Former Al-Jazeera boss shares his frontline experiences of the Arab Spring

20 November 2012

Wadah Khanfar
Former Al-Jazeera boss, Wadah Khanfar: "The Arab Awakening is reshaping the way people are viewing themselves and the world around them. People have discovered the power of their voices and the vulnerability of authoritarian regimes."

Despite continuing violence in Syria, Iran's provocative nuclear enrichment program and escalating hostilities in the Gaza strip, the former head of Al-Jazeera argues the Middle East is on track for burgeoning democracy and peace.

Past Director General of Al-Jazeera, Wadah Khanfar, will deliver his assessment of the Middle East's progress since last year's 'Arab Spring' at the University of Sydney this Thursday 22 November in his talk 'Journalism and Political Transition in the Arab World'.

While democracy is an ongoing project in the Middle East, the wheels of change are already in motion, according to Khanfar.

"The Middle East is heading towards democracy, it is a process and the region is going through a state of transformation," he said. "A new era of great debate has started; the result of which will be more democratic."

During his tenure at the helm of Al-Jazeera, Khanfar witnessed firsthand the seismic shift away from entrenched tyrannical regimes through popular uprisings sparked by both Al-Jazeera and social media platforms. So influential was the network's role in the 2011 Egyptian revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak that some analysts have dubbed this the 'Al-Jazeera revolution'.

"The Arab Awakening is reshaping the way people are viewing themselves and the world around them," he said. "People have discovered the power of their voices and the vulnerability of authoritarian regimes. The youth are more involved than ever and they have a new imagination of the future."

Khanfar's impressive journalistic career has taken him to some of the world's most dangerous hotspots, including Baghdad during the peak of the Iraq war, and he has been embedded in conflicts across Africa and Afghanistan. These turbulent settings gave Khanfar an appreciation of "the human side of any conflict"; a sentiment he said international news agencies should heed.

"Reporting wars should not be about armies, weapons, data and figures only, it should be centred around people; those who suffer and those who fight. You cannot foresee the impact of any war on a nation without understanding the historical and cultural fabric of that society.

"I am proud of the role Al-Jazeera has played in empowering a new generation of Arab youth who have saved the Arab world from aging, corrupt and authoritarian regimes. Al-Jazeera's paradigm of journalistic integrity has been a landmark in the Arab World and internationally."

In his forthcoming public lecture, Khanfar will discuss the rise of what he dubs a "new eco-system in journalism: journalism of interactivity and depth". Drawing on his experiences from the Arab Spring, he will outline how traditional and new media can join forces to advance democracy and provoke political revolution.

While the media industries worldwide face unprecedented challenges from social media, Khanfar remained confident traditional media will hold a significant presence in the future media mix.

"People will continue to appreciate balanced and professional journalism; new media complements what professional journalists do," said Khanfar. "It is a trend that professional journalists should embrace rather than feel threatened by. Social media provides a great opportunity of interactivity and democratisation of knowledge but it cannot substitute professional reporting, as sometimes it lacks context and a sense of priorities."

Wadah Khanfar was Director General of Al-Jazeera from 2006 until September 2011, where he pioneered the network's transformation from a single channel station into an international multimedia network incorporating Al-Jazeera Arabic, Al-Jazeera English, Al-Jazeera Documentary, Al-Jazeera Sport and Al-Jazeera Mobile.

He currently works for the Sharq Forum, an independent international network he co-founded that aims to develop long-term strategies for political development, social justice and economic prosperity across the greater Middle East. He was ranked as one of Foreign Policy magazine's top 100 global thinkers, was listed as one of the most 'Powerful People in the World' by Forbes Magazine, and is widely regarded one of the leading intellectuals in the Arab World.

Khanfar will speak at the University of Sydney for the University's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies.


What: 'Journalism and Political Transition in the Arab World'

When: Thursday 22 November 2012, 12.30pm - 2.00pm

Where: Room 114, Mackie Building, University of Sydney, Arundel St, Glebe

Further or 9351 7686

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Contact: Emily Jones

Phone: 02 9114 1961

Email: 36020336291e0d3a1610422a1a3f1d16262b7d3f310743071d44