Tears for a Journalist: Change in the Middle East Comes at High Cost

Last night, while in a private meeting with the director general of Al Jazeera, I saw him get called out for an emergency call. I watched his face and instantly knew that a tragedy had happened.
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There are more than sixty of leading young activists from revolts and revolutions throughout the Middle East at the 6th Annual Al Jazeera Forum. I am attending this fascinating meeting as a guest of Al Jazeera.

Turkey Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu just landed in Doha to speak at the meeting tomorrow. Former Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva will also be speaking. Key members of the Libyan opposition are here -- including the man designated by the Opposition's Central Committee to serve as head of the foreign affairs portfolio. There are incumbent government representatives from governments throughout the Middle East -- and their challengers who have been provoking them on the streets and through pixels and streaming and SMS.

There are bloggers, vloggers, social network organizers, faces and voices of an older Middle East, and then personalities who have politically emerged and not known to the world until several weeks ago. This is a powerful forum, wrestling with what is happening and what needs to be done. Debate and discourse here among stakeholders is passionate yet civil.

There are some Europeans, Americans, South Africans, French, Brits, and Irish here. But for the first time in a long time, this forum feels like the kind of meeting where we are trying to catch up with the Arabs and Muslims here -- trying to understand what they are doing to change their world. That is how it should be.

If I ever hear a disparaging remark against the quality of Al Jazeera journalism or the "tilts" in their coverage, I will say "shame" on that person or that Fox News commentator. Shame because Al Jazeera has been fighting hard to keep its cameras in the field and to keep its people from being hunted down by ruthless leaders that see the free press as an enemy to their power.

Tonight, while sitting in a private meeting with Wadah Khanfar, Director General of Al Jazeera Network, I saw him get called out for an emergency call. I watched his face. I eavesdropped a little -- and I instantly knew that a tragedy had happened.

One of Al Jazeera's cameramen, a person whose name I wish I could post here because he deserves a salute from all of us but which I don't yet have (since writing this it has been made public that his name was Ali Hassaon Al Jaber), was ambushed and executed inside Libya.

Journalists are so vital in times of great change because they are the portals through which citizens around the world get to see and hopefully understand the issues and players that matter.

The same is true here in the Middle East -- especially now for Arabic journalists trying to cover how their world is shifting.

Once most of the people in the private meeting left the room, I saw Khanfar turn to a corner of the room and start sobbing, tears running down his cheeks. I touched his shoulder and told him how sorry I was for the member of his team who had been lost. What I didn't say was murdered.

He cried. He took a deep breath. He sat down -- and then I could see that his resolve to keeping this story going was strengthened.

To do any less would dishonor his colleague and those risking so much in the field not only in North Africa now but in many rough spots around the world.

Steve Clemons publishes the popular political blog, The Washington Note. Clemons can be followed on Twitter @SCClemons

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