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Alhurra on the Cairo Street

A heated debate rages within public diplomacy circles over who is watching Alhurra and how the channel is perceived by Arab audiences. Polls commissioned by Alhurra indicate much higher viewership numbers and credibility ratings than those reported in independent surveys conducted by academics and Arab research organizations. In an effort to shed some light on the numbers controversy, TBS correspondent Summer Said hit the "Arab street" in Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country and, according to a 2004 Zogby International poll, one of the most anti-American publics in the Arab world, with unfavorable views of America calculated at 98 percent. Roaming the streets of Cairo for one week in April 2005, Said queried pedestrians, shopkeepers, commuters, professionals, and students to find out who is watching Alhurra and what people have to say about the US-funded satellite channel's efforts in its first year on the air. Here are the results of TBS's own -- entirely unscientific -- survey:


The channel is not as bad as I and my friends expected at the beginning. Just forget the fact that it is funded by the US and it will be fine. At the end of the day a person has to see a variety of channels even if there were broadcast by what we call enemies. As for me I'm only interested in shows about body fitness and health so I watch Alhurra because they air some good shows in that area. These programs are in Arabic so I do not have to read subtitles while following the show. 
Ahmad Al Saadi, 21, law student

I did not think I would be watching Alhurra until one day when I was checking what was on TV and saw them interviewing some high profile Egyptians. The program was Sa'a Hurra(Free Hour), a live show that once hosted Ayman Nour, the chairman of (Egyptian opposition) Al Ghad Party. At least you would not find a similar show on the state-owned TV that is being watched by millions of people. 
Khaled Al Araby, 34, Arabic teacher

It is unbelievable that this channel is American. It cannot be compared even to the worst American channels that I receive. I cannot see how come the US does not even care to please the Arabs with something professional. Do they think we can be pleased by anything? It is a kind of insult to us. 
Walid Hamed, 32, accountant

I watch Alhurra but I feel that there is something strange about it. I wonder how come the US is financing this channel and still the services it offers are not that great. Sometimes I feel that the announcers are not professional at all and they speak classical Arabic with difficulty. I also feel that their news bulletins are filtered so that they would not offend the Arab viewers. And if you forget about the news you feel that their other programs are boring and they are of no interest to you. I do not know why it is still operating till now. 
Noha Muhammad, 26, journalist

I checked it out twice and it was so boring. I do not have much time to waste so I watch good channels like Al Jazeera or Al Arabiya. 
Zaki Assem, 17, high school student

Alhurra is a nice break from Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya and what they air everyday. Its news bulletins are not perfect but they also cover great parts of the world. It also gives you one hour of news if you have time to sit and watch and a 10-minute news if you are just interested in headlines. I think people at Alhurra are doing well for a channel that just kicked off last year. 
Sarah Siri, 29, dentist

Why would I watch something that everyone says is bad? It reminds me of our local channels. It has unqualified announcers, boring programs, and bad news coverage. 
Wafaa Abdel Maqsoud, 27, engineer

I think it is a good channel but the criticism it got before its launch put off so many people. I have seen many of my friends who thought it was very bad even without watching it for ten minutes. I think they have some good talk shows and their news services are quite balanced. Arab channels should be awake because I feel that this channel has its strength and it could become more important in the future if the US gave more attention to the staff and the quality of the programs aired. 
Jacqueline Girgis, 29, unemployed

Yes I do watch a couple of shows on Alhurra. One is Free Debate, which is a talk show and the other is Masters of Cinema, which is actually my favorite. Of course if we compare Alhurra with Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera, or CNN, Alhurra will lose but sometimes you want some change and you want to check out something different. I think the channel's performance is getting better and the people working there have potential. 
Amin Al Mahdi, 43, doctor

I do not watch Alhurra at the moment because I think they still need more time to become professional. They also have to come up with new ideas and interesting shows because no one will watch the channel unless it gives them something exceptional and this has not happened so far.
Hind Muhammad, 24, receptionist

I do not have a subscription to Discovery Channel to watch good documentaries so I'm glad that there is an Arabic channel like Alhurra that is giving me that chance everyday. The channel has some interesting documentaries and some science shows for those who are looking for something new everyday. Last month, for instance, I saw a very good show on the Pharaonic kings, their courts, and their costumes and makeup. There was another documentary about wild life in Australia that I also enjoyed. I guess your interests affect how you view this channel. 
Ashraf Omar, 20, science student

Alhurra has good debate shows but I think that the channel has failed in its main mission, which is "beautifying America's ugly face" in the eyes millions of Arabs and Muslims. The way I perceive the US is still the same and has not changed at all. I could enjoy some of the programs on Alhurra but that would not do any good for the US. I think that the American administration was stupid to launch this channel because they thought it will make us love them. If that was true we would have forgotten all the ugly actions of the US because they make excellent movies.
Name withheld, 22

I do watch Alhurra, but I do that with suspicions. I feel that the US is trying to brainwash the Arabs so I often compare their news reporting to the other reporting by channels like BBC, Al Jazeera or Al Arabiya. But I have to admit that most of the time, their reporting is professional and they do not fabricate stories. But I only watch Alhurra just to see if they do mistakes or not, just out of curiosity. 
Sherif Meghawri, 21, political science student

I'm sorry, I have not heard about it before. 
Amm Sayyed, 56, shop keeper

What I like about Alhurra is that every day they have different programs than the day before. One day they have a cooking show, and on another they air a documentary or a cinema show. My favorite show is a travel program called Luxury Travel that takes you on a tour through a country or a city and gives you all the information about it. This program in particular, unlike the other travel shows I have seen on the Arab stations, gives you a new picture of the cities and the most up-to-date information about them. 
Noura Sami, 18, high school student

If you pay attention to the news programs Alhurra shows you will find that they concentrate on Israeli and American statements, especially those by George W. Bush. They choose stuff that justifies the war on Iraq and the violations against the Iraqis and Palestinians. I have been following the other non-political shows and they are all silly and lifeless or rather boring and ridiculous. The US had better save its money and shut down the whole station. 
Dina Salem, 34, supermarket owner

I like the talk shows on Alhurra. They are not too long, interesting, discuss hot topics and feature people that are not the mouthpieces of the Arab governments.
Name withheld

I cannot stand watching it because it is boring and lifeless and you feel it is a bad imitation of the CNN or BBC. If I were in the shoes of the US administration I would shut this thing down before it becomes a scandal. 
Dina Sami, 20, student

I do not see what is wrong with Alhurra. It has good shows, decent news coverage, and quite professional stuff. We criticize the channel just because it is funded by the US and also because we are used to criticizing everything that is different from what we have. I and many of my friends think that the people working in the channel are trying to achieve something very efficient and eventually they will succeed because they are trying. 
Ahmed Usama, 32, accountant

Yes, I have heard some people talking about, but have not got a chance to check it out yet. 
Suhail Ahmad, 32, unemployed

We have too many channels these days and I cannot remember coming across this one before. 
Name withheld

I do not watch it and I do not recommend people to watch it. It is a station that was created by the US to brainwash the Arabs and convince them of the evil plans of the US. For me watching Alhurra is like watching an Israeli channel. It is something that should not be done and I think the Arab governments should do something to ban this channel. 
Safieddin Muhammad, 21, English literature student

About Summer Said

Summer Said is a freelance journalist based in Cairo. She writes for Arab News, Middle East Times, the Lebanese Daily Star, and Cairo Magazine, among others.

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