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EGYPT: As protests continue, Al Jazeera's role debated

January 30, 2011 |  5:09 pm

Jazeera

Security was deteriorating across Egypt late Sunday as protesters mounted fresh marches and rallies in a number of cities.

In Alexandria, protesters marched around barricades meant to keep the streets clear, Al Jazeera reported.

"This protest, this march, has been going on for seven hours now. Clearly, no sign that it's going to abate any time soon," an unnamed Al Jazeera correspondent said.

"We have to remember that Egyptians broke a massive fear barrier on Jan. 25 when they took to the streets ... there's probably not a single main street in Alexandria — no exaggeration — that this march has not passed through."

Meanwhile, pundits and bloggers debated what role the Arab satellite news network has played in the political uprising.

On CNN's Reliable Sources, Howard Kurtz spoke with Al Jazeera’s Washington Bureau Chief Abderrahim Foukara about Bill O’Reilly’s recent comment that Al Jazeera is "spurring on this revolt and encouraging uprisings all over the Muslim world." Foukara disagreed.

"The viewership, the people who are directly involved in these events, they come to Al Jazeera because that's who they feel they can trust with their grievances and their aspirations," Foukara said.

Many academics, bloggers and other outside observers agree, saying Al Jazeera, which has English as well as Arabic-language channels, has evolved to play a similar role in this conflict as CNN did during the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

"Al Jazeera saw the gravity of the situation," Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institute in Doha told Reuters, referring to Egypt and Tunisia. "They saw it was going to be big before other people did and that it would stand as one of the historic moments in Arab history."

But so did bloggers and those with Twitter feeds such as "Sandmonkey," who sent dispatches Sunday as he arrived in Tahrir Square ("in tahrir now, everyone here, ppl of ALL classes, army letting us in, v peaceful") protestst grew tense ("word is army has permission to shoot live ammunition at protesters") and he left for Zamalek ("zamalek is a ghost town, inadequate protection even by volunteer committees").

But Marc Lynch, an associate professor at George Washington University, credited Al Jazeera — more than Twitter and other social media— with fostering recent uprisings in Tunisia and other countries.

"Without the new social media, the amazing images of Tunisian protestors might never have escaped the blanket repression of the Ben Ali regime — but it was the airing of these videos on Al Jazeera, even after its office had been shuttered, which brought those images to the mass Arab public and even to many Tunisians who might otherwise not have realized what was happening around their country," Lynch wrote. "This is similar to how the new media empowered Egyptian "Kifaya" protesters in the early 2000s and Lebanese protestors in 2005, but in a significantly changed media space."

RELATED:

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U.S. Embassy in Cairo to begin voluntary evacuation flights Monday

Egyptian opposition leaders plan to negotiate with military, not president

Defense Secretary Robert Gates speaks with counterparts in Egypt, Israel about unrest

— Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Image:  The Cairo offices of Al Jazeera. Credit: Mohammed Abed / AFP/Getty Images

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