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memri
September 11, 2003 No.
21

The Think Tank of the Arab League: The Zayed International Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up Closes – Part III

Table of Contents

Introduction

Arab Reactions to MEMRI's Reports

A. The Zayed Centre
B. The Arab League
C. The Arab Press
D. Arab Intellectuals
E. Arab-American Groups

In the Aftermath of the Centre's Closure

A. The Arab Media Demonize MEMRI
B. LaRouche Condemns Closure & Blames Bush Administration

Arab Self-Criticism for the Centre's Closure

A. Saudi Media
B. London Arabic Media

Introduction

The controversy surrounding the Zayed International Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up (ZICCF) [1] began on May 23, 2002 with the first release in a series of MEMRI reports on the Centre's activities, [2] causing it to become both an embarrassment and a liability to the government and royal family of the United Arab Emirates. [3]

On August 27, 2003, following international pressure and condemnation of its activities, it was formally announced that the president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, ordered the Centre closed for engaging "in a discourse that starkly contradicted the principles of interfaith tolerance." [4] Sheikh Zayed's office issued a press release stating: "His Highness Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan has always been a strong advocate of interfaith tolerance and harmony among religions, as constantly reflected in his words and actions. This respect for all faiths is a basic principle of Islam, to which His Highness has firmly adhered… Thus, when it came to the attention of His Highness that the Zayed Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up had engaged in a discourse that starkly contradicted the principles of interfaith tolerance, directives were issued for the immediate closure of the Centre…" [5]

Arab Reactions to MEMRI's Report

A. The Zayed Centre

A series of responses to MEMRI and its reports were issued by the Zayed Centre. Most recently, the Centre wrote: "On June 11, 2003, MEMRI issued a second report on the Zayed [Centre], criticizing some of its activities… The Zayed Centre does not engage in disseminating anti-American literature… The Zayed Centre is not in the business of censoring questions raised by independent reporters nor pre-clearing answers given to these questions by guest speakers. As an 'independent, non-partisan, non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization' seeking to bridge 'the language gap which exists between the West and the Middle East,' MEMRI should know that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right protected by many constitutions and international agreements and conventions…" [6]

At the same time, consultants hired by the Zayed Centre sent a letter to MEMRI stating that, "We have been following closely your special reports published by MEMRI criticizing the Zayed Centre for its antisemitic and anti-American views which were expressed on a number of occasions by some speakers who were hosted by the Centre… Within the context, the Centre is intent upon steering a new course which aims at establishing a genuine dialogue between the Arab culture and the West through a series of joint seminars and lectures under the banner of rationality." The letter continues, noting that the Zayed Centre would extend an invitation to MEMRI's executive director "to give a talk during which you could express your criticisms and reservations regarding the Zayed Centre's policies and activities and exchange views with us in an attempt to surpass the present situation and possibly plan together for future cooperation. [7] "

B. The Arab League

While the United Arab Emirates acknowledged that they were considering closing the Centre, the Zayed Centre's Executive Director Muhammad Khalifa Al-Murar stated: "The Centre is here to stay and it will. You should know that it is an Arab League organization and it is up to the Arab League to decide on its fate…" [8] Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa added that the League rejects all accusations against the Centre, which, he said, were spread by the U.S. and Israeli media. He added that the Arab League supports the Centre, calling it "a free pulpit for exchanging opinions and ideas in support of peace and stability and against extremism and violence in the world." [9] In another interview, Moussa explained: "It is said such campaigns will only make the Centre more determined to work towards revealing right and dealing with all issues in a scientific and objective way. The Arab League has also strongly reacted to those allegations which it said were merely part of an Israeli smear campaign against Arabs. No one can accuse Arabs of persecuting the Jews at any time and any place." [10]

C. The Arab Press

The Arab press, including Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), Al-Hayat (London), Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), the Gulf News (UAE), Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), Al-Safir (Lebanon), Al-Liwa (Lebanon), and the Jordan Times responded to MEMRI's reports by defending the Zayed Centre and criticizing MEMRI. For example, the Bahrain-based Khaleej Times published an article titled "Zayed Centre Slams Smear Campaign by U.S. Outfit," stating: "The Zayed Centre has flayed the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) for false accusations and unsubstantiated charges against the Centre. The Zayed Centre yesterday issued a statement in response to the second report brought out by MEMRI on the Centre criticizing some of its activities. 'By issuing such a report, MEMRI reiterates its earlier litany of false accusations and unsubstantiated charges against the Centre…'" [11]

