Tag Archives: Arab spring

How to Buy Public Opinion: the Saudi Cables

Saudi_Cables

Buying Silence: How the Saudi Foreign Ministry controls Arab media (wikileaks website)

Saudi Arabia controls its image by monitoring media and buying loyalties from Australia to Canada and everywhere in between.  Documents reveal the extensive efforts to monitor and co-opt Arab media, making sure to correct any deviations in regional coverage of Saudi Arabia and Saudi-related matters. Saudi Arabia’s strategy for co-opting Arab media takes two forms, corresponding to the “carrot and stick” approach, referred to in the documents as “neutralisation” and “containment”. The approach is customised depending on the market and the media in question.

The initial reaction to any negative coverage in the regional media is to “neutralise” it. The term is used frequently in the cables and it pertains to individual journalists and media institutions whose silence and co-operation has been bought. “Neutralised” journalists and media institutions are not expected to praise and defend the Kingdom, only to refrain from publishing news that reflects negatively on the Kingdom, or any criticism of its policies. The “containment” approach is used when a more active propaganda effort is required. Journalists and media institutions relied upon for “containment” are expected not only to sing the Kingdom’s praises, but to lead attacks on any party that dares to air criticisms of the powerful Gulf state.

One of the ways “neutralisation” and “containment” are ensured is by purchasing hundreds or thousands of subscriptions in targeted publications. These publications are then expected to return the favour by becoming an “asset” in the Kingdom’s propaganda strategy. A document listing the subscriptions that needed renewal by 1 January 2010 details a series of contributory sums meant for two dozen publications in Damascus, Abu Dhabi, Beirut, Kuwait, Amman and Nouakchott. The sums range from $500 to 9,750 Kuwaiti Dinars ($33,000). The Kingdom effectively buys reverse “shares” in the media outlets, where the cash “dividends” flow the opposite way, from the shareholder to the media outlet. In return Saudi Arabia gets political “dividends” – an obliging press.

An example of these co-optive practices in action can be seen in an exchange between the Saudi Foreign Ministry and its Embassy in Cairo. On 24 November 2011 Egypt’s Arabic-language broadcast station ONTV hosted the Saudi opposition figure Saad al-Faqih, which prompted the Foreign Ministry to task the embassy with inquiring into the channel. The Ministry asked the embassy to find out how “to co-opt it or else we must consider it standing in the line opposed to the Kingdom’s policies”.  The document reports that the billionaire owner of the station, Naguib Sawiris, did not want to be “opposed to the Kingdom’s policies” and that he scolded the channel director, asking him “never to host al-Faqih again”. He also asked the Ambassador if he’d like to be “a guest on the show”.

The Saudi Cables are rife with similar examples, some detailing the figures and the methods of payment. These range from small but vital sums of around $2000/year to developing country media outlets – a figure the Guinean News Agency “urgently needs” as “it would solve many problems that the agency is facing” – to millions of dollars, as in the case of Lebanese right-wing television station MTV.

The “neutralisation” and “containment” approaches are not the only techniques the Saudi Ministry is willing to employ. In cases where “containment” fails to produce the desired effect, the Kingdom moves on to confrontation. In one example, the Foreign Minister was following a Royal Decree dated 20 January 2010 to remove Iran’s new Arabic-language news network, Al-Alam, from the main Riyadh-based regional communications satellite operator, Arabsat. After the plan failed, Saud Al Faisal sought to “weaken its broadcast signal”.

The documents show concerns within the Saudi administration over the social upheavals of 2011, which became known in the international media as the “Arab Spring”. The cables note with concern that after the fall of Mubarak, coverage of the upheavals in Egyptian media was “being driven by public opinion instead of driving public opinion”. The Ministry resolved “to give financial support to influential media institutions in Tunisia”, the birthplace of the “Arab Spring”.

