A Middle East media primer.

A Middle East media primer.

A Middle East media primer.

What the foreign papers are saying.
Nov. 16 2001 10:45 AM

A Middle East Media Primer

Why limit your wartime Web newspaper-grazing to the prejudices of ethnocentric Western reporters when there is a whole world of prejudices from ethnocentric Pakistani, Yemeni, and Egyptian reporters to consume? Here follows a selective guide to the online English-language press of the Arab and Middle Eastern world. Many of these papers are published for foreign workers or for overseas consumption—a sort of PR project designed to sell the official version of domestic events to foreign audiences—but you can learn a lot even from pallid publications.

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Bahrain
If the Gulf Daily Newsis "the voice of Bahrain," the country has laryngitis. The paper limits itself to innocuous news stories and business boosterism. Still, the Web site doesn't completely shun controversial topics: The Nov. 11 issue gave the official version of the prosecution of Bahraini journalist Hafiz Al Shaikh for undermining national unity after he criticized Bahrain-U.S. relations in Lebanon's Daily Star.

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.

Egypt
Al-Ahram Weeklyis the English-language arm of the Arab world's oldest newspaper, Al-Ahram(a French version, Al-Ahram Hebdo, is also available). Published every Saturday, Al-Ahram Weekly has a strong opinion section but, like the rest of the Egyptian press, it is tightly controlled by the ministry of information. The Web site of another Egyptian weekly, Cairo's Middle East Times, links to stories that were censored from its print version. The most frequent targets for censorship are stories that "report on human rights abuses, criticize the president or his family; criticize the military; point out the ill-treatment of Egyptians in 'friendly' Arab countries, especially in Saudi Arabia; discuss modern, unorthodox interpretations of Islam; or report on discrimination against Coptic Christians."

Iran
The Tehran Timestoes the official line and avoids controversy (don't go looking for information about the ongoing trial of liberal dissidents, for example), but it's a good barometer of changing attitudes in Iran.

Israel
One of the most common complaints in the "International Papers" Fray thread is a lack of balance between Israeli papers and Palestinian sources. As the Guardian's Derek Brown observed in January 2001, "Israel's overwhelming advantage in firepower is matched by its enormous superiority in wordpower." While English speakers can get a sense of Israeli opinion from the liberal Ha'aretz, the hawkish Jerusalem Post, or even financial paper Globes—all updated with impressive frequency—there are no English-language Palestinian dailies, and other Palestinian sources read more like propaganda than journalism (see, for example, the news section of the monthly Palestine Timesor the summaries provided by the Palestine News Agency). The Jerusalem Times, an independent Palestinian weekly, reads like a neighborhood newsletter compared with journalistic powerhouses like Ha'aretz or the Jerusalem Post.

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Jordan
The Jordan Timespublishes a lively mixture of light filler ("Queen urges Arab women to be proactive, innovative") and serious news ("Gov't urges US to reconsider classifying Hamas, Hizbollah as terrorist organizations"), along with a decent opinion section, six days a week.

Lebanon
The Daily Staris a scrappy daily with an impassioned opinion section and an occasional press review feature, which provides English translations from Arabic newspapers throughout the Middle East. Despite its hard-to-read blocks of text, the weekly Monday Morningis also worth a spot in a Middle East-watcher's bookmarks; this week's issue features an interview with Yasser Arafat.

Oman
Like many English-language Gulf papers, the Times of Omanexcels only in its coverage of India, Pakistan, and the Philippines, the homelands of much of the sultanate's workforce.

