Below is a translation of Al Arabiya General Manager Abdul Rahman al-Rashed’s defense (published in pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat on August 6) of his channel’s Syria coverage. Al-Rashed’s piece is, in part, a response to Sultan al-Qassemi’s recent Foreign Policy piece, “Breaking the Arab News” (English).
Evidence to the contrary, I swear I’m not stalking al-Qassemi. I’m just looking for interesting or useful Arabic materials that haven’t already been translated to English. Also, I’ve got some time to kill.
Again, apologies for any mistranslation or violation of Asharq al-Awsat‘s intellectual property.
Update: A day later, here’s the official translation.
Victims of Syrian Propaganda
Abdul Rahman al-Rashed
Since the Syrian crisis began, propaganda has played an important role for both sides of the conflict, but it has been more important, effective and successful for the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Further, I would say that this “propaganda” , despite its failure to stop the Syrian’s uprising, has bought more time for the regime than what its forces and shabiha have accomplished on the ground.
Among the regime’s most recent lies were comments attributed several days ago to Riad al-Asaad, commander of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), in a Reuters report. In these quotes, which were entirely fabricated, al-Asaad claimed that a thousand of his men had been killed in a series of defeats. That falsehood was not the first; there is, in fact, an army of regime employees producing similar lies. It isn’t enough for them to promote the regime’s positions in the media, in addition to commenting on and responding to conflicting reports; they go beyond that, falsifying pictures, news and statements in various media. The propaganda aimed at the West focuses on the revolutionaries being “Qaeda” terrorists and a grab-bagof Islamist extremists. The propaganda directed at Arabs tells them that what’s happening to the Assad regime is an American-French conspiracy. And the messages directed to Syrians also differ: for Christians, they’re being targeted by Islamists; for pro-revolution Syrians, they are told that the revolution is a Israel-directed conspiracy against the Arabs and Islam, and that Israeli weapons have been discovered with the revolutionaries. There is propaganda directed at the revolutionaries themselves, meant to turn them against each other or sow disinformation: when the village of Al-Haffah, near Lattakia, was seized by revolutionaries in what came to be called the Battle of al-Haffah, messages claiming that the FSA had ordered a tactical retreat were directed at them through the media. As an FSA official told Asharq al-Awsat,the fighters in fact withdrew, thinking that those were the orders of the FSA leadership.
I am not shocked, then, when I hear politicians or media figures in the West adopt the official position of the Syrian regime, given the huge quantity of lies that reach them. The strangest thing, in fact, is that Russian media aimed abroad circulates Assad regime-produced propaganda materials, even going to great lengths to add to them.
I am surprised, however, when I hear Syrian regime propaganda repeated by researchers and bloggers among us, despite the ease of testing that propaganda’s truth or falsity. When Sultan al-Qassemi wrote an article claiming that we are biased and falsify videos and news reports on behalf of the anti-regime revolutionaries, I initially thought that it another product of the Syrian regime’s propaganda. Al-Qassemi not only committed grave errors; rather, he confirmed that the Syrian regime is successful in misleading even educated and informed Arabs. What he wrote would have been unacceptable even a year ago, when the uprising was just beginning. The facts on the Syrian issue are clear to us in the region, regardless of our leanings or affiliations.
In spite of the abundance of pictures and videos published daily from the country’s battle zones, the Syrian regime in fact does so much more than the ugly truth which is presented – sometimes to a degree that can’t be believed.
Among the facts of what is happening in Syria which many don’t believe is thatIranians and Russians have joined the regime’s forces in battle for more than a year. We knew about this early on, but there was little evidence we could present. Even when pieces of evidence were put forward, the regime media worked to call them into question and turn the issue from one of mercenary killers into one of people who had been wronged . The story of the bus seized by rebels in the past few days was treated the same way. The bus was carrying fighters from the Revolutionary Guard, so the regime hurried to claim that they were pilgrims. We know that no one is traveling to Syria now for tourism or to visit religious sites; everyone who appeared in the video were men of fighting age, with no women or children among them.
Of course, it’s easy for some to theorize and criticize from a distance, to summarize everything happening as something purely political and divide everyone according to set axes and categories. Meanwhile, what’s happening in Syria is clear, supported by huge quantities of evidence with unimpeachable credibility. This war has gone on for 17 months, more than enough to examine the facts.
Even if these issues are oversimplified for the reader – with what’s happening reduced to media maneuvering within larger political rivalries and various regimes’ manipulation – that doesn’t negate the larger facts evident to the country’s people themselves, which are the most important thing.
Were the Syrian regime not so evil, people would not have continued to risk their lives all this time, whether protesting in isolation or fighting in defense of their families and neighborhoods. These are not lies or fantasies or political partisanship.
And on the other hand, were Assad’s forces actually convinced of their cause, rather than forced to fight, they would have won long ago. The regime possesses a vast arsenal of weapons, over half a million soldiers and security personnel involved in the fighting and uninterrupted supplies from its allies; despite all that, it is now encircled in its capital.
1. Here al-Rashed actually uses the Arabic transliteration of the word “propaganda”, as opposed to the Arabic “دعاية”, whose meaning can range from “advertising” to “propaganda” depending on the context. “دعاية” is used in the remainder of the piece.
2. Honestly, not a thousand-percent sure what al-Rashed means by “أناس مظلومين”, which I’ve translated (clumsily) as “people who had been wronged”. I assume he means that Syrian media made these “mercenaries” out to be misidentified and slandered, thus inverting Arabiya’s initial coverage.