Huffington Post Arabic: a New Lair for the Muslim Brotherhood?

As if the Arab World needed yet another sectarian mouthpiece and propaganda platform for the Gulf Cooperation Council club, which unfortunately controls the majority of mainstream media outlets in this part of the world, we get the Arabic edition of the Huffington Post.

With content that is generic at best, tone-deaf to the realities of the region and downright silly and propagandistic at worst, Huff Post Arabi was launched last month to great, albeit short-lived fanfare followed almost immediately by an avalanche of scathing critique, derision and collective ridicule from the Arab public.

The Arabic version of the famous, supposedly “liberal” news blog has so far proved to be no different from those GCC-sponsored websites and royal sectarian news outlets that are a dime-a-dozen nowadays in the Arab World, and there’s no wonder in that the Arabic edition of the Huffington Post brings together a mish mash of former and current Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya employees, Arab Spring “activists” and journalists, Islamic scholars, artists, a former intellectual turned lackluster President turned again intellectual in the shape of Tunisia’s Muncef Al Marzouki and a couple of ISIS enthusiasts for good measure (more on that below)!

Huffpost Arabi is managed by former AlJazeera chief Wadah Khanfar, who is mostly credited for mainstreaming the Muslim Brotherhood group during his stint with the Qatari-based network, which ended with the complete transformation of that channel into the full-blown visual travesty and beacon of crude yellow journalism that it is today and nothing beyond that. And from the looks of it, Khanfar seems to be on the same track with the same mission in mind for the Haffington Post Arabi website whose editor-in-chief, Anas Foudah, is coincidentally (or not) yet another AlJazeera import.

Right out of the gate, you realize that the site serves, for all intents and purposes, as the new media lair for the Muslim Brotherhood… and Qatar. From the noticeably skewed editorial policies of the site’s news content to fully accommodate the MB’s political stance especially on Egypt and, dare I say, ideological fancies, to the thinly veiled regressive and pro-Muslim Brotherhood political diatribe in its blog posts, Huffpost Arabi is practically nothing more than 2.0, a lighter, only slightly tamer version of that overtly sectarian cesspool, peppered with just enough pallid liberal sprinklings (if that!) to warrant that famous green banner at the top of the page, in other words: brazen GCC propaganda steeped in anti-Iran, anti-Shia sectarian discourse, not to mention cheerleading the GCC club’s military (mis)adventrures in the region, most notably the wars on Syria and Yemen along with the rest of the Saudi and Qatari owned mainstream media.

Right on (petro-dollar) cue, in the Huffpost Arabi, the Saudi-led war on Yemen, which has so far left more than 3,000 dead and untold scores of others maimed and wounded, is a mere “military confrontation” between forces of “legitimate” President Abed Rabboh Mansour Hadi and the “Houthi militia” which is not once mentioned without shoehorning (and overblowing) the group’s threadbare connection to Iran.

Purported atrocities attributed to the Houthis are routinely highlighted in the site’s content and blog posts (which are written of course by well-known Yemenis Muslim Brotherhood aficionados), while the Saudi-led coalition’s daily war crimes and their extensive use of internationally banned weapons are deliberately downplayed if not completely censored out of the site’s clearly biased coverage of the ongoing war on the poorest country in the Arab World. Biased in favor of the aggressor of course.

Evidently getting even close to (let alone criticizing) the backward regimes of the GCC club is a definite no! no! for the Arabic version of the Huffpost.

Not only that, but the site’s pro-war coverage is compounded with a slew of context-deficient blog posts that not only support the ongoing Saudi genocidal campaign in Yemen but advocate the break up of the country into separate warring regions. On July 30th, the site published an insidious blog entry by Mourad Hashim, a Yeminis journalist and former head of Al Jazeera’s Sanaa bureau (why am I not surprised), titled “Yes… We All Want Federalism” shamelessly calling for the actual partitioning of his own country into feuding federal mini-statelets along sectarian lines as the only foreseeable solution for Yemen after the “Houthi militia waged their war on legitimacy”. Is that what the site’s founder, Arianna Huffington meant when she promised that the site “will showcase the untapped potential of the region”?

Promoting the division of Arab countries seems to be a recurrent theme in the HuffPost Arabi. On the latest terrorist attack which targeted a market in Baghdad and left at least 60 people killed and 200 wounded, the site again teased the idea of dividing another Arab country, this time Iraq, when it headlined in a large bolded font: “Is Partition THE Solution for Iraq?” followed by the sub-headline “the largest suicide blast to hit Iraq since Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi took office”.

Curiously,  the Huffington Post’s English website ran a tamer headline for the terrorist bombing attack story than that of its Arabic counterpart: “Truck Packed with Explosives Blows up in Baghdad; Dozens Dead and Hundreds Wounded”.

