The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies was shocked by an article carried by the Agence France Press (AFP) news agency and published on 5 June. The piece, "Azmi Bishara, from Knesset black sheep to Qatar insider," was replete with a string of falsehoods, seriously misrepresenting both the ACRPS as well as its Director, Dr. Azmi Bishara.
The ACRPS was mostly taken aback by the way in which the AFP's Dubai bureau appeared willing to abandon all pretenses of journalistic integrity, and instead involve itself in a vicious smear campaign led by media organizations loyal to the Abu Dhabi government against the Center. Not once did the AFP correspondent bother to reach out to the ACRPS or its Director to get their own comments on the piece—a rudimentary part of journalistic objectivity. Instead, the author readily colluded with the Abu Dhabi authorities.
Arab academics, journalists and intellectuals were similarly shocked by the AFP article. It is this group who are most familiar with the Center's output and the value it adds to Arab public debate and to scholarship in the social sciences and humanities. They are similarly aware of the prominent role played by Azmi Bishara personally and directly in promoting the values of democracy, justice, citizenship rights in the Arab region, and the Arab renewal. To this group as well as to us, the AFP article was an affront to free and critical thought, and evidence of how this newswire has been exploited to advance short-sighted, devious political agendas. That the article in question never bothered to mention the work of Bishara, or the Center, is further evidence that the article was purely intended as part of a smear campaign.
We at the ACRPS are fully aware that some Arab regimes simply cannot tolerate the fact that Qatar has afforded an academic research center the chance of unfettered freedom to carry out its scholarship, and that Doha has further made the same possible for such a high profile Arab intellectual as Azmi Bishara. These regimes have resorted to concocting wild fantasies, suggesting that the Center holds sway over Qatari foreign policy, or that Bishara directs Doha's foreign affairs.
This reflects their own domestic reality: in their own countries, freedom of expression is nowhere to be seen and academic output is subject to governmental scrutiny. This of course stands in contrast to the fact that any influence of academics or the research centers in which they work tends to be viewed positively in western, liberal democracies. Nonetheless, the ACRPS continues not to intervene in Qatar's affairs, whether domestic or foreign: notwithstanding our gratitude to our host country Qatar for its support and the freedom granted, it continues to be an independent research institute with an Arab region-wide focus.
The ACRPS will continue to contribute to the fields of scholarship in which it works, and in which it has become a major player. Yet it hopes that AFP will issue a full apology for publishing the article, and that the agency will carry out a thorough investigation of the persons involved. Such steps will serve, first and foremost, to maintain the agency's journalistic credibility.
To read a fuller rebuttal of the claims made in the article, please see the versions of the letter sent to the AFP in Arabic, English and French.