Readers pose questions to Marwan Bishara

Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst answered questions from readers on the social news site Reddit.

Marwan Bishara hosted the discussion in studio on Wednesday [Al Jazeera/Kate Gardiner]

On August 24, Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst, Marwan Bishara, took questions from users of the social news website Reddit.

The format is called an IAmA – I Am A – where a person makes a post about themselves, inviting others to AMA – “Ask Me Anything”. Marwan decided to give it a shot. Here are some of the highest-rated questions that had a correlated answer from our analyst.

Al Jazeera is often seen as the “alternative” to the bad/misleading/biased mainstream media, of course no matter how hard one tries, there is always an element of bias in journalism. But is there a sense in the newsroom of this difference between Al Jazeera and other mainstream outlets?

Marwan: There are major differences … we are not commercial, not yet anyway. And many of the decisions are taken on purely journalistic considerations, not commercial ones.

More importantly, most of the major – or what you refer to as mainstream – satellite networks are based in the world centres of power, whether in the US, Europe etc. Al Jazeera doesn’t speak the language of power. It’s the only one that speaks a truly international language that includes different accents, nationalities and ethnicities with no geopolitical agenda, programme or culture of any sort.

What do you think the future holds for Libya? A Western-style democracy, Islamic republic? Something in between?

Marwan: A third option, one that involves a democratic process, but not full democracy. First and foremost, political parties need to be established, and normalcy introduced to the country.

Democracy is the rule of the democratic values, not simply the rule of the majority. For that it’s indispensable to groom a new generation of democrats within a civic state where the rights of the individual and the rights of minorities are protected by the majority.

From an outsider’s perspective, how does the rest of the world “really” feel about the US?

Marwan: Many are fascinated by it, and admire its liberties and its standards of living, social mobility and liberty. Others are not impressed by its inflated consumerism and emphasis its wrong-headed foreign policies and its military adventures and failures. There are all sorts.

Who supports Gaddafi right now? Is there a sub-ethnic or regional division at play within Libyan politics? The media likes to couch these things in terms of “the people” vs. “the strongman”. But the strong man isn’t the Hulk, beating off “the people” all by himself.

Marwan: That’s a great question. Better read my next book, The Invisible Arab, for an in-depth look at the forces behind the regimes and change. Most Arab regimes have been based on narrow but strong bases that have much at stake and invested in the regime. They could be tribes, clans, ethnicities etc. They also have regional allies and other forms of support system that helped them survive. However, much of that is no longer sufficient to keep them in power. Change is coming, and at times it will be costly.

Are Libyans really so overwhelmingly anti-Gaddafi, or is it just better marketing by the rebels? I can imagine a situation where 10 per cent of the people are waiving guns, and 90 per cent are just trying to stay alive.

Marwan: Revolutions are generally spearheaded by a minority that’s willing to face danger – especially the younger generation. It seems to me that Libyans want change, at least want the choice to make a choice.

What do you think should be the United State’s role in the world in the next century?

Marwan: Time to downsize the empire … better to do some reconstruction at home than wars abroad. The US has great soft power in its arsenal. Afghanistan might humiliate the Pentagon, but no one has taken on Mickey Mouse yet.

What are your thoughts on the current state of the media – are things worse than they used to be, or better?

Marwan: It’s great for Al Jazeera. We are in the process of conquering new satellite frontiers, by putting journalism back in television and the media. Western networks are the losers thus far.

Israel-Palestine conflict. How’s it going to end?

Marwan: Either in divorce, two states for two peoples, or in happy marriage, one state for two peoples, binational or a state for all its citizens – Arabs and Israelis. The ongoing occupation can’t last any longer. It will simply turn into a new type of apartheid, something many argue has already taken root there.

How would you say things are progressing in Egypt? What are your predictions as to the type of governance that they will have? Will the secular state happen?

Marwan: Egypt has only started on the path of democracy after decades of dictatorship. The military remains powerful, but will have to cede political power sooner rather than later. Turkey is the way to go for the Egyptian military. The same might apply for the Islamist parties. They could compete in future elections, but couldn’t change the civic nature of the state that’s been that way for hundreds, arguably thousands, of years.

I get the impression that you don’t hold the US in very high regard. While this could be true for a whole number of reasons, why is it true for you personally. Why exactly don’t you like the US?

Marwan: I have no personal liking or disliking to countries. Working in a satellite media channel, our role is first and foremost to question global and superpowers, just as national media puts national questions first. The US, EU, BRIC powers etc, like transnational organisations and corporations, must be probed.

Why do you think the West is more deferential to the established hereditary monarchies than it is to the other dictatorships in the Middle East? Do you think we see them as more legitimate even though they are equally anti-democratic? Do you see them as more legitimate yourself, subconsciously?

Marwan: It’s not Western vs Arab. The West has and had its share of monarchies … it’s different phases for different regions and countries.

As a political sociologist, I tend to differentiate between authoritarian and totalitarian states – the former allows for more political opening but maintains its grip on power, while totalitarians impose their ideology deep into the society, banning anything else that resembles diversity. Jeane Kirkpatrick, Reagan’s ambassador to the UN in the early 1980s, believed that totalitarianism was America’s enemy, while authoritarians were its allies. But it’s difficult to claim that Saudi Arabia has had political opening. I am for democracy everywhere in the Arab world, better through peaceful transition than through violent upheavals, in the long term.

What do you think the causes of the Arab spring were?

Marwan: There is the element of contagion in a region that speaks the same language. Al Jazeera has become the virtual public space for the 300 million Arabs over the last 15 years. This helps create a domino effect that we’ve witnessed the last few months. They also suffer from similar poor conditions, whether unemployment, injustice etc.

The full list of questions and answers can be found by clicking here.

Marwan Bishara is Al Jazeera’s senior political analyst.

He was previously a professor of International Relations at the American University of Paris. An author who writes extensively on global politics, he is widely regarded as a leading authority on the Middle East and international affairs.