In the midst of Algerian and Sudanese social activism: Al Jazeera’s bustling public sphere
Bold support of the Arab publics peaceful protests against their corrupt regimes did not stop with the Arab Spring events. The resumption of what can be called the Arab public s second awakening was another opportunity not to be missed by the Al Jazeera network. During the Sudanese political unrests in February—April 2019, the network was again reporting the news differently from the Sudanese official TV channel. This led the regime to arrest its bureau chief in Khartoum and a couple of other journalists in a bid to silence the Sudanese opposition voices who find in Al Jazeera a platform for blatant criticism.
Early in the morning of 11 April 2019, the Sudanese army staged a coup, ousting president Omar Albashir from power. From early hours in the morning, Al Jazeera stopped all other scheduled programs and kept a live broadcast of events from the scene. Its journalists joined the crowds and kept for hours reporting from in front of the army headquarters, interviewing scores of activists and political analysts. The Al Jazeera camera kept being fixated on the celebrating Sudanese crowds who streamed in by the thousands to join the sit-ins. From early that morning, it reported that the army got control of the radio and TV headquarters. The official Sudanese TV kept displaying a still image of the army logo for about nine and a half hours with military songs as background sound. From 6 am that morning and for most of the day until the declaration of the coup, no reporting about the protests in the capital or any other content could be watched on the official TV. It was only later in the afternoon that day that the official Sudanese TV broadcast the first coup announcement by the self-declared interim president (Awadh ben Ouf).
Al Jazeera channel, instead, provided a free platform for activists of all types. It kept echoing peoples responses vis-à-vis that historical moment, their concerns about what would happen next, and their aspirations for the future. Al Jazeera also kept showing a split screen: on the left was a frozen image from the official Sudan TV and on the right live reporting of the protests from in front of the army headquarters in Khartoum. Journalists, political activists, and academics were interviewed via satellite or over the phone and some were even flown to Al Jazeera’s studios in Doha to comment on the events. Commentators were speculating about what they expected. Other analysts gave suggestions about what the army should do in case the regime of General Omar Albashir fell.
Parallel to the coverage of the coup in Sudan, on Friday 12 April 2019, one day after the coup on Omar Albashir and while protests started to calm down, Al Jazeera turned its focus to the evolving events in Algeria. The Arabic channel kept airing live streaming from the capital Alger and opened the airwaves to various commentators to discuss responses to the political developments. Aljazeera anchors discussed with members of the public as well as analysts what should be done next. For most of the daily live broadcasting, the channel kept its platforms resembling virtual public spaces where Algerians discussed amongst each other their responses and aspirations regarding the agenda for a way forward.
While such live exchanges took place between various political analysts, academics, and activists, Al Jazeera kept a rolling stream of footage from protests that Friday across Algeria. A panoramic split screen showed constant updates from various cities such as the capital Alger, Wahran, Tilimsan, Bjaya, Annaba, and Jijle, among others. These unremitting discussions turned the Al Jazeera airwaves into uncensored space through which Algerians could listen to each other and probably for the first time express themselves without fear of arrest or incarceration. Also via the never-ending peoples interventions, Aljazeera reflected a unanimous public urge for regime change. All of the aforementioned unbroken news coverage by Al Jazeera Arabic, Al Jazeera English, and Al Jazeera Mubashir took place for many hours of the day while the national Algerian TV had a total blackout on what was happening on the ground.