Pakistan

As in neighboring India, the legacy of Pakistan's colonial past includes some fine English-language newspapers. Dawn, whose Web site is updated frequently to reflect breaking stories, offers reliable news, temperate editorials, and an op-ed page that reveals the attitudes of moderate Pakistani thinkers. (The paper also recently published a controversial   interview with Osama Bin Laden.) The more Islamist Nationalso features strong editorial and opinion pages. The News International, the English-language sister publication of Jang, Pakistan's largest-circulation Urdu paper, has a great Web site, though the anti-India rhetoric in the op-ed section can be harsh. The Frontier Postis based in Peshawar in Pakistan's North West Frontier province, a location that allows it to provide good coverage of events in Afghanistan. Earlier this year, the Frontier Post was closed down for three months after it printed a letter some readers felt to be sacrilegious (the editors claim the letter was planted); since the brouhaha was resolved, the paper has been keen to proclaim its Islamic credentials.

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United Arab Emirates

The UAE offers some of the liveliest English-language papers in the Gulf region. Gulf Newsand the Khaleej Timesboth date back to 1978, when the increasing numbers of immigrant workers (currently as many as 76 percent of UAE residents are foreigners) made the market viable. Reflecting their reader demographics, both papers give extensive coverage to the Indian subcontinent. The Gulf News is particularly strong on practical aspects of expatriate life (click here for its take on the UAE's liquor laws), while the Khaleej Times offers superior editorials.

Qatar

The pioneering independent Arabic satellite TV channel Al Jazeera put Qatar on the Middle Eastern media map. The Gulf Times, its English-language newspaper, is less groundbreaking. The paper provides world news with an emphasis on Southeast Asian affairs and an opinion page that seems tireless in its efforts to praise the emir of Qatar.

Saudi Arabia

The Arab Newsand the Riyadh Dailyare both prototypical don't-rock-the-boat Middle Eastern English-language dailies, although the Riyadh Daily's editorials occasionally stray beyond hymns of praise to King Fahd.

Yemen

The weekly Yemen Timesis a middle-of-the-road paper whose regular features include a roundup of the Arab-language Yemeni press. The Yemen Observer, also a weekly, has a lively news section, but beware of a level of anti-Semitism so pronounced that a recent issue featured an anti-Israel screed by David Duke.

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Portals

If you prefer to browse through a variety of sources, several sites aggregate regional news. Like all compilations, they're spotty, hence the highly subjective score out of 10 for each portal. (Is there any point visiting a site that earns a rating of 3? Only when there's a war in the region.)

Afghan News Networkoffers a compilation of news stories about Afghanistan from sources such as Reuters, the Voice of America, and the Associated Press. The site, which says it is "run by college students," offers an archive of the daily compilations dating back to April 2000. (Rating: 3/10)

Afghan Online Press is a portal for news about Afghanistan. The site includes a daily aggregation of news stories taken from the BBC, Reuters, AP, Agence France-Presse, China's Xinhua News Agency, and Iran's state news agency, as well as select stories from British and Pakistani newspapers. Links are provided to radio broadcasts in Dari and Pashtun from the BBC, Voice of America, and Deutsche Welle, as well as the "Voice of Mujahid." In today's soft ad market, the site has an unusual advertiser: the U.S. Navy. (Rating: 4/10)

Out There Newstranslates stories from media sources inside Afghanistan, including the Afghan Islamic Press and Pashto- and Dari-language newspapers.

WorldNews.comaggregates news feeds about a huge selectionof regions and cities. Although the mini-sites lack the human touch (the selections are clearly automated) and some of the news sources lack journalistic balance, they can be useful; see, for example, Middle East Dailyor Afghan Daily. (Rating: 5/10)

Zawya.comis a business and finance portal for the Middle East and North Africa that aggregates some useful collections of stories from the English-language Arab press, including an outstanding roundup of editorial pages (you can also choose to see editorials from specific sources, e.g., the Jordan Times, grouped on one page), press digests from several North African and Middle Eastern nations, as well as a list of links to wire services and publications. (Rating: 7/10)

Perhaps the most effective, if not the quickest, way to access foreign newspapers is to do what I do when compiling "International Papers": Page through the papers of whatever countries you're interested in. OnlineNewspapers.com is probably the best one-stop source.