D. Arab Intellectuals

Thousands of Arab intellectuals opposed the closure, calling for the Zayed Centre to continue " being a minaret to defending Arab causes." [12] According to one report: "Hundreds of Arab intellects, writers, journalists, and columnists signed and distributed here on Sunday a memorandum showing consolidation with the Centre, famous for defending Arab causes. The memorandum called on UAE President Sheikh Zayed… and Amr Moussa to work against shutting the Centre." [13]

According to a Gulf News report, "Officials from the… Centre expect more than 1,400 signatures from journalists, intellectuals, writers, scholars and diplomats across the Arab world and other countries to be sent to the Centre expressing their solidarity and calling for its continuation… The campaign [against the Zayed Centre] is spearheaded by the Washington-based Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI)." [14] Among the signers of the communiqué were Syrian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Buthayna Sha'ban and Haidar 'Abd Al-Shafi, who headed the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Conference. [15]

E. Arab-American Groups

Several Arab-American groups have defended the Zayed Centre. Dr. James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute (AAI), condemned the investigation into the Centre's antisemitic and anti-American writings and connection to Sheikh Zayed, saying that it "smacks of a witch hunt." [16] In the August 19, 2003 issue of the Jordan Times, Zogby wrote an op-ed stating that " the anti-Arab campaign being waged today in the United States is an organized multi-pronged effort targeting a variety of Arab leaders, institutions and the religion of Islam." [17] In each of his interviews and writings in defense of the Zayed Centre, Zogby never disclosed his own appearance at the Centre as a lecturer on July 9, 2001. During a visit to the Middle East this summer, Zogby decided not to speak at the Zayed Centre, apparently adhering to a recommendation by UAE officials, who feared that an appearance might embarrass him. [18]

Additionally, the newsletter of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations and the U.S.-GCC Corporate Cooperation Committee, GulfWire Perspectives, issued a condemnation of MEMRI and the "campaign" against the Centre. [19] John Duke Anthony, president and CEO of the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations and secretary of the U.S.-GCC, has also spoken at the Zayed Centre, a fact which he too failed to disclose in his writings in defense of the Centre. According to the Zayed Centre's website, Anthony spoke at the Centre on January 8, 2003, and according to reports claimed that "Israel aimed at establishing an empire on the pattern of the Roman Empire and disintegrating its larger neighbors like Iraq into small entities…" [20]

In the Aftermath of the Centre's Closure

A. The Arab Media Demonize MEMRI

Since the Zayed Centre's closure was announced, many articles in the Arab media have held MEMRI responsible. On August 29, 2003 ArabicNews.com reported that "an official in the Centre said that the latter has been exposed to a 'campaign [by the] Middle East Research Institute [sic.]… because of hosting figures they consider as antisemitic.'" [21]

A columnist for the Kuwaiti daily Al-Rai Al-Aam, Ahmad Al-Dayyen, also blamed MEMRI for the closure of the Centre. "The name seems innocuous," he wrote, "but MEMRI is in fact one of the most dangerous Zionist institutions, and has considerable influence over decision-makers in the U.S. administration and in Congress. This institute is their main source of information about the situation in the Middle East…! Among MEMRI's famous 'hits' in the last two years: The dismissal of Dr. Umayma Al-Jalahma, Saudi columnist for the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh, following the publication of an article which contained information from Western heritage about the Jews [i.e. the accusation that Jews use human blood for religious purposes]. Another 'hit' was the attack on Dr. Ghazi Al-Qusseibi, former Saudi ambassador to London, who published a poem in support of the Palestinian resistance [in fact, Al-Qusseibi's poem praised suicide bombing] after which he was transferred from London. Recently, MEMRI scored a third 'hit' against the Zayed Centre… It launched a vicious and organized campaign against it, on the pretext that it advocates anti-American and antisemiticideas. Now we are told, regretfully, that the Zayed Centre will be closed. The question is, who is next on MEMRI's list of targets?" [22]

