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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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.
While historical and theological antipathies do exist, it is rather Saudi Arabia’s political expediency that both prevents and advances equality between Shia and Sunnis. For the last decades, Saudi Arabia has allowed its government-sponsored Sunni clerics to demonize Shia believers, associate them with polytheists, therefore consolidating a history of oppression and ostracism from basic civil rights.
Saudi Arabia’s new assertiveness has been linked in the first place to the growing influence of the king’s 30-year-old son and deputy crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman. Prince Mohammad has been accumulating power since he was appointed minister of defense immediately after his father became king. He has also dominated economic policies, rocking the commodities world by announcing the creation of a $2 trillion megafund to make the country less depend on oil.
Historically, Saudi Arabia and Iran have not stood head-to-head, and while several factors played into the historical deterioration of relations between the two regional powers, oil was the main cause. The consequences of the economic face off are felt by both nations, and, most importantly, their populations.