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memri
August 16, 2002 No.
412

Liberal Arab Intellectuals on Their Governments' Information Campaign Plans

Since September 11, high ranking Arab government officials, as well as the Arab media, have been contemplating the need for an information campaign that would present Arab positions to a Western audience "in language the West understands." A number of liberal Arab intellectuals have mocked this idea. The following are excerpts from articles authored by two prominent liberal Arab intellectuals on the topic:

The Renowned Egyptian Playwright 'Ali Salem

In an article titled "A Pilot for an Arab Television Program Aimed at the Western Viewer: Lies Refuted by Facts!" Ali Salem wrote:

"I very much support [the notion] that we have failed miserably in addressing the West using its modern concepts, and that this is the reason why the West clings to its hostile positions towards us and rejects our concepts."

"One proposal for rectifying this situation is to establish television stations 'directed' at the West…"

"I support the idea of a [television] program to present reality to the Westerners - not the way their not-always-innocent news agencies present it, but persuasively… We must not focus on denying events, but on interpreting them differently, in a way that will win over Western public opinion…"

"For example, take the news about Mr. Nizar Nayouf, who spent nine years in prison [in Syria], got out, and stirred up a fuss until he disappeared, and then reappeared only to 'claim' that someone had abducted him. Then he went to France, disappeared again, and reappeared 24 hours later in Belgium where he was found in one of the forests severely beaten, and was taken to a hospital."

"There is no doubt that when reading this news item, the West will understand that we imprison people for nearly a decade because their opinions are different than ours. Similarly, the story that he was found beaten in a European forest after disappearing or being abducted could, unfortunately, create the impression in the West that some Arab elements kidnapped him and beat him so badly he had to be hospitalized."

"Allowing such an event to fester in the minds of the Westerners will seriously damage our reputation as Arabs."

"At this point, the information campaign will enter the picture, in at least two languages, English and French, with an interview program called 'Lies Refuted by Facts.' Here is a sample of the program:"

"Mr. Nizar [Nayouf] sits with an attractive female moderator. If he is unable to appear, another man named Nizar can be brought in, so they can't accuse us of lying…"

Question: "Mr. Nizar, the Western news agencies say you were imprisoned for nine years because of your views."

Nizar: "Ha ha ha!… Me!? Imprisoned!? What kind of big word is that? There is some misunderstanding about me, and I must explain it to the West. Like every intellectual, I worry and move about restlessly. This worrying prevents me from thinking correctly. In vain I have sought stability. The government noticed this and had to protect me from my worrying, so that I would begin to live. You remember Kazinji's [sic] famous book Leave Your Worries Behind and Start Living!?"

Moderator: "You mean you were imprisoned to protect you from perdition and worry?"

Nizar: "Of course."

Moderator: "You mean this was done in accordance with a Western idea thought up by a Western intellectual?"

Nizar: "Precisely. It was necessary to put me in a safe place for as long a period as possible. This place is completely different from the Western perception of a prison."

"Here a film will be screened. [In it we see] a magnificent palace surrounded by expansive green forests. The prisoners, in handsome sweatsuits, are playing basketball and soccer. There are swimming pools and the prisoners are happy, swimming and splashing each other in fun."

Moderator: "By Allah! Is this the beautiful, safe place where you settled?"

Nizar: "Wait a moment, you haven't seen the solitary confinement cell yet."

"Shots are shown of a beautiful furnished room, complete with television, telephone, refrigerator, computer, pictures on the walls, and flowers. Nizar appears wearing his handsome blue velvet prison uniform. A jailer in a waiter's outfit serves him a plate of food."

Moderator: "By Allah! The West knows nothing about our prisons. So it is understandable why its views of us are negative."

Nizar: "Of course, of course."

Moderator: "What ideas have you come up with in recent years?"

Nizar: "I didn't think of any idea, but I have begun to think more creatively."

Moderator: "What about the story of your 24-hour disappearance? Where were you?"

Nizar: "(Laughs and winks) Is it conceivable that when a man like me, who loves life, disappears, people would know where he disappeared to? Ha ha ha…"

Moderator: "It is said that they found you in a forest in Belgium, thrown on the ground after being severely beaten."

Nizar: "Severely? Yes, I was beaten, but you couldn't call it severely. You should have seen the other guy. There was a fight, and I won. I left the hospital a few hours later, while he is hovering between life and death."

Moderator: "What was the fight about?"

Nizar: "No need to go into details. It is best to safeguard the reputation of that Belgian woman. Ha ha ha..."

Moderator: "We thank you, Mr. Nizar, for clarifying the truth about what happened to you for European and American public opinion…" [1]Saudi Columnist Daoud Al-Shirian in the London Daily Al-Hayat
In a commentary which followed a meeting between the Syrian and Tunisian information ministers, Al-Shirian mocked the Arab regimes' approach to Arab information 'packaged for the West':

"In Tunis, Syrian Information Minister Adnan 'Omran and his Tunisian colleage Fathi Al-Huweidi discussed cooperation between their countries on an information campaign... The Syrian minister expressed his desire to strengthen Arab information efforts in the international arena."

"There is no doubt that the Syrian-Tunisian meeting serves Arab information efforts, because Tunis is a country that meticulously [protects] the interests of the Arab individual. It sees the extensive use of the news media and the Internet as a threat to society's supreme moral values. Earlier this year, it arrested a Tunisian youth who set up a satirical website on which he criticized the government. In addition, it energetically monitors the spider-like network [i.e. the Internet] that threatens Arab national security and provides the public with unrestrained news and views."

"In Syria, matters are going in the same direction. Newspapers are collected from the shops because of a [political] cartoon, and Syrian journalists celebrate each time they get a license to put out some publication - not to mention the welcome efforts to restrict the Internet, the prohibition on private ownership of satellite channels and radio, the laws and regulations preventing information anarchy, and the infiltration of people with views opposite to those of the mass [government] media who seek to harm the interests and resources of the nation."

"There is no doubt that Syrian-Tunisian cooperation is a tremendous and welcome effort, but it is noticeable that the Syrians are no different from the Tunisians in how they repress the media and restrict those who amuse themselves with it in the name of freedom of speech."

"Therefore, we hope that these two honorable countries will… unify Arab efforts to repress the Arab media so that it will be possible to benefit from their rich experience in protecting the Arab individual from the virus of freedom that has begun to threaten his security and stability." [2]


[1] Al-Hayat (London), June 6, 2002.

[2] Al-Hayat (London), August 8, 2002.