Fahmi Huweidi, a prominent Egyptian journalist who has written articles in the past propagating Blood Libel, [23] praising suicide bombings, [24] and accusing "American extremists" and the "Israeli Mossad" of being behind September 11th, [25] also criticized MEMRI for its alleged role in the Zayed Centre's closure: "The Cultural Zayed Centre has been the target of a literary assassination that led to its closing. This is a dangerous precedent in the Arab world and I am not exaggerating when I say that is a tragedy in its significance… The ferocious campaign against the Centre was carried out by an American institution marked by distrust and appalling precedents, it is the Middle East Media Research Institute, known as MEMRI… And for your information, MEMRI was the institute that did not leave a stone unturned when Dr. Ghazi Al-Qusseibi, while he was the Saudi ambassador in London, published his famous poem paying tribute to the Palestinian martyr Wafa Idris. The Institute considered it a poem that encourages and praises 'suicide bombers.' The Institute raised the same hailstorm when it 'fished' an article by a Saudi writer, published by Al-Riyadh newspaper, in which she used the widespread rumor that says that Jews use the blood of Christian children to prepare their baked food for Purim. The Institute considered such content antisemitic. We are not surprised by this 'fishing' style that tries to distort and slander when we consider the true identity of the Institute and its close ties with the Israeli intelligence. This is the background that we are talking about, because the storm against the Zayed Centre was instigated by this distrustful Institute which, just a few weeks ago, published another report repeating its previous accusations that it [the Centre] espouses antisemitism and radical positions against the U.S., the West…

"MEMRI's report was published on July 11, and the news about closing the Centre was carried by AP on August 18, while the actual closing took place a week later. There is no doubting the connection between the decision to close the Centre and the campaign waged by the American-Zionist Institute. This is what the AP report alluded to when it quoted an official source in Abu Dhabi that the 'UAE expressed it concern during the last month specifically over published reports about the Centre'. These statements reflected the pressures that tarnished the Centre and tarnished the image of [the] UAE because the Centre carries the name of President Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan…

"It is clear that the UAE could not bear the pressure and wanted to put a stop to the campaign against it… And this is what I consider to be tragic… because at issue is a cultural Centre that was serious in carrying out its mission… an educational mission that allows the exploration of various points of view on issues of international significance. But it was accused of radicalism when the Americans and Zionists did not like the opinions expressed in it… The Centre was obliterated in order to silence it and to make an example to others. And the astonishing thing about all this is that it happened amidst calls to democratize the Arab world… to allow freedom of expression and to fight despotic regimes… On another level, the success of the Zionist campaign in tarnishing the image of the Centre and the UAE shows that the fierce influence that Zionism has on the American decision-making has extended outside the U.S…" [26]

B. LaRouche Condemns Closure & Blames Bush Administration

On August 31, 2003, Lyndon LaRouche's presidential campaign issued a press release titled "LaRouche Defends Zayed Centre." He wrote: " It is my information, which I have received through channels which I know to be responsible and reliable, that the closing of the Zayed Centre, where the U.S.A.'s James Baker III once spoke, as I had done, occurred under heavy pressure from elements within the U.S. Bush Administration. Such action by the United States is another piece of idiocy, like the continuing U.S. war in Iraq, which is directly contrary to the current and long-term security interests of my republic, the U.S.A. Under the present circumstances, when I am, at this moment, the only legally registered candidate competent to be chosen in the 2004 U.S. presidential election, I have a special responsibility to speak out, on various occasions, in defense of the present and future integrity of the presidency of my nation. Therefore, on this occasion, it is my immediate duty to point out the important role which the Zayed Centre had performed in contributing to the cause of world security and peace…

"The consequences of the stupid and outrageous folly of some U.S. representatives' thuggish attempts to stifle the voice of the Zayed Centre, must be assessed against that background… U.S. pressures to shut down the Zayed Centre are disgusting to anyone who prizes democratic freedoms of peoples. Such disgusting measures, as presently set against the background of Proconsul Bremer's role in supervising the carpetbagging role of Cheney's Halliburton, are not the road to successful diplomacy; under the circumstances, such behavior by certain U.S. officials is less than human. The Zayed Centre's role as a place for such a forum among the member states of the Arab League, has been proven most appropriate, and valuable on this account. Here, the world has had the opportunity to engage in dialogue with the Arab world most immediately, and, implicitly, with a larger part of the world of Islamic cultures. Until now, the Zayed Centre's role in fostering of emergent consensus among Arab states, on numerous matters, has become a critical element in defining constructive goals among nations of the region…" [27]

