When King Abdullah acceded to the throne in 1999, there were initial signals that the media environment would become freer. The 2003 Audio Visual Law ended the government’s monopoly on radio and television broadcasting, and in 2007, Jordan became the first Arab country to pass a freedom of information law.
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Even if human rights in Qatar have improved since Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani seized power in 1995, they are not considered as good by international organizations. The main concerns relate to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly as well as the precarious situation of migrant workers.
Qatar’s 21st-century media environment has been largely dominated by the growth of al-Jazeera, which consolidated itself as a major international media outlet after securing unrivalled access to war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. The channel established an English-language service in 2006 as it continued to expand, however its popularity has since begun to wane amid accusations of biased reporting during the 2011 Arab uprisings, and due to the competitive pressure exerted by Saudi Arabia and its own pan-Arab news channel, al-Arabiya.
Anything that challenges the Wahhabi understanding of the Islamic faith (such as the sanctity and holiness of the Prophet’s companions) is subject to criminalization under the banner of sacrilegious behaviour. Punishments for blasphemy and apostasy include lengthy prison sentences, physical torture in the form of public flogging and, occasionally, death sentences.
By some accounts, the number of Syrians who have become disabled as a result of injuries caused by the civil war is in the hundreds of thousands. Handicap International has found that a “large percentage of those affected by injury lacked adequate care, including access to physical rehabilitation support to avoid the worsening of an injury-related health condition, and to mitigate the possible development of permanent disabilities.”
Kuwait has a relatively open media environment in comparison to its Gulf neighbours, and is ranked highest of all the Gulf states in the Reporters Without Borders 2016 World Press Freedom Index. However, its ranking of 103 (out of 179) indicates that Kuwaiti journalists face restrictions on their reporting and that negative portrayals of certain subjects, such as Islam or the ruling family, remain off-limits.
The KRG has continued to grow in stature and international standing, even as ISIS has harassed its borders and threatened its very existence. But the greatest threat to a prosperous future remains an internal one. The demon of internecine strife has not disappeared and, while the fault lines of Kurdish politics continue to undercut the region’s potential, any talk of truly stable and steady progress remains just that: talk.