Middle East Eye
|Owner(s)||Jamal Awn Jamal Bessasso, M.E.E Ltd.|
|Founder(s)||David Hearst "co-founder"[with whom?]|
|Headquarters||1 Sussex Place, London, England, United Kingdom|
Middle East Eye (MEE) is a London-based online news outlet covering events in the Middle East and North Africa. MEE describes itself as an "independently funded online news organization that was founded in April 2014." However its claims of editorial and financial independence have been disputed. The MEE seeks to be the primary portal of Middle East news, and describes its target audience as "all those communities of readers living in and around the region that care deeply for its fate".
MEE is edited by David Hearst, a former foreign leader writer for the British daily, The Guardian. MEE is owned by Middle East Eye Ltd, a UK company incorporated in 2013 under the sole name of Jamal Awn Jamal Bessasso. It employs about 20 full-time staff in its London office.
Middle East Eye covers a range of topics across the Middle East. According to its website, it reports on events in 22 different countries. Content is separated into different categories on its website including news, opinion and essays.
Since the foundation of the media outlet, it has provided exclusives on a number of major events in the Middle East, which have often been picked up by other media outlets globally. In early June 2017, an anonymous hacker group began distributing emails to multiple news outlets that they had hacked from the inbox of Yousef Otaiba, the UAE's ambassador in Washington D.C.. This included providing details from leaked emails of Mohammed bin Salman and US officials. This revelation on 14 August 2017, led to other media outlets to print other material from the leaked emails. According to The New York Times, the hacked emails appeared to benefit Qatar and be the work of hackers working for Qatar, a common subject of the distributed emails.
On July 29, 2016, MEE published a story alleging that the government of the United Arab Emirates, aided by Palestinian exile Mohammed Dahlan, had funnelled significant sums of money to conspirators of the 2016 Turkish coup d'état attempt two weeks earlier. Dahlan is a former leader of the secular Palestinian nationalist party Fatah, who was exiled from Gaza by Hamas after the latter violently wrested control of the enclave in 2007. In 2017, Dahlan brought a lawsuit of libel against the MEE in a London court seeking damages of up to £250,000. However, Dahlan abandoned the suit shortly before the case was to begin. In a statement, Dahlan maintained that the story was “fully fabricated” but claimed that he has “achieved his goals in the English courts," and was now planning to sue Facebook in Dublin where the article was “widely published”. However, according to MEE and their lawyers, by dropping the claim, Dahlan will be forced to pay all the legal costs, of both parties, estimated to be in excess of £500,000.
Funding, Ownership, and Editorial Control
Since its launch in 2014, and especially since the beginning of the Qatar diplomatic crisis in 2017, the MEE has been accused by Emirati, Saudi, Jordanian, Egyptian and United States media outlets and think-tanks of being an extension of Qatar's other state-run media, in particular Al Jazeera. This has been exacerbated by the MEE's long-term and ongoing refusal to name any funders or even who its owners are, other than Jamal Awn Jamal Bessasso.
Independent journalist Ibrahim Alkhamis, wrote in July, 2019, that David Hearst refused to give him details about the outlet’s finances, attributing its existence to “individual private donors... interested in democracy in the Middle East.” Alkhamis continues: "The MEE claims to report on the Middle East, but there are no articles discussing Qatar’s imprisonment of members of its royal family, such as Sheikh Talal bin Abdul Aziz Al-Thani, or the abuses faced by his wife and children. Yet it pumps out articles containing rumors and fabrications against Qatar’s state enemies, especially Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Egypt." Alkhamis goes on to cite evidence from former employees which he claims speaks to the “secret[ive] nature of funding” and of the outlet "pushing stories onto their reporters with anonymous sources" which are not identified to even the reporters tasked with writing the stories.