Arab Self-Criticism for the Centre's Closure

A. Saudi Media

Under the title "A lot of Right that was Lost because of Some Wrong," Saudi journalist Sa'd Ibn Salih Al-Sirhan wrote on the closure of the Zayed Centre: "The problem of the Zayed Centre… and its sad end reveal a chronic mismanagement of our cultural and intellectual affairs. The Centre committed professional mistakes and allowed itself to be dragged into unscholarly allegations whose only purpose was to criticize America, rightly or wrongly. It embraced a number of racist lecturers… and devoted itself to provocations: provoking the Jews generally, both Zionist and non-Zionist, and provoking America. When those in charge of the Centre would hear of a person hostile to America and its policies or hostile to Israel or to Zionism or to Jews – they would initiate an invitation to him or establish relations with him regardless of the scholarly value of his thesis or his ideological background, which could be totally racist.

"The Centre has hosted every Holocaust denier and every one who downplayed the number of the victims - a matter which is deeply rooted in Western consciousness but is of no great interest to Arabs. When a scandal burst out in the media regarding the German leader Jurgen Mollemann because of statements he made on account of which he was accused of antisemitism – those in charge of the Centre rushed to invite him. The Centre has also established contact with the British historian David Irving – a rightwing extremist - because he denied the Holocaust. This Irving figured in the scandal of the notorious 'Hitler Diaries.' The Centre also did not fail to host a certain Saudi lecturer of mediocre level, who wrote a racist article in a Saudi paper in which she propagated a racist Western rumor, namely, that the Jews make the pastries of one of their holidays with children's blood. Even though this myth refers to one holiday only, our lecturer insisted on speaking of two holidays; in one of them pastries are made with the blood of a Christian child while in the other the pastries are made with the blood of a Muslim child. For that reason the Centre hosted her.

"Nor has the American writer Michael Collins Piper escaped from the embrace of those in charge of the Centre. This Piper is (also) the author of a brook in which he claims that the Mossad assassinated President Kennedy… Those in charge of the Centre did not miss the opportunity to host the elegant French journalist Theirry Meyssan, who is the author of the well known book, which is widely circulating among Arabs, 'The Appalling Fraud' according to which the U.S. administration was behind the September 11 attacks… These mistakes, committed by the Centre, enabled its rivals – such as MEMRI - to exploit and exaggerate them, until they [managed to] incite Western public opinion as well as official bodies against the Centre and Sheikh Zayed himself. Yet, despite all these criticism that were directed at the Centre, not necessarily by Zionist bodies, those in charge have not re-examined their positions, nor have they [had] to adopt more serious and scholarly programs. Indeed they stubbornly persisted with their provocations until they were hit on their head, waking up one day to hear about the closure of the Centre and its website… Will what happened to the Centre serve as a lesson for us, the Arab intellectual, how to handle our causes, or will it become just another case in the huge archive of our lost battles?" [28]

B. London Arabic Media

London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Aswat editor Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed said that since the Centre was named after the founder of the UAE and is situated in its capital, "there may not have been an alternative to shutting it down once it became a political liability known for its radical ideas, and after it hosted and supported people with radical opinions. In the past," he wrote, "I was among those who criticized the ideas presented intensively within the Centre's activities. I intentionally refrained from identifying the Centre by name, because I thought that it was not unique in the region [in that respect], and therefore there was no reason to damage its reputation. Not all of the Centre's activities are bad and [not all] should be rejected and criticized… It would be better to reform the Centre, not close it. It should remain open as a pulpit for intellectuals, but not for extremists… The [Centre] was free and operated without a compass. This allowed some of its directors to impose their own ideas, even if they contravened the Centre's interests… The Centre carried two official titles: in addition to that of Sheikh Zayed, it carried the name of the Arab League, and we do not know why and wherefore. The Centre says it was established to promote Arab unity. This is a hollow slogan reflecting nothing more than a unity that exists in the imagination of its bearers… Few people have heard of 'Space Exploration – An Absolute Necessity,' one of the Centre's publications, but it is hard to believe that anyone did not hear about Thierry Meyssan's lecture and his book. Meyssan was the one who claimed that the events of September 11 were a lie [i.e. they were perpetrated by the U.S. government], even though bin Laden, the White House, and millions of people unanimously agreed that they were true. Meyssan is a third-rate tabloid journalist that no one here [in the West] takes seriously. Because of its bad reputation, the Centre fell prey to those on the lookout for Arab mistakes – such as MEMRI, which is affiliated with the Israeli ideology, and which was able to trap the Zayed Centre easily because of its radicalism, and [was] then [able to] kill its reputation." [29]

