US designates Al Jazeera affiliate as foreign agent

In what is seen as a highly political move, the US Justice Department has ordered Al Jazeera’s affiliate youth channel AJ+ to register as a foreign agent. The decision has sparked controversy, with the Qataris suggesting that the move was one of the demands made by the UAE before normalising relations with Israel.

AJ+ – a network that primarily produces short videos for social media in English as well as Arabic, French and Spanish, the US justice Department said in a letter obtained by the New York Times had engaged in “political activities” on behalf of Qatar’s government and should therefore be subject to the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Explaining its determination, the letter claimed that Qatar provides AJ+ funding and appoints its board of directors and that the channel was seeking to influence US perception. “Journalism designed to influence American perceptions of a domestic policy issue or a foreign nation’s activities or its leadership qualifies as ‘political activities’ under the statutory definition,” said the letter, “even if it views itself as ‘balanced.’”

Al Jazeera Media Network, AJ+’s parent organisation, insisted that AJ+ was independent and therefore should not have to register as a foreign agent, and that it was “considering our options”.

Al Jazeera has suggested that the move was politically motivated, coming as it did at the same time as the UAE had normalised relations with Israel and in light of Abu Dhabi’s deep hostility towards its Gulf neighbour.

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“The U.A.E. has confirmed it presented the United States with preconditions prior to announcing the Abraham Accords, and we received D.O.J.’s letter the day before the U.A.E. signed the Accords,” said Al Jazeera’s statement, referring to the agreement signed at the White House yesterday. “Hobbling Al Jazeera was one of the top conditions of the U.A.E.’s blockade against Qatar and the Justice Department just gave the U.A.E. what it wanted.”

Denying the allegation, Emirates’ Ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al-Otaiba, said in an email to the Times: “At no point in our discussions was Al Jazeera or even Qatar raised.” He added, of Al Jazeera, “they’re really not as important as they think they are.”

Al Jazeera has been a major target in the UAE and Saudi led cold war with Qatar, which saw the gas rich Gulf Kingdom put under a blockade in 2017. One of the 13 demands made by the blockading countries, which include Egypt and Bahrain, is the closure of Al Jazeera before relations return to normal with Qatar.