When it comes to Syria, the site fares no better (if not worse). Syria is swiftly given the standard GCC-spun, hyperbolic media treatment where everything is seen, dissected and spewed upon the public through a strict sectarian prism and nothing else. Take this for instance: when Syrian authorities allegedly arrested a relative of President Bashar Al Assad on suspicion of shooting an army officer which sparked protests in the port city of Latakia, Huffpost Arabic, and in true (and mistakable) Al-Jazeera fashion, headlined: “huge Alawite protests in Latakia call for the execution of Assad’s cousin” and “Assad arrests his cousin who enraged Alawites by killing a high ranking officer” (italics are mine), with the word “Alawites” being one of the few tags for both news items.

So lessons of the day: 1) Latakia’s population is 100% Alawite. And 2) the beacon of liberal media has no qualms wading into sectarian waters alongside the worst of the GCC’s ever-growing roster of gutter journalism!

Going through the site’s blog platform, of which Arianna Huffington said she was most excited about, is an exercise in intrigue, befuddlement and subsequent frustration: from weird articles disparaging “Selfies” as a threat to Arab and Islamic worlds (evidently selfie culture is deemed more of a threat than… federalism and sectarian discord which the site and its writers constantly preach), to outright Homophobia. The blog section is an absolute menagerie of chauvinism, gender-bias and reactionary politics heavily laced with Muslim Brotherhood flavor and GCC propaganda handiwork.

But perhaps the biggest head-scratcher of all is seeing the name of Hakam Al Baba among the site’s main contributing bloggers.

Let me tell you more about this particular Huffpost writer.

Hakam al Baba is a Syrian screenwriter, best known for writing some of the silliest and most dreadful “comedies” to ever be shown on Syrian television. In fact, as a scenarist, Al Baba managed to single-handedly near-kill the career of Dureid Lahham, one of Syria’s most prominent actors, theater, movie and television icons when he wrote the star’s widely criticized and derided TV comedy series “Abul Hana’s Dreams”. But that was a long time ago.

Nowadays Al Baba identifies himself as a poet, writer, journalist and founder of the “National Center for the Defense of the Freedom for Journalists”, or so his bio says on the Huffpost Arabi website, but perhaps a more apt and succinct description of Al-Baba would simply be: a certified ISIS enthusiast, with knee-jerk propensity for bigotry, sectarian agitation and advocating terrorism.

In a nutshell, Hakam Al-Baba is an ardent supporter of ISIS, Al Nusra front, Ahrar Al Sham and pretty much any of those head-chopping, organs-eating, radical neo-Islamic groups that make Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda look like the absolute paragon of tolerance and moderation, and he makes no secret of it. His personal Facebook page just reeks of crude sectarianism and vulgar bigotry not only against Alawites, though they do constitute the primary target for his daily barrage of overly racist attacks, slurs, insults, sectarian agitation and incitement, but all religious/ethnic minorities including Shia (of course), Christians, Druz, Kurds and even those Sunnis (or “lightweight Sunnis”, as Al-Baba often puts it) who don’t sport the same vicious brand of hardline sectarian views and ISIS-esque tendencies that he himself proudly wears on his own sleeve notoriously for all to see.

Here are some of the sectarian comments made by HuffPost’s newest featured blogger on his personal Facebook page (translated word for word from Arabic):

*  As long as there is a single Alawite who is considered as an opposition member then that means that the revolution has been infiltrated. (August 12, 2015).

*  To be honest, I prefer (ISIS leader Abu Bakr) Al Baghdadi’s plan for the “rehabilitation” of Alawites to that of (Nusra Front’s) Al Joulani’s. (June 8, 2015)

*  Religious minorities, who got used to dealing with “light” Sunnis, are right to fear the coming “whirlwind” that is ISIS. (May 22, 2015).

*  Distinguishing between the Syrian Regime and the Alawite population is akin to claiming that Blacks are not “Niggers”! (May 17, 2015).

*    I insist that the mere existence of any Alawite, even those who oppose the regime, in “liberated areas” is a serious breach that could lead to a disaster for civilians and rebels alike. (March 23, 2015).

Indeed, to say that Al-Baba is a fan of ISIS is an understatement. The man is a nasty piece of work. He fully embraces the Islamic State’s Takfiri ideology with such a fervent exuberance that he routinely and explicitly advocates the literal ethnic cleansing of all Alawites and Shias from Syria, and the entire Arab world if possible (the term he often uses in this regard is “sweeping out” or “taking out the trash”), Al-Baba does not even try to sugarcoat his blatant sectarianism with the kind of political mambo jumbo that some journalists and media pundits stumble through in their GCC-sponsored and paid for anti-Iran/anti-Shia screed. No, Al-Baba is a straight shooter. He is unabashed and unapologetic in flaunting his sectarianism,. In his daily rants on his personal Facebook page, Al Baba exhibits unhinged contempt and racism bordering on sociopathic obsession towards the Alawite and the Shia sects, he firmly believes that the total extermination of the Alawite religious sect is the only path towards a “free Syria” (free of Alawites apparently), to quote Al-Baba himself: “The (Syrian) revolution’s notion of the “day after” should absolutely be the killing of those “Shabiha” (a common euphemism devised by GCC media in reference to Alawites) whom the rebels didn’t get a chance to kill before”, translation: witch-hunting every single Alawite and Shiite (civilian or otherwise) to their mass graves with no mercy and no quarter.

