An Al-Jazeera Journalist, His Wedding, And His Words


Al-Jazeera journalist Ahmed Mansour has been in the news lately -- in the Arabic-language media of my country, Morocco, as well as international media on three continents -- for two very different, separate scandals. The international story casts him as a cause for solidarity, a journalist of integrity oppressed by the governments of Germany and Egypt. The Moroccan story reflects the country's reaction to his abusive treatment of a Moroccan woman, and his subsequent invective against my country and its institutions. Though the two treatments of the controversial Al-Jazeera staffer portray him very differently, there is a relationship between the two -- and to the Muslim Brotherhood movement, which Mansour has openly supported for years.

Late last month on a visit to Berlin, Mansour was arrested by the German government, apparently in response to having been convicted in absentia by an Egyptian court. According to the latter, in 2011 during Cairo's Tahrir Square protests, Mansour and some of his Al-Jazeera colleagues accosted an Egyptian lawyer with whom they disagreed about the merits of the Brotherhood. They allegedly ganged up on the man, beating him repeatedly. The assault was captured on video -- and though the identity of one of the attackers has been debated, eye witnesses in the crowded square insist that it was Mansour. He has been sentenced to 15 years in prison, and the Egyptian government has demanded his extradition from allied countries he has visited. Mansour's responses to the charges have been inconsistent: At one point he said they were untrue. In another context he spoke vaguely of a "misunderstanding." Despite the murkiness of the claims and counter-claims, the court of public opinion in the West, as reflected in media coverage and human rights activism on his behalf, has ruled unanimously that Mansour could not possibly have beaten a man. Few have questioned the portrayal of Mansour by his employers as a journalist of great integrity -- a regular Edward R. Murrow. And though the widespread assumption is that the Egyptian court must have trumped up the charges, no journalist has bothered to investigate the matter independently.

In Morocco, by contrast, his abusive behavior toward an innocent woman and subsequent comments about other Moroccans are not seriously in dispute. In addition to testimony by the young woman and her father and Mansour's own deranged public comments, he has at least party acknowledged and apologized for the incident himself. Why Westerners would take an interest in the first story and turn a blind eye to the second raises questions for many Moroccans.

Some context: We currently have an elected head of government in Morocco who hails from the Islamist PJD ("Party of Justice and Development"). As in nearby Tunisia after the victory of the Islamist Ennahda party, Morocco has since become a pitstop for visits from Brotherhood luminaries, including the movement's present spiritual godfather, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradhawi. In Tunisia, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh paid a dramatic visit too. We have seen Brotherhood leaders "take" new wives -- additional wives, that is -- and boast about their "catches" to the public. Eighty-nine-year-old Qaradhawi, another host of a weekly Al-Jazeera program, chose a Moroccan woman in her thirties.

Ahmed Mansour's "selection" on a recent visit to the Maghreb was also a young Moroccan woman. The match was "brokered" by a senior PJD figure. But it wasn't exactly an enduring union. Mansour consummated the marriage in Morocco only to depart the country on a one-way ticket without her, cutting off all contact. She was crushed. In his treatment of the young woman, Mansour was exercising his self-asserted right to a Zawaj 'Urfi ("customary marriage), which effectively licenses a man to have sex with a woman and then abandon her provided he does not make her pregnant. The tradition is deemed "legitimate" through a shoddy form of Islamic legal reasoning which the Brotherhood endorses but most Moroccans -- and citizens of many other Muslim countries -- reject. From our perspective, it is more akin to a "one-night stand," or a form of prostitution. The latter description is especially apt when the sex act is brokered by an intermediary.

When Moroccan media criticized Mansour for his behavior, he lashed out. He called Moroccan journalists -- his supposed peers -- "prostitutes, mercenaries, thieves, and homosexuals." He moved on from invective to incitement to violence, calling Moroccan media "insects and parasites living in the garbage and swamps who deserve only to be crushed." Following a denunciation of his remarks by the National Union of the Moroccan Press and the Federation of Newspaper Publishers -- and reportedly after enormous pressure from his network's backer, the government of Qatar -- Mansour apologized, explaining that he had made the statement "under the influence of rage."

Rage indeed. Mansour's sick comments should be recognizable to anyone familiar with the psychology of men who abuse women: In explaining their behavior, they typically portray themselves as the victims. In this case Mansour felt that it was Moroccans who were "thieves" and "parasites." They "deserve to be crushed." And she had it coming.

Ahmed Mansour has taught Moroccans that he is a man who thinks in violent terms. Pardon us for finding it easy to picture him acting violently too. And pardon us for feeling blindsided at the hypocrisy of Western "activists," who would in other contexts decry the exploitation of women, decry homophobia, decry incitement, and evaluate a journalist's integrity on the basis of the content he produces. It's ironic that Mansour's Al-Jazeera talk show is called Bila Hudud, which means "Without Borders." If we have learned anything about Mansour this summer, it is that he is a man with border issues.

In my newspaper, Al-Ahdath al-Maghrebiya, we published a thoughtful piece about the broader trend surrounding this painful affair, by the poet Salah al-Wadi' -- a real human rights activist, who spent ten years in prison in Morocco for his campaign on behalf of political reform. Viewing video images of a blissed-out Qaradhawi after his Moroccan "wedding," Wadi' felt he saw in the spectacle a kind of sexual imperialism: a new Brotherhood "conquest" in Morocco; a dose of manly Islamism for a woman whose country's tolerant interpretation of Islam is commonly derided by the Brotherhood as "effeminate."

I believe in a future in which Muslim spiritual leaders and Islamist activists no longer view their faith or their fellow Muslims in these terms -- and where those Westerners who believe in fairness, equality and justice for all open their hearts to all the peoples of the region, not just a privileged few.