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memri
February 19, 2009 No.
2083

'Al-Hayat' Damascus Bureau Chief Explains His Resignation: I Refuse to Take Part in Media and Political Campaign Against Syria

The September 27, 2008 Damascus car bombing stepped up the tension between Syria and Saudi Arabia,[1] as manifested by, inter alia, the Syrian authorities' decision to ban the distribution of the Saudi daily Al-Hayat in Syria.

In response to this decision, an Al-Hayat source stated that Syria was persecuting the paper because it was funded by Saudi Arabia, and because it followed its professional conscience rather than the dictates of the Syrian regime. Al-Hayat's Beirut bureau chief added that Syria constantly censured the paper, and banned its distribution so often that it sometimes appeared in Syria as infrequently as once a month.[2]

As tension between Syria and Saudi Arabia mounted, Al-Hayat's Damascus bureau chief announced that he was quitting his post after 18 years of working for the paper.[3] In an article in the Syrian daily Al-Watan, he accused Al-Hayat of publishing reports and op-eds on the Damascus bombing that were slanted against Syria.[4]

Following are excerpts from Hamidi's article in Al-Watan:[5]

"Had I Made This Decision a Few Weeks Ago, It Would Have Been Too Early, Because Back Then I Was Still Able To Cover The Events [In Damascus]"

"My association with Al-Hayat began in the early 1990s. All relationships must eventually come to an end... [and] I hope that my decision to leave Al-Hayat came at the right time.

"Had I made this decision a few weeks ago, it would have been too early, because back then I was still able to cover the events [in Damascus] in a reasonable way, thanks to the cooperation of the [Syrian] authorities. The Syrian position thus received some representation in this daily of the elites, which is published in London, distributed throughout the world, and read by decision makers.

"Syria's cooperation ensured that the paper's approach [remained] balanced and reasonable – unlike [the line taken] by some [other] Arab papers in recent years."

"Had I Waited Another Few Weeks... It Would Have Been Much Too Late, For It [Would Have Meant] Taking Part In Something Not To My Liking"

"In fact, Al-Hayat's coverage of the Arab [League] Summit in Damascus this March, of President Bashar Al-Assad's outstanding performance at the Conference of Mediterranean Countries in Paris, of the Quadripartite summit, and of [French President] Nicolas Sarkozy's visit to Damascus apparently distressed the Egyptian papers so much that they launched a incitement campaign against Al-Hayat and against me...

"Had I waited another few weeks before leaving Al-Hayat, it would have been much too late, for it [would have meant] taking part in something that is not to my liking."

"I Began To Feel That The Political Position [of the Daily, Which is Dictated by Saudi Arabia], Was Affecting Its Editorial Policies"

"So why [did I decide to leave] now? [When I left,] Syria was cooperating [with Al-Hayat] more than ever. However, I began to feel that the political position [of the daily, which is dictated by Saudi Arabia], was affecting its editorial policies. I tried to point this out several times... [but] eventually I began to feel that cooperation was diminishing, to be replaced by a tyranny of predetermined policies. The situation recently worsened, and the breaking point came with the terrorist attack [in Damascus] on 'Black Saturday' late last month.

"The problem was the politicized nature and the [biased] approach taken by some of [Al-Hayat's] reports and op-eds [on the Damascus bombing]...

"I am not so naïve as to think that I can change Al-Hayat's policies, or force it [to adopt] the Syrian position. But I can certainly leave before this campaign takes a turn that is completely at odds with my beliefs.

"In the recent days, some tried to make political use of my decision to leave Al-Hayat, dropping hints about past [events].[6] But in actuality, my decision stemmed from my reservations about the reports and inciting articles published in recent days attempting to harm Syria in its difficult hour."

"I Will Not Participate in a Media or Political Campaign Against My Country"

"I made this decision before the [Syrian] government decided to ban the paper's distribution [in the country]. The [Syrian] authorities informed me that I could continue working [for Al-Hayat], and that the decision to ban the paper was not aimed against me or against the [Al-Hayat] Damascus bureau, but in response to what had been published by other [Al-Hayat] bureaus.

"I will not participate in a media or political campaign against my country, at any price. I have decided to end an 18-year chapter [of my career], and I now look forward to [beginning] a new chapter in my life as a journalist."


Endnotes:

[1] See The MEMRIBlog, September 29, 2008, http://www.thememriblog.org/blog_personal/en/10176.htm.

[2] www.elaph.com, October 2, 2008. See also MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1986, "Syria Bans Issue of Saudi Paper over Article Attacking Assad, Syrian Regime," July 16, 2008, Syria Bans Issue of Saudi Paper over Article Attacking Assad, Syrian Regime.

[3] www.syria-news.com, October 5, 2008.

[4] Al-Hayat implied in some of its reports that Syria itself had been behind the bombings.

[5] Al-Watan (Syria), October 7, 2008.

[6] This presumably refers to Hamidi's six-month detention by the Syrian authorities in 2002-2003. He was arrested for reporting, on the eve of the Iraq war, that Syria was preparing to accept up to one million of the refugees that it was assessed would flee Iraq if war broke out there.