First Published: 2010-03-16

Murdoch's Arab foray seen as 'Trojan horse'

Egyptians suspect Rotana tie-up part of Murdoch scheme to thaw frosty Arab views of Israel.


Middle East Online

By Riad Abu Awad - CAIRO

Some critics smell sulphur in the air

The tie-up between Arab entertainment giant Rotana and pro-Israel media mogul Rupert Murdoch is viewed in Egypt not only with suspicion but as signalling the decline of Arab film and art heritage.

In a country where film and television attract some of the largest audiences across the Arab world, the tycoon's foray into the Middle East is widely seen in cultural circles as a ruse to benefit Israel.

Murdoch's News Corp last month acquired a 9.09-percent holding in the Rotana Group of Saudi royal and business tycoon Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, with an 18-month option to double the stake.

Rotana is one of the largest film producers in Egypt and also owns the rights to hundreds of Egyptian motion pictures.

In Egypt, which signed a 1979 peace treaty with Israel but has resisted a warming of cultural ties, there has been wide suspicion that the tie-up with Rotana is part of a Murdoch scheme to thaw frosty Arab views of Israel.

"Murdoch will enter every Arab home to impose normalisation" of ties with Israel, said Egyptian film critic Ola al-Shafei.

The partnership amounts to "a defeat for the Arab film and art heritage," she added.

Scriptwriter Osama Anwar Okasha wrote that Murdoch's stake in Rotana was a "Trojan horse" designed to stealthily penetrate Arab culture.

"The important thing is not the share sold by Alwaleed, but a person who hands over nine percent can also sell off the rest of the company," said novelist Ezzat Qamhawi.

"We are now facing the reality of the sale of Arab films and music to an investor whose media empire is one of the causes of the erroneous image of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the West," he added.

Murdoch's leading US news outlets like the strident Fox News, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, and his British holdings such as the Times, Sky TV and the Sun, are often accused of an anti-Arab, pro-Israel bias.

Egypt's state-owned film company has already threatened to stop working with Rotana, whose bouquet of free-to-air satellite channels target an Arab audience across the Middle East that is equally opposed to Murdoch's politics.

"The Arabs see Murdoch as a person who does not respect them, their faith, or heritage," wrote Palestinian journalist and poet, Iqbal Tamimi.

"The majority say that he is gambling with his money if he thinks that the Arabs will forget his far right-wing political news machine, or his pro-Israeli stands," she added.

Murdoch has made no bones about his unabashed support of Israel for decades, and has received a number of awards from Jewish groups amid debate over his own Jewish roots.

On the other hand, Alwaleed, known in his country as a progressive, is a strong supporter of Arab causes -- though not stridently vocal against Israel.

He said last month that he hoped the partnership could help moderate the widely-perceived anti-Arab bias of some of News Corp's most strident outlets, such as Fox News.

"It's not only Fox that in general is against the Arab world. It's an American syndrome," he said at a news conference in Riyadh when the deal was announced.

"We will always do our best to lower that tone," he said.

Outside of financial markets where his Kingdom Holdings is known as the biggest individual shareholder of Citigroup, Alwaleed is best known for his rejected offer of 10 million dollars to New York City for disaster relief after the September 11 attacks.

At the time Murdoch's news outlets lambasted the Saudi prince, and Fox called his offer "an egregious, outrageous, unfair offence" because the money came with a letter asking Americans to consider how US Middle East policy might be linked to the attacks.

But Fox has since run in trouble with its supporters for allegedly bending to pressure from Alwaleed.

When in 2005 Alwaleed was reported as saying he had influenced how Fox News depicted rioting in heavily Muslim suburbs in France, the conservative Accuracy in Media group called for an investigation.

After Alwaleed, who owns a seven-percent stake in News Corp, gave an interview to Fox News this January conservatives blasted the network for its alleged kid-glove treatment.

Rotana's Khalijia channel has begun airing the Turkish series "Valley of the Wolves," which sparked a Turkish-Israeli diplomatic row for its negative portrayal of Israelis.

When the Murdoch-Alwaleed partnership was announced, it stirred speculation Fox News would launch an Arabic news channel to compete with rivals Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, both respected and widely watched across the Arab world.

Murdoch has denied such a plan.


Iraq forces fight to tighten noose around Mosul

In Syria, Kurds restore ancient names to Arabised towns

UN call to extend Yemen truce falls on deaf ears

Turkey reports over 35,000 people in detention after coup attempt

In violation of constitution, Iraq parliament votes to ban alcohol

Turkey hits Kurdish group in Syria again

Kremlin aims to 'liberate' Syria with Assad in power

Egypt court upholds 20-year sentence for Morsi

Turkey PM warns EU: Turkey has alternatives!

Battles rage in Yemen despite three-day truce

For second day, Iraq forces clash with ISIS in Kirkuk

New report accuses Syria of chemical attack in Qmenas village

Islamic Jihad stages show of force in Gaza

UN says 'crimes' in Aleppo are 'of historic proportions'

IS sniper kills Iraqi journalist in Kirkuk

US official says coalition should target IS in Raqa after Mosul

Moscow extends Aleppo ceasefire

Italy PM says officials should have voted against UNESCO Jerusalem resolution

Syrian ‘Toy Smuggler’ accused of fraud

UN: IS may use civilians as human shields in Mosul

Armed men attack refugee boat off Libya

US says will work with Turkey to deal IS 'lasting defeat'

Moscow ‘highly concerned’ at jihadists’ refusal to leave Aleppo

Four Palestinians arrested by their security forces for settlement visit

Mauritania president says no change to two-term limit

UN delays Aleppo evacuations due to lack of security assurances

Oman denies reports of arms smuggling to Yemen

Israel looking to buy three more German submarines

83 migrants rescued off Cyprus

Under pressure in Mosul, IS fighters attack Kirkuk

Air strikes hit Yemen rebels despite ceasefire

US officials: Iran boosting arms sales to Huthis via Oman

Iraq forces make gains against IS near Mosul

Arab coalition accuses Yemen rebels of breaching truce

Italian PM blocks EU sanctions threat against Russia over Aleppo

Pentagon chief in Turkey for talks on tensions with Iraq

Israeli occupation troops kill Palestinian teenager

Iraqis flee IS-held Mosul for war-torn Syria

Five years after his death, Kadhafi's 'Green Book' is ridiculed in Libya

Iraq issues warrant for former governor of Mosul

EU leaders threaten sanctions against Assad allies

Syria army urges residents to evacuate Aleppo during ceasefire

British warships shadow Syria-bound Russian naval force

Turkey unexpectedly keeps interest rate steady

British PM urges united EU response to Russia over Syria 'atrocities'