This is interesting: John Bradley has filed a report from
Ahfaz Ahvaz (silly keyboard!) Iran, about unrest among ethnic Arabs in that city. While his claim that this unrest "presents Iran with its most serious domestic security threat since the 1979 Islamic revolution" may be a bit exaggerated, I was intrigued by this point about the role of the Arab media:
The scale of the riots probably would have escaped attention outside Iran if Arabic Al Jazeera television had not managed to get a video crew into Khuzestan. It subsequently was barred from reporting from the province.
In my last few talks about the Arab media - at Harvard and in Ann Arbor - questions have come up about how al-Jazeera had dealt with Iran. What's interesting is that this seems to be changing. One thing I noticed in the research for my book was how completely "Arab-centric" al-Jazeera's talk shows have generally been - out of nearly 1000 talk shows I examined, only a handful dealt with anything not directly related to the Arab world. And Iran was not part of that "Arab" world.
But over the last year or so, there seems to have been a notable increase in the number of programs devoted to Iran. Ghassan bin Jidu's show, Open Dialogue, seems to deal with Iran almost once a month now, for instance. Iran is still clearly treated as non-Arab, not part of the Arab "narrative", but it is also clearly entering more heavily into the Arab political argument. At the Michigan event, Juan Cole speculated that this was largely to do with anti-imperialism, with Iran's standoff with the US and UN over the nuclear weapons issue capturing Arab attention, rather than anything to do with Iranian domestic politics. My sense was that the nuclear issue certainly played a role, but I have seen quite a few programs about Iranian domestic politics too.
Bradley's report suggests that the news coverage might be following the same track. If he's right about the impact of al-Jazeera's coverage on the Iranian political scene, it would also be one more instance of that station helping rather than hurting American interests in the region - not through any conscious decision to "help" the US, but simply by reporting and discussing the kinds of protests and reform movements which are so central to its approach to politics. Whether that kind of coverage would continue in the event of an American escalation against Iran is an interesting question. 2003, when al-Jazeera was more or less completely consumed by the Iraqi question, was the only period where discussion of reform largely dropped out of al-Jazeera's discourse - which suggests that something similar might happen in the event of a confrontation with Iran (though at a lower level, since Iran is still outside the Arab identity narrative).