If you want to understand why many Arab world leaders hate Al Jazeera, consider “Sharia and Life.”
For years, the call-in show was one of the network’s most popular, reaching tens of millions. Viewers would call in and pose their faith questions to Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian cleric and a spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. People would ask all kinds of things: Is it all right to smoke during Ramadan? Does a female Palestinian woman have to wear a hijab while carrying out a suicide bombing?
Before Al Jazeera, a show like this would have been unusual in the Arab world, where media is tightly controlled. But the Qatari-owned network has a mandate to produce ambitious journalism on a wide range of subjects (some taboo). It offers, too, a broader range of opinions than most Arab media.
These qualities have made it the most popular network in the Middle East. It’s also attracted a lot of enemies. Rulers in places such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt resent the station’s broad reach and its willingness to rile up opposition. They don’t like its Islamist bent, and they’re angry that their populations are exposed to reporting critical of their regimes (and supportive of the Qatari agenda).