July 23, 2010 Special Dispatch No. 3117

Syrian Daily: The Syria-Egypt Media Ceasefire Is Over

July 23, 2010
Egypt, Syria | Special Dispatch No. 3117

In a recent article, Waddah 'Abd Rabbo, editor of the Syrian daily Al-Watan, mounted an unprecedented attack on the Egyptian regime and president, stating that this regime had taken part in a plot to redraw the map of the Middle East, and that it is oppressing its people.

'Abd Rabbo's attack came in response to a number of recent articles published in the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm marking the first decade of the rule of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. 'Abd Rabbo wrote that these articles had enraged him because they insulted the Syrian president as well as the Syrian people. He was also furious at the paper's interview with 'Abd Al-Halim Khaddam, a former Syrian vice president who is now a leader of the opposition to the Syrian regime; in the interview, Khaddam criticized Assad and said that he has disappointed all those who had expected him to institute reform in the Syrian regime.[1]

The Al-Masri Al-Yawm articles on the Syrian regime, which were based on assessments by Syrian and foreign journalists, on diplomatic sources, and on articles from the Western press, conceded that Assad had gained popularity at home and abroad, had dealt successfully with international pressure on him, had led Syria out of its international isolation, and had instituted a policy of economic openness. Nevertheless, the articles criticized the human rights situation in Syria, and claimed that Assad had failed to fulfill expectations in this domain. One of them cited Burhan Ghalyun, head of the Sorbonne's Center for Arab and Contemporary Oriental Studies, who assessed that there is no chance for change in Syria, and that not only is there no ideological, political, or organizational freedom for the Syrian opposition, but that there are also attempts to uproot it.[2]

'Abd Rabbo's article is yet another manifestation of the recent escalation in tension in the media discourse between the two countries, after a period of relative calm following the March 2010 Arab summit in Libya. Prior to its publication, exchanges of harsh accusations were sparked by a visit to Egypt by Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese opposition to Syria.[3]

Following are excerpts from 'Abd Rabbo's article:[4]

"The [Articles] … are an Insult Not Only to the Status of the Syrian President but Also to the Entire Syrian People"

"...Yesterday I read a section of the Egyptian paper Al-Masri Al-Yawm, sent to me by a colleague in Cairo. This paper purports to be 'independent.' The [articles in] this section are an insult not only to the status of the Syrian president but also to the entire Syrian people, its noble history. and its leaders... What [the paper] published was absurd, because of the nonsense, lies, and mistakes that appeared in this section, whose sole aim was to provoke the Syrians.

"Let me assure my colleagues in Egypt – we were not provoked. You may continue to write as you wish. The Syrian caravan moves on while the dogs bark, finding in some of the biased newspapers a platform for spreading their poison, [and I will] say nothing of their identity, their sources of funding, and about where their loyalties lie.

"It should be noted that the articles published in the Egyptian paper relied on statements... of those who call themselves 'opponents of the Syrian regime.' It is no coincidence that a few days before [the publication of these articles], the paper published an 'interview' with 'Abd Al-Halim Khaddam, who is hiding in France out of fear – not fear of Syrian officials, but fear of simple Syrians who regard him as a disgraceful epitome of opportunism, corruption, collaboration [with the enemy], and moral depravity. The paper that published the interview is [apparently] unaware that for a long time now, Khaddam has been asking his acquaintances to intercede on his behalf [with the Syrian regime] in order to obtain a pardon that would allow him to return to Syria..."

Egypt's Media are Controlled by the Government

"Egypt has no 'independent press.' There is [only] biased and funded press that promotes the Egyptian regime and its goals. The daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, which published the section on Syria, is a disgraceful example of press that purports to be independent, but is [actually] funded by the Egyptian [security] apparatuses. The only aim of the publication was to convey an official Egyptian message to Syria, namely that Egypt is still around and its role was not at an end. Egypt wishes to convey this message to the whole world, because it feels that its role has shrunk and is practically gone – especially since it joined Israel in the siege and attack on Gaza, since its status has declined in the Arab and global arenas, and since it [began to] focus all its attention on paving a way for Gamal Mubarak to succeed his father [as president].

"We do not want to go into detail about Egypt's political life and interfere in its internal affairs. The Egyptian people is a great people, esteemed by all Syrians. This people is capable of handling all its internal affairs and its future, and does not need anyone's help. This, in spite of the oppression under which it lives, the lack of basic freedoms, the random arrests, the prisons strewn across the land, and the daily violations of human rights, which have been condemned by international organizations and [even] by the White House, Egypt's powerful ally, as well as by the European countries, who were forced to break their silence and condemn the [oppression] of the Egyptian people...

"As a private paper, we [at Al-Watan] wish to tell the 'brothers' in the Egyptian government that their message has been received and that it made us laugh very hard, especially since [the articles in Al-Masri Al-Yawm] mentioned 'blood and oppression.' This reminded us of the unforgettable blood of [the people of] Gaza, [and] the Egyptian regime's oppression of [its] 80 million honorable citizens who sprang to the aid of their brothers in the occupied territories but the Egyptian security apparatuses prevented them from crossing [the border] and helping their Palestinian brothers. [The articles] also reminded us of Egypt's position on [Israel's] bombing of the villages in South Lebanon in the summer of 2006, and of how our 'sister' [Egypt] took part in the plot to redraw [the map of] the Middle East – a plot that the resistance forces in the Middle East, and the peoples of Syria and Lebanon, managed to foil, thereby preventing Israel and its supporters from taking over the entire Arab world, from the Mediterranean to the Gulf...

"We honored the media ceasefire [between Syria and Egypt] that prevailed after the Arab summit in Sirte [, Libya]. But if there is no choice but to resume the exchange of media blows, then the Egyptian officials should know that we are at the height of readiness... In fact, we yearn to respond to the poison that Egypt's 'independent press' is spreading. There are enough issues we can raise, especially when it comes to the rule of President Hosni Mubarak in the last 29 years...

"President Bashar Al-Assad enjoys the support of 20 million Syrians, and similar support abroad. This is a source of pride for us. The 'independent' [Egyptian] press that is discussing Syria's internal affairs need only look at Assad's meetings with the Syrian communities abroad to realize that Syria's strength lies in the Syrian people's uniting around their president.

"To those who incite the Egyptian media against Syria, we say: people in glass houses should not throw stones. Syria is blessed in its president, and the Egyptian people is [likewise] blessed in an Arab leader named Bashar Al-Assad, who can defend the rights of all Arabs, wherever they be."


[1] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), July 9, 2010.

[2] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), July 13, 2010.

[3] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 3090, "Egyptian Government Daily: Syria Committed to Iranian Agenda," July 12, 2010, Egyptian Government Daily: Syria Committed to Iranian Agenda.

[4] Al-Watan (Syria), July 15, 2010.

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