United States Operations in North Africa

Refinery located in Sidi Arcine, Baraki, Algeria

The Defense Department continues to work with nations in North Africa to promote security and increase stability in the region still feeling the effects of the Arab Spring, Amanda J. Dory, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, told a Senate panel today. Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco are confronting instability and the U.S. military is working to build or strengthen their police and military forces, Dory told the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Near eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs….The effects of the Arab Spring in North Africa continue to reverberate within the region and beyond its borders into the Sahelian states of sub-Saharan Africa, she said. Libya remains a key source of instability in North Africa and the Sahel. After the overthrow of Muammar Gadhafi, there is little government infrastructure inside Libya, Dory said, and certainly no tradition of democracy.Violence is rampant in Libya and the Libyan government is too weak to control its borders and militias provide what security there is. Arms merchants are shipping Libyan weapons out of the country and these arms are fueling instability from Mali westward, Dory said…The United States will provide general-purpose-force military training for 5,000-8,000 Libyan personnel, Dory said.“This training effort is intended to help the [Libyan] government build the military it requires to protect government institutions and maintain order,” she said.  The training of Libyan military personnel may begin next year in Bulgaria.

In Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, DOD maintains close military-to-military ties with their military counterparts. All three are engaged in a security dialogue with the United States and “they share our goals of countering terrorism and enhancing cross-border security,” Dory said…

Excerpts, By Jim Garamone, Military Continues Work With North African Countries American Forces Press Service, Nov. 21, 2013

Finland Selling Weapons to Saudi Arabia–a dictatorship after all

The Verkkouutiset news website, affiliated with the ruling National Coalition, said the weapons deal by state-controlled arms producer Patria would provide Saudi Arabia with mortars worth 150 million euros ($204 million), the biggest arms deal for Finland in over a decade.  An official at Finland’s defence ministry confirmed the government was reviewing the Patria mortar deal and would soon decide whether to allow it. It would not confirm the value of the sale or which country was buying the mortars.  Verkkouutiset said politicians from the Social Democrats and the Green party had raised questions about whether the mortars could at some stage be used against civilians, as pro-democracy uprisings continue to sweep across the Arab world.  It did not say if any minister would oppose the deal and quoted one Social Democrat member as saying it should be approved.  Patria, in which European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) owns a 26.8 percent stake, announced last year it signed a deal to deliver 36 mortar systems, but did not disclose the customer or the value of the agreement.  Saudi Arabia, a key ally of the United States, is ruled by an absolute monarchy which applies an austere version of Sunni Islam. Finland’s foreign ministry website says Saudi Arabia’s human rights situation is “poor”.

Jussi Rosendahl, Finland reviews Saudi arms deal on rights worries-report, Reuters, Nov. 11, 2011

 

Ongoing Violations of Human Rights:how to use Google to suppress freedom

Facebook and other social media services have created opportunities for dissidents and revolutionaries to organise and voice their opposition. But those in power have discovered that they, too, can use the internet, in their case to stifle freedom of speech. The dream of all dictators is to know as much about you as Google does, says Jacob Mchangama, a Danish human-rights lawyer.

Authoritarian states have also learned how to use the language of human rights to legitimise their oppressive tactics, for instance by claiming to defend religious groups. But their tools of abuse—violence, torture and censorship—remain depressingly familiar. The grand tradition of making opponents “disappear,” perfected by the military dictatorship in Argentina in the 1970s, is still flourishing today. In Bahrain doctors and nurses who treated protesters injured by security forces have vanished. Also in Bahrain, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, the former head of the Centre for Human Rights and a fierce critic of the regime, was seized by armed men in the middle of the night. A month later he reappeared, tortured and is now facing trial.

Post-revolutionary leaders can find it all too easy to slip into the abusive habits of their predecessors. In Oslo Lina Ben Mhenni, a Tunisian blogger, talked of her fear that the transitional government will use the methods of the ousted regime of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. When fresh demonstrations broke out in Tunisia in early May, police used tear gas and live ammunition. Journalists were beaten and had their equipment seized.

Nor do governments have a monopoly on violence. From Jamaica to South Africa, gays and lesbians continue to be the victims of vicious intolerance. Lesbians are raped in an effort to “correct” their sexuality. At the Oslo conference the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, the first group of its kind on the Caribbean island, said it was remarkable that only one of its founders had been murdered in the past decade, such is the violence typically directed at its people.

Yet there was also brighter news in Oslo. As those in power become more inventive in their clampdowns, so do their opponents. Some have started to help victims make their experiences public. In Malawi children who have been raped or forced into marriage are encouraged to write letters to Radio Timweni, a national news programme, which then interviews them. In the age of Facebook and Google, the truth remains the most powerful weapon of all.

Excerpt, Human-rights abuses: Nothing new under the sun, Economist, May 14, 2011, at 76