The Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Manar channel was pulled from broadcast on its state-owned NileSat operator in the early hours of Wednesday morning, one day ahead of a Cairo visit by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdul Aziz.
The channel is affiliated to the Lebanese Hezbollah, with a majority of its shares owned by the Egyptian state.
Officials from the NileSat company claim the ban is due to Al-Manar’s sectarian content, but the channel says it is a political decision.
“The usual terms [of the channel] prohibit the use of satellite media to broadcast programs which call for violence or racism, or incite sectarianism,” a NileSat official told Reuters.
Al-Manar dismisses NileSat’s claims, saying the decision is “a service to the Zionist enemy and to the forces of terrorism and extremism,” and citing Lebanese Information Minister Ramzi Jreij defending the channel. “Al-Manar has not engaged in instigation through its broadcasts, as NileSat’s management claims,” the minister reportedly said.
In a televised statement, Al-Manar criticized the Egyptian authority’s ban. “The decision by NileSat’s management to halt Al-Manar’s broadcasts on its satellite shows they are disturbed by the channel’s voice. And those disturbed by its voice have sought to silence it. They don’t know that Al-Manar is a torch that has not been extinguished before, and will not be extinguished.”
But beyond claims of sectarian content and instigating violence, there are other factors at play. The Saudi Arabian king arrived in Cairo on Thursday to preside over a delegation of officials expected to sign off on Saudi aid packages worth US$21.5 billion, according to the Saudi Gazette. The Saudi monarchy has openly expressed its enmity toward Hezbollah and its mouthpieces.
On March 2, the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — which includes five other Gulf monarchies: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — voted to officially classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. The GCC claims Hezbollah is engaged in “hostile acts” against its member states. The GCC’s information ministers then met in Saudi Arabia on March 8 and voted to take legal measures to prevent all dealings with television channels linked to Hezbollah.
Saudi Arabia also canceled a military-aid package to Lebanon worth over $3 billion in February.
The decision by the GCC was closely followed by an Arab League summit of foreign ministers in Cairo on March 11, during which Egypt and all states present, with the exception of Lebanon and Iraq, voted to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, citing the Shia movement’s alleged involvement in conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.
Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil criticized the classification, claiming it “goes against the Arab treaty for combating terrorism, which distinguishes between terrorism and resistance,” the Associated Press reported.
Two Lebanese cabinet ministers are members of Hezbollah. The movement maintains an extensively large membership, as well as support from several allied Lebanese political parties.
A number of other states have classified both Hezbollah and Al-Manar as terrorist entities in the last few years. Al-Manar has also been banned from broadcasting on the Luxembourg-based IntelSat network, along with the French-based Hotbird 4 and EutelSat, the Spanish-language Hispasat and the largely Saudi-owned ArabSat.
Al-Manar has also previously been banned from broadcasting in the following countries: The United States, France, Spain and Germany, among others. In December 2004, the US State Department placed Al-Manar on its “Terrorist Exclusion List,” prompting the banning of its broadcasts across North America.
The global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) issued a statement criticizing America’s classification of Al-Manar as a terrorist entity, maintaining it sets a dangerous precedent. “Some of the anti-Semitic statements broadcast on Al-Manar are inexcusable, but putting this TV station in the same category as terrorist groups worries us and does not strike us as the best solution. We urged the US authorities to take care not to lump the fight against anti-Semitism with the fight against terrorism,” RSF added.
The Committee to Protect Journalists also criticized Israel’s armed attacks on Al-Manar’s offices and transmitters during the war against Lebanon in 2006.
Although it is no longer being broadcasted via NileSat, Al-Manar announced that it viewers may still access the channel via Russia’s Express AM Satellite on these frequencies.
Last year, Egypt ranked poorly on the RSF’s global index of press freedoms, placing at 158 out of 180 countries.