Al Jazeera's director-general Wadah Khanfar abruptly resigned on Tuesday after running the company for eight years and spreading the brand around the world. With few clues in Al Jazeera's straight-forward report on the matter, everybody is scrambling to figure out exactly what's going on. The official reason from Khanfar is that he's "decided to move on" because he considers his work at Al Jazeera a job well done. "Upon my appointment, the Chairman and I set a goal to establish Al Jazeera as global media leader and we have agreed that this target has been met and that the organization is in a healthy position," he wrote in a memo to his staff upon departure. But his resignation comes only a few days after WikiLeaks cables put Khanfar is a compromising position. As The New York Times explains, "Wadah Khanfar's resignation follows release of documents by Wikileaks, purporting to show he had close ties with the U.S. and agreed to remove some content in response to American objections."
"WikiLeaks topples Al Jazeera director," reads the headline at Al Jazeera's competitor Middle East Online. But so far, WikiLeaks has been reticent to take credit. After tweeting news of Khanfar's resignation, the WikiLeaks floated a few speculative theories about what happened behind the scene but took care to draw attention to coverage of their cables' role in the event. "AP story on Khanfar's resignation seems to buy into the WikiLeaks explanation," they tweeted Tuesday afternoon. "But Qatari dynamics not covered."
The Guardian's headline hints at the complexity of the situation with their headline: "Al-Jazeera boss Wadah Khanfar steps down to be replaced by Qatari royal." (They don't even mention WikiLeaks, but they're also sort of in a fight with Julian Assange over the recent fiasco involving the watchdog organizations' release of their entire stash of unredacted cables.) Blake Hounshell offers his take on the Qatari royalty angle at Foreign Policy:
My sense from watching the Arabic network's coverage over the past few months is that it had more or less dropped the pretense of independence, and at times seemed like the official network of the Qatari Foreign Ministry. For instance, its Libya coverage was utterly over-the-top, enthusiastic cheerleading for the rebels -- and it just so happened that Qatar was heavily engaged in overthrowing Muammar al-Qaddafi. When Qatar brokered a peace agreement between warring factions in Darfur, Al Jazeera broke away from its normal coverage for two hours to show the final announcement. And, as many have noted, the Arabic channel's usual aggression has been noticeably lacking when it comes to Bahrain.
It's hard to imagine a hard-charging guy like Khanfar -- who clearly has his own ideological leanings -- putting up with that sort of thing for very long. So maybe he just didn't want to toe anybody's line. Whatever the reason, Arabs will be watching closely to see if his successor clips Al Jazeera's wings.