Several international sources have noted the close links regarding staff between MEE and Al Jazeera. According to Michael Rubin, writing for the American Enterprise Institute, and citing an online CV now "scrubbed from the internet", Jamal Awn Jamal Bessasso was not only a former high-level employee for Al Jazeera (as Director of Planning and Director of Human Resources) but was also Director of Human Resources for the Samalink Television Production Company, the registered agent for Hamas's Al-Quds TV. These connections were also reported on by the Jeddah-based Arab News, and in a long-running investigatory piece in the UAE-based The National. Jonathan Powell, an Al Jazeera veteran who has been with the network since its beginning, was a "launch consultant" for MEE (his current job titles are "Launch Consultant (self-employed)" and "Manager of Strategic Initiatives - Al Jazeera"). Arwa Ibrahim and Jacob Powell also made the transition from Al Jazeera to MEE as news editors (working for both organizations simultaneously for a period of time), with senior editors Graeme Baker and Larry Johnson making the same change.
Michael Rubin, Samuel Tadros of the conservative US think tank the Hudson Institute, and The Emirati newspaper The National, have all made additional allegations regarding the links of the Middle East Eye to Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated organizations. In 2014 The National cited Rori Donaghy, director of the alleged Muslim Brotherhood-front organization, the Emirates Centre for Human Rights, standing down from that position to work for the MEE. Prior to his time as director of the ECHR, Donaghy worked and taught at Hamas's House of Wisdom think-tank in Gaza.
Both the initial 2014 The National staff investigation, and subsequent articles published in The Telegraph and on the AEI website, also recall the connection to "Adlin Adnan", who registered The Middle East Eye's website. Adnan was previously head of policy development at Interpal, a UK-based charity whose stated aim is to raise money to aid Palestinian causes, but which has nevertheless been designated as a terrorist organization by the governments of Israel, the US, Australia and Canada.
Michael Rubin claims that the MEE and its chief editor David Hearst have exclusive access to Hamas news content in their articles. He further claims that Hearst has penned editorials praising and defending the Muslim Brotherhood.
- Alistair Burt – British MP
- Ian Cobain – Senior Reporter for MEE
- Jonathan Cook – Journalist, Nazareth
- Ahmet Davutoglu – Former Prime Minister of Turkey
- Richard A. Falk – Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University
- Daniel Kawczynski – British MP
- Faisal Kutty – Canadian lawyer, law professor at Barry University and Osgoode Hall Law School and human rights activist
- Ali Lmrabet – Moroccan journalist, El Mundo
- Gideon Levy – Haaretz columnist
- Moncef Marzouki – former president of Tunisia
- Joseph Massad – professor, Columbia University
- Peter Oborne – Daily Mail columnist
- Madawi al-Rasheed – visiting professor at the Middle East Institute of the London School of Economics
- Sarah Leah Whitson – Human Rights Watch
According to a post on the MEE website, Khashoggi wrote for them over a period of two years. According to MEE, his op-eds were not credited to him at the time due to concerns for his safety because many of his articles for MEE are critical of Saudi Arabia and its policies, and Saudi Arabia's rift with Qatar. Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, was assassinated when he entered the Saudi consulate in Turkey on 2 October 2018. After initial denials, Saudi Arabia stated that he was killed by rogue assassins inside the consulate building with "premeditated intention".
Middle East tensions
In 2016, the United Arab Emirates blocked the Middle East Eye in what was a countrywide ban. MEE says it contacted the UAE embassy in London for an explanation, but never received a response. Saudi Arabia also blocked the website across the country in May 2017. Following protests against the President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in September and October 2019, Egypt also blocked the website.
2017–2018 Qatar diplomatic crisis
In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt and Bahrain ended their diplomatic relationships with Qatar, followed by a list of 13 demands to restore diplomatic relations. MEE was mentioned in one of the demands to be shut down by Qatar even though the news organisation denies receiving funds from them stating that 'the demand as an attempt to "extinguish any free voice which dares to question what they are doing."' In a statement responding to the demand, the publication's editor-in-chief said "MEE covers the area without fear or favour, and we have carried reports critical of the Qatari authorities, for instance how workers from the subcontinent are treated on building projects for the 2022 World Cup."
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