The challenge now for Qatar will be how to orient the channel’s coverage towards its policy objectives without appearing to exercise too heavy a hand. Independence has indeed been crucial to the channel’s success, and any obvious interference could compromise the brand beyond repair. The shift will be imperceptible. It may very well take the form of a simple reaffirmation of the channel’s outward focus. The level of coverage of Syria, Egypt and Libya will most likely remain unchanged, with the Gulf in a permanent blind spot. Ironically, Al Jazeera English may take on the role of burnishing the brand’s international reputation, as the repository of the sort of programming absent from Al Jazeera Arabic. As the English channel is watched mostly outside the middle east, it can safely air material that on Al Jazeera Arabic would be seen as inflaming local passions, and upsetting Qatar’s neighbors and allies. This dynamic may already be playing out in relation to Bahrain.
Khanfar’s future is an open question, but I doubt he will disappear completely. He has made reference to a new project, without offering any concrete details. A good soldier to the end, he has praised the network’s owners and his successor, saying nothing that would jeopardize further Qatari support, financial or otherwise, for his activities. On the outside, he could make for a formidable enemy. But the Qataris are surrounded by formidable enemies, and in their rise to global prominence they have learned how to manage them.