Last year, a yearslong, multipronged effort by many members of Congress to get Qatari-regime mouthpiece Al Jazeera to comply with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and related laws was met with apparent success when the Department of Justice ordered Al Jazeera's American digital arm, AJ+, to register under FARA.
This happened not long after Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, and Rep. Lee Zeldin, a New York Republican, sent a letter demanding that Al Jazeera comply with foreign influence transparency laws. But Al Jazeera's intransigence and the change of administrations seem to have put this victory in doubt and left key leaders in Congress frustrated. Why?
The issue is not one of a lack of attention to foreign influence in politics in the United States or even FARA enforcement. Russian, Chinese , Turkish , and other foreign, state-run media outlets have registered for the first time under FARA in recent years as a result of both congressional and DOJ involvement. But Al Jazeera has simply ignored the rules and dared someone to stop it. Its strategy seems to be to increase its influence while ignoring the law, DOJ, and Congress.
Since Al Jazeera explained last year that it was "reviewing the determination and considering [its] options" regarding the DOJ's order, it has not registered. Moreover, it has increased its media output in the U.S. by starting entirely new platforms , including Rightly, aimed at influencing the political Right, something that even the Middle East Eye, another Qatari mouthpiece , openly admits . This process began with efforts to influence right-wing papers in Washington and Jewish activist groups. Al Jazeera also started Reyda, a business-focused Arab-language outlet that features a licensing agreement with the New York Times, which will be partly run out of Washington, D.C.
There is no other way to see this other than brazen defiance. The nature of Al Jazeera isn't seriously disputed. It is openly a propaganda tool aimed at promoting Qatar's interests. Corporate documents in the United Kingdom show explicitly that, up until a few years ago, Al Jazeera was wholly owned by the emir of Qatar, only to be shuffled off to a company run by one of the emir's family members when issues such as FARA disclosures started becoming prominent. It is illegal for Qatari media to report on anything that would "harm [Qatar's] national interests," and Qatar is one of the most aggressive countries in the world in terms of trying to whipsaw U.S. policymakers through aggressive domestic influence.
Al Jazeera's defiance has not gone unnoticed by Congress. Sen. Chuck Grassley, along with Rubio and others, sent another letter to the DOJ this summer, asking point-blank what it was doing regarding Al Jazeera's refusal to register under FARA as previously ordered. This is a yearslong effort for the Iowa Republican, who first started rattling the DOJ's cage about Al Jazeera in 2019 and has been relentless in trying to strengthen FARA disclosure laws. These efforts were unfortunately thwarted late last year, even as those objecting stressed they favored his overall goal.
Grassley's latest letter also pointed out that Rightly should fall under the same rubric as Al Jazeera's other outlets. Grassley's discussion of Rightly is important because its creation demonstrates more than simply Al Jazeera's noncompliance with DOJ demands. It seems to be part of a greater strategy. When they aren't engaging in casual antisemitism and pushing for the regime's interests, Al Jazeera's AJ+ and Al Jazeera English platforms obviously lean toward the liberal side of things and do a lot to promote liberal causes.
Sadly, while Grassley's prior efforts to reform FARA laws have received bipartisan support, congressional efforts to call out Al Jazeera specifically have been championed solely by Republican members of Congress. From Al Jazeera's point of view, it has engineered silence from the Left concerning its propaganda efforts through aggressive flattery with its existing platforms. With Rightly, it seeks to win allies on the Right. Thus, if these efforts to force Al Jazeera to comply with FARA fail, it will only get harder to secure such compliance later.
Al Jazeera has won silence from the Left by promoting liberal causes on its existing platforms.
There has been no public response to Grassley's letter by either the DOJ or Al Jazeera, nor has Al Jazeera done anything to register under FARA or even sue the DOJ over its now-months-old demand. It doesn't take a genius to read the tea leaves: Al Jazeera believes that the Biden administration will refuse to enforce the order put out during the Trump administration or that this administration will more readily capitulate to a lawsuit if it ever does try to enforce the DOJ's prior order, creating a public relations headache for the Biden administration. Having inoculated itself against the liberal side of the aisle, Al Jazeera will have Rightly move on to the conservative side and attempt to win enough allies to be bulletproof.
Qatar is a pariah in the Arab world and works closely with U.S. adversaries.
It will be unfortunate if this issue gets lost in a sea of partisanship or bitterness over the Trump years. Qatar is a pariah in the Arab world and is increasingly working closely with U.S. adversaries, such as China and Iran , and countries that are taking anti-American turns, such as Turkey and Pakistan . Moreover, Qatar has taken the lead in being the chief state sponsor of radical, theocratic interpretations of Sunni Islam from Saudi Arabia, which has publicly been reversing course in recent years.
The Biden administration should immediately take action to enforce the DOJ's order against Al Jazeera.
The rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan will likely lead to a resurgence in radicalization around the world. Allowing an Islamist-friendly country such as Qatar, which hosted the Taliban "peace" talks, to gain further influence over U.S. policy without transparency can only end in disaster. The Biden administration should immediately take action to enforce the DOJ's order from last year, including against Rightly.
Putting aside the foreign policy differences between the Qatari regime and the Biden administration, which will be complicated by Al Jazeera's meddling, the precedent set by allowing this sort of brazen defiance will damage broader efforts to quash foreign interference in U.S. politics. In the long run, no one in America benefits from having Qatar's interference continue without even minimal disclosures.