* Steven Stalinsky is Executive Director of MEMRI.


[1] The Centre's name for the majority of its existence was "The Zayed Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up" (ZCCF), and appears as such often in this report. It is the same entity as "The Zayed International Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up" (ZICCF).

[2] MEMRI Arab League Think Tank Hosts Event: U.S. Military behind September 11, "Arab League Think Tank Hosts Event: U.S. Military behind September 11," May 23, 2002.

MEMRI The Think Tank of the Arab League: The Zayed International Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up - Part II, "The Think Tank of the Arab League: The Zayed International Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up - Part II," July 11, 2003.

MEMRI The Think Tank of the Arab League: The Zayed Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up (ZCCF), "The Think Tank of the Arab League: The Zayed Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up," May 16, 2003.

[3] On July 8, 2003 it was revealed in a congressional letter that according to the State Department, "… Crown Prince Sheikh Khalifah is moving more aggressively to end the centre's activities." (www.capousd.org/budget.htm#jun9.) See The Think Tank of the Arab League: The Zayed International Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up - Part II, "The Think Tank of the Arab League: The Zayed International Centre for Coordination and Follow-Up - Part II," July 11, 2003, footnote #2.

[4] Gulf News (UAE), August 28, 2003.

[5] Gulf News (UAE), August 28, 2003. This follows the removal of the entire content of the Centre's website on August 19, 2003, replaced by a message in English and Arabic stating: "This Site Has Been Stopped." (http://www.zccf.org.ae)

[6] Zayed Centre website,

[7] The undated letter was received in mid-July, and MEMRI received an email from consultants of the Zayed Centre on August 1, 2003, as a follow-up to their letter.

[8] Gulf News (UAE), August 19, 2003.

[9] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London) August 19, 2003.

[10] Gulf News (UAE), August 20, 2003.

[11] Khaleej Times (Bahrain), July 17, 2003.

[12] ArabicNews.com, August 18, 2003.

[13] Zawya.

[14] Gulf News (UAE), August 20, 2003.

[15] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), August 19, 2003.

[16] CBS Evening News, May 19, 2003.

[17] Jordan Times, August 19, 2003.

[18] Washington Post, July 19, 2003.

[19] GulfWire Perspectives, July 26, 2003.

[20] Zayed Centre website.

[21] ArabicNews.com, August 29, 2003.

[22] Al-Rai Al-'Aam (Kuwait), August 20, 2003.

[23] MEMRI French Legal Authorities Investigating Editor of Major Egyptian Daily for Antisemitism, "French Legal Authorities Investigating Editor of Major Egyptian Daily for Antisemitism," September 6, 2002.

[24] MEMRI I Cannot Hide My Happiness about the Martyrdom Operation that Took Place in Jerusalem. An Op-Ed in Egypt's Leading Government Daily, "I Cannot Hide My Happiness about the Martyrdom Operation that Took Place in Jerusalem: An Op-Ed in Egypt's Leading Government Daily," August 31, 2001.

[25] MEMRI Terror in America (21): Saudi Columnists Condemn Conspiracy Theories and Anti-U.S. Sentiment in the Arab World, " Saudi Columnists Condemn Conspiracy Theories and Anti-U.S. Sentiment in the Arab World," October 31, 2001.

[26] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 1, 2003.

[27] Executive Intelligence Review, August 31, 2003.

[28] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 1, 2003.

[29] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), August 19, 2003.