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Journalism 101... for Professor Marc Lynch

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In an article recently published in Foreign Policy magazine, renowned American academic and author Marc Lynch criticized an opinion piece by Al Arabiya English columnist Abdelatif el-Menawy, describing it as "astonishing."

Rather than attempt to verify the contents of the column and build his argument from there, Lynch appeared quite un-academic when he sought to attack Menawy personally by discrediting the former Egyptian state broadcaster's director of news as an "old hand" of former President Hosni Mubarak.

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One might agree with Lynch's statement that accusing the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, of directing Muslim Brotherhood snipers to murder Egyptian soldiers is likely to be a "wild conspiracy."

However, he needs to get his facts straight when he implied that Menawy was behind this allegation.

If anything is "astonishing," it is that such a well-read academic did not clarify -- intentionally or otherwise -- that Menawy was quoting a widely-circulated special report published in Egyptian Arabic news site Mobtdaa (the column published by Al Arabiya English credits and hyperlinks to Mobtdaa twice). Failing to provide this fact is an incredible disservice to Lynch's readers, and to the reputable publication he writes for.

A service for non-Arabic speakers

Translating, reporting and analyzing what gets published in the Arabic press is a vital service that Al Arabiya English provides for its readers. We take this task seriously, and we believe that it is of very high value for non-Arabic speakers who are interested in Middle Eastern affairs. Of course, such reports will always include 'the good, the bad and the ugly,' and it is our duty to report whatever we deem of interest to our target audience.

On this occasion, Menawy wanted to utilize his weekly opinion piece with us to highlight an interesting report published in the local Egyptian media. So instead of being astonished, Lynch should be grateful for the work our website does in making available at a click what would otherwise be inaccessible for many.

He may not be comfortable with the volume and tone of anti-American sentiment emerging in Egypt, but I hope Lynch understands that such hostility will not magically go away if we choose not to report it. On the contrary, by spreading awareness, news reports might actually be part of the remedy.

Opinions CAN be controversial
Needless to say, Al Arabiya did not invent the concept of a 'controversial' opinion piece or public speaker, nor were we the first to report on another outlet publishing such material. There are so many examples of this.

In 2006, British MP and former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw wrote a piece for the Lancashire Telegraph that was described as against Muslims who choose to wear the niqab (full veil).

The article was republished by national newspaper The Guardian. This decision, based on the piece's interest as a cause for debate, probably furthered the reach of Straw's opinions in a way that would not have occurred had it remained printed only in a local paper.

Straw ended up apologizing for his comments. Was The Guardian right to re-publish this controversial piece? I think so. Of course, leave it to some academics, and they might just find the decision "astonishing" and seek to ridicule it.

Similar controversies happen all the time in other forums for public debate. In 2007, Columbia University was criticized, mostly by pro-Israel groups, for its decision to invite Iran's then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak during his visit to the United States to address the U.N. General Assembly.

Does this decision mean that Columbia was supporting Ahmadinejad's views on nuclear energy, Israel and human rights? I really do not think so. Rather, I think it was a message that everyone is entitled to a point of view, even if it is incredibly unpopular.

More importantly, I am sure that Foreign Policy publishes opinions without it being assumed that it wholeheartedly supports them. Why should the same privilege not be granted to what Lynch calls, with thinly-veiled hostility, the "Saudi-funded, Emirati-based satellite television station Al Arabiya"?

Such petty-minded statements from a highly-regarded academic are equivalent to a rookie Arab journalist insinuating that Lynch's views are likely to be biased simply because he is based in the United States, where the pro-Israel lobby is extremely active and influential.

Needless to say, representation of events in Egypt must not be confined to pre-approved Western sources, nor should we so underestimate our readers' intelligence as to deny them the opportunity of reading this material. Journalists are not beauticians. It is not our job to airbrush or sanitize an opinion, but to make people aware of what is being said -- warts and all -- in a language they can understand.

* This article first appeared in Al Arabiya English opinion section on 30 July 2012