time to the bombings in Yemen and carried a long-winding debate featuring experts and analysts.
Attempts to contact Al Jazeera Network’s spokesman for comment on the issue failed as he didn’t respond to calls from this newspaper.
On Al Arabiya, the other prominent channel of the Arab world, not much attention was paid to Mandela’s death. In its news bulletins the TV station slotted the news of the great leader’s death almost at the end.
The channel kept airing video clippings sent out by readers showing funerals of Shia fighters and anti-Sunni sloganeering at these processions in a provocative way.
Contacted for comment, journalist and writer Dr Ahmed Abdul Malik said he was surprised. “Sadly, the current generation of Arabs knows nothing about Mandela because the Arab media do not pay much attention to such international stories.”
The Arab media instead continued to devote time to their regular entertainment shows, he said. “Mandela was such a lofty historical figure and his sacrifices and principles are of great value to the entire world.”
Prominent newspaper columnist Faisal Al Marzouqi also said the Arab media’s treatment of the great leader’s death was a surprise to him.
“He wasn’t an iconic figure in South Africa alone. He was an international figure with hardly any parallel in contemporary history,” said Al Marzouqi.
He said it was an irony that the Western media, owned and run by those who were the staunchest supporters of apartheid, had devoted so much time to the death of a man who fought the racist policy tooth and nail and ended it.
“I really don’t know why they downplayed the sad event,” he said. “The Western media are still supporting the Israeli version of apartheid.”
An analyst who didn’t want his name in print said that coincidentally, the South African regime adopted the discriminatory policy of apartheid in 1948, the year Israel came into being.
“Mandela was a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause so the Arab media should have had all the more reason to focus on this event,” said the analyst.
Not surprisingly, then, Israeli media, in their coverage of Mandela’s death, dubbed him an enemy of their state.
DOHA: While the Arab media disappointed its audiences with poor coverage of Nelson Mandela’s death, people in the Arab world poured out their hearts and showered immense praise on the departed soul.
The new and emerging social media in the Arab world proved once again that it is mightier than its traditional counterpart.
A pan-Arab campaign on Twitter titled ‘#Mandela’ was launched yesterday to pay tribute to the departed leader. The participants came from countries across the Arab world, including Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Libya and Iraq, among others.
A highlight was participation by Waddah Khanfar, the former boss of Al Jazeera. He recalled that when an Israeli religious leader called on Mandela once and complained why he had invited Yasser Arafat, Mandela replied: “We are not going to allow the enemies of yesterday to do what to do with yesterday’s friends”.
Paying tribute to Mandela in her own way, a woman participant, Fida Fehaid, said cowards die many times in their lives but brave people like Mandela die only once.
Someone from Benghazi, Libya, said in the Twitter campaign: “The values good people stand for are appreciated after they are no more”.
Ahmed Masood recalled Mandela’s famous quote: “We know that our freedom is not complete unless the Palestinians are free”.
Celebrated intellectual Anas Al Tikriti, a British citizen of Iraqi origin, said about the UK: “Amazing that the country that declared Mandela as a terrorist has put its flag on half mast in mourning and its media are singing praise of him.”
Mohamed Al Mayoof said he was learning about Mandela from a digital archive project dedicated to his life history.
Abdul Aziz Al Hais said he read Mandela’s biography about a decade ago but still remembered one of his famous quotes: “Routine is like a prison.”
Doha: Nelson Mandela, an ardent supporter of the Palestinian cause, had strong ties with Arab leaders.
During his term in jail under South Africa’s apartheid regime, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Yasser Arafat, hailed him as a fighter of the liberation movement.
Mandela was an admirer of the political reforms of the late Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, whom he met after the February 1962 Pan-African Freedom Movement for East, Central and Southern Africa meeting.
Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi provided political and material support to Mandela and the African National Congress.
Mandela, hailed as a champion of the Middle East peace process, in turn, spoke strongly against the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories after the 1967 Six Day War.
But analysts believe that many in the current generation of Arabs are not aware of Mandela’s efforts.
“I understand completely well why Israel occupies these lands. There was a war. But if there is going to be peace, there must be complete withdrawal from all these areas,” Mandela said during his presidency.
Mandela’s message of peace crossed ethnic as well as religious boundaries. During an address at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, Mandela said: “Islam has enriched and become part of Africa. In turn, Islam was transformed and Africa became a part of it. African centres of learning served not only as a path for the absorption of the doctrine of Islam, but also contributed to the development of broader Islamic learning.”
It comes as no surprise, then, that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was the first Arab leader to issue a statement on Mandela’s death yesterday.
“Mr Mandela was a symbol of liberation from colonialism and occupation,” Abbas said in a tribute to Mandela’s commitment to the people of Palestine.
He added: “The Palestinian people will never forget his historic statement that the South African revolution will not have achieved its goals as long as the Palestinians are not free.”
In an open letter to Mandela, jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghuti said Mandela’s struggle for freedom inspired Palestinians to believe that their own liberation was possible.
“And from within my prison cell, I tell you our freedom seems possible because you reached yours,” he wrote.
Egypt, meanwhile, has announced three days of mourning for Mandela.
THE PENINSULA & AGENCIES
DOHA: A South African expatriate yesterday said the greatest moment in his life was when he briefly met the now-departed Nelson Mandela in Cape Town some 16 years ago.
Mandela was at an auction of his personal effects to raise money for the African National Congress (ANC) when Mohamed Moeneeb Emeran said he and his wife met him.
“That was a brief encounter. I grabbed his hand for a warm shake and I asked him how he was.”
“My wife and I still recall how peaceful we felt after that meeting. He had some kind of highly spiritual side to his personality.”
“He was a father figure for all South Africans,” said Emeran, adding that he was 27 when Mandela took over as president of their country.
Though Emeran said he didn’t take part in anti-apartheid protests while in college and university, he did watch fellow students being chased by the police during demonstrations.
That was in Cape Town, where he said he was born and raised and where Muslims come from a mix of racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Aside from the natives, there were Indians and Cape Malays, among others, who were all discriminated against during apartheid — the latter with their origin in Malaysia. “I was born into a Cape Malay family.”
Emeran said in remarks to this newspaper that his bitterest memory of apartheid was when as a teenager he went to a theatre to watch a movie with his siblings, and as he approached the ticket window he was told that the show was exclusively for whites.
“I was shocked. I felt I was a second-class citizen in my own country, with no rights.”
Emeran said many outside South Africa did not know that during apartheid dark-skinned people were not the only victims or racial discrimination. Within the white population of British descent, the rich were treated differently from others, he said. Then, there were whites from other European countries like Greece and Portugal. “They were also victims of racial discrimination under apartheid.”
Love for football brought these less privileged whites closer to the dark-skinned population. “Football is generally considered a sport of the dark-skinned and these less privileged Europeans, being fond of it, mixed freely with us.” As a student, Emeran said he could not write his final school exam in 1985 due to a general anti-apartheid boycott. “My father sent me to a private school the next year so I didn’t lose any more school years, and there I met a lot of students of British descent.”
“We were friendly. There was hardly any racist feeling among them.”
Mandela, said Emeran, will be missed by the world, and more so by his compatriots, for whom he sacrificed his entire life.