Saturday, June 27, 2009

Saudi Media Take the Lead Against Iran's Regime

WINEP, here
"....So far, at the popular level, the dominant feature appears to be -- at least from the outside -- a lack of great activity or even interest, rather than the gathering storm of popular mobilization that some commentators expected. ...
The media outlets of Arab actors with axes to grind against Tehran -- such as the Palestinian Authority, Lebanon's March 14 coalition, and most significantly Saudi Arabia -- have replaced the usual taciturn official response with overt schadenfreude and an anti-Iranian-government slant. ....
In al-Hayat, columnist Ali al-Jihani opined that Iran is "a fake democracy that leads only to bloodshed." Anticipating the obvious riposte, al-Jihani added this intriguing postscript: "The rulers of the Gulf States have never claimed they have come to power through elections, but any expert in Gulf affairs knows that the majority of their citizens don't want to change those rulers . . . the symbols of national unity, stability, and economic development." ....
The glee of Saudi media sources is conspicuously absent from most newspapers in Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), despite their particular national grievances against Tehran. In part, this reflects sensitivity to any examples of popular opposition. In Iraq -- a country that is more democratic but also more politically precarious and entwined with Iran than other Arab states -- the media have special, security-related reasons for their relative reticence on Iran. On June 26, for example, Baghdad's leading al-Zaman newspaper did not have a single front-page story on the subject.
In Egypt, despite a war of words with Iran in April over a Hizballah terrorist plot on Egyptian soil, the media have mostly reported factually about the events in Iran. Al-Ahram, the leading daily, has carried a front-page story about postelection issues nearly every day for the past two weeks, many with photos of pro-Mousavi demonstrations. But columnists have generally refrained from partisan commentary on these events .Egypt's comparatively neutral media position seems to contradict its opposition to the Iranian regime. One al-Arabiya journalist, Ali Brisheh, suggested a reason: focus on Iran's demonstrations might contaminate the Egyptians with "Iranian influenza," inspiring them to protest against their own regime. Egypt's reticence may also be a message to Iran to stop its own anti-Egyptian propaganda -- a message that appears to be having some success, since Iran's official media focus on alleged "Western" or "Zionist," rather than "pro-American Arab regime," meddling in Iran.
Bahrain is a special case, in which the tension between appeasing and opposing Tehran is taking an acute and visible form. Bahrain's government briefly suspended the leading local Akhbar al-Khaleej newspaper on June 23 after it published a column criticizing the Iranian regime and even referencing a rumor about Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad's supposed Jewish ancestry. The next day, this newspaper was back in circulation, but with noticeably lower-profile coverage of and commentary on Iran's difficulties. Similarly, in the UAE, after a handful of commentaries by Abdel Wahhab Badrakhan and others critical of Iran's suppression, the media have reverted to a largely neutral approach.
The media of Syria, Qatar, and Hizballah have openly aligned themselves with Ahmadinezhad and the Iranian leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, even as some in Washington look for signs of divergence. Although some uneasiness or hedging of bets may happen behind the scenes, the outward posture remains as solidly aligned with Tehran as ever.
Fragmentary reports about the reactions of "ordinary" Arabs (as distinct from democracy or other activists) to the violence in Iran indicate relatively little sense of involvement or connection.
U.S. Policy Implications
Overall, the divided Arab reaction to Iran should be at most a secondary factor in current U.S. policy calculations. In the future, if Washington seeks public Arab support against Tehran, Riyadh rather than Cairo appears to be the most receptive address. Damascus, for its part, offers no visible sign of reciprocating recent U.S. overtures by distancing itself from Iran, suggesting that skepticism about this aspect of a possible U.S.-Syrian detente is justified. Moreover, the prospect for popular Arab uprisings against autocratic governments -- modeled on the recent developments in Tehran -- is doubtful."

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