Contributing to transparency

The thousands of documents that have been leaked, both by Wikileaks and al-Jazeera, have made a great impact on the Middle East. Some of this impact is immediate and the rest will be felt for some time to come. The reason why these leaks were very dramatic in the Middle East and the Arab world in particular is, of course, the absence of transparency in the landscape of the political elite and governments.

In most cases, the Wikileaks documents confirmed positions and official behavior of which the public was already suspicious and which the opposition had warned against. Therefore, the release of these documents had the effect of further discrediting regional governments in the eye of their respective publics.

There was a difference, however, in the public’s perception of the Wikileaks and al-Jazeera documents, respectively. While Wikileaks simply presents its documents as they are, leaving to the public (among them journalists, leaders, academics and politicians) to draw different and sometimes contradictory conclusions and feeding a healthy public debate, al-Jazeera went further than that. The Qatar-owned satellite station took great pains to present these leaks through a clear political lens–to the extent that this affected the leaks’ credibility, particularly among Palestinians.

Al-Jazeera, which already pursues an Islamic political and ideological agenda, not only posted these documents on a website, but produced four major television programs "presenting" the documents. Al-Jazeera maliciously took things out of context with the objective of exaggerating the negative light they cast on the Palestinian Authority.

For Palestinians, the effect was two-fold. First, some Palestinians expressed the view that there was a need to review the performance of the negotiators and open the door to correction and self-criticism. This impulse was clear in many writings after the leaks, including an early statement issued by the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

The other outcome was a backlash against al-Jazeera itself, as Palestinians expressed suspicion about the intentions of the satellite channel. Some specialists say that this has led to a decline in the channel’s viewership in the occupied Palestinian territories.

But there has been another angle to these leaks, especially the Wikileaks documents. Here, the leaked cables unveiled the at times unsavory role of American diplomats in general and in the region. First, the documents showed that American diplomats sometimes acted in a non-diplomatic manner, to put it mildly, periodically misrepresenting the positions and views that they heard from other officials. Most damaging, however, has been widespread shaken confidence in American diplomats’ ability to keep what is supposed to be confidential from being disclosed.

All in all, however (and in spite of the negative effects and damage here and there), one can conclude that these leaks had a positive effect, contributing to more careful and responsible diplomacy, in addition to greater transparency in politics and international relations.