Al-Baba celebrated the Islamic State’s capture of Al Raqqa, the Caliphate’s capital city, by pronouncing jubilantly that: “the city has been finally cleared of Alawites, hoping to see the same happen in the rest of country”.

He also hailed ISIS’s conquest of Palmyra as a “liberation” of the city and a bona fide victory for the so-called Syrian revolution against what he calls the Alawite Occupation in reference to the Syrian government’s rule, not only that Al Baba often describes the areas which are still under the Syrian Government’s control as “Alawite settlements”, and the local residents of those areas as “settlers”, invoking the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine, and somehow equating between the Zionist colonization of occupied Arab territories and the mere presence of indigenous Alawite communities in Syria. Al-Baba once wrote: “liberating the settlements of Nubul and Al Zahraa (two predominantly Shiite towns north of Aleppo city which have been under rebel’s siege and bombardment for more than two years) from the Shia of Iran is no less important than liberating the Israeli settlements of Kiryat Shmona and Sdrot”.

This Huffpost Arabi’s blogger not only cheerleads terrorism and murderous acts of violence, but he seems to fetishize it with a demented abandon, especially if the victims were “infidels” and/or “apostates”.

When GCC-funded armed groups began their campaign of terror by indiscriminately shelling the city of Damascus back in February of this year, killing scores of civilians and wounding countless more, Al-Baba sensationalized that horror show and called for more: “as of today, Damascus is no longer safe for Alawites, their mass exodus out of the city has begun, and it will continue as long as rebel’s shelling reaches their areas.”, the guy even relished a leaked graphic video showing Syrian rebels committing a gruesome massacre of civilians in the predominantly Alawite village of Ishtabraq near the city of Idlib: “as long as the pain has reached their villages, and they started looking for places to flee, then the revolution is on the right track!”.

In his first blog contribution to HuffPost Arabi, titled “You Are Here”, Al Baba wrote: “…today’s battle is the product of oppression, faced by every group that has lived on this land; Arabs, Kurds, Amazighs, Christians, and Muslims (Sunnis and Shiites, Druze and Ismailis.) What has so far materialized of the battle is only the tip of the iceberg, and anyone who has not yet taken part in it is merely waiting his turn…”, you read this and you cannot help but think that the writer of these words must be a leading campaigner for equality, minorities’ rights and global altruism, on his personal Facebook page, however, Al Baba exhibits unremitting hatred towards all minorities and religious groups mentioned in his article, for instance, on September 7th, 2015 he wrote on his page: “the reality of what’s happening in the Arab world is that it is the minorities’ war against the Sunni majority in the region…”, on September 23rd, 2014 he wrote: “minorities are the Imperial West’s Achilles’ heel and its leading military force in its wars against the region, with their hands the Syrian people are killed every day and because of them the Syrians are bombed.”, and again: “As the experiences in Iraq, Lebanon, Bahrain and Yemen have proven, All Shiites in the Arab world are Iran’s time bombs in the region, ready to detonate at the time it deems convenient… and whoever argues with this fact is a fool”.

It’s only a matter of time before seeing Al-Baba’s bigoted, sectarian contortions seep through from his personal Facebook page right into his blog contributions to the Huffpost website for all to read.

To add irony to irony, in a blog post introducing Huffpost Arabi, titled “Marhaba”, Arianna Huffington decried “the devastating rise of ISIS, extremism, sectarian and ethnic tensions…” in the Arab world, yet what we’ve seen so far from the Arabic edition of her website, especially the scandalous inclusion of a true ISIS admirer in the shape of Hakam Al-Baba as a featured blogger, points to the fact that HuffPost Arabi actually flaunts, celebrates and endorses with a reckless passion everything that was derided by the site’s namesake in her inaugural blog post of the Arabic edition. And that’s only the tip of the hypocrisy iceberg.

There’s no doubt that Hakam Al-Baba represents the true (and ugly) face of what’s called the Syrian revolution, a vicious, foreign-funded insurgency aimed at not only violently overthrowing the Syrian government at the behest and for the benefit of the imperial West and the sheikhdoms of the GCC club, but altering the rich cultural, historical and social landscape of the Levantine country into a bleak wasteland of lawlessness, intolerance, sectarian ruin and Wahhabi mob-rule. You’ll be glad to know that this acrid agenda just gained a new platform in the Huffpost Arabi website. Enjoy.

Ahmad Barqawi is a freelance columnist and writer.