Monday, July 17, 2006

Arab Media - Divided They Stand.

The coverage of the current war between Israel and the Hezbollah shows how great a tool the internet can be. Whereas most of us in the West do not speak Arabic, there are some who do. Marc Lynch is a Middle East specialist and speaks enough of it to make some intereting comments. His blog has some great posts - notably about the Arab media.

The funny thing about the Arab media is that they seem to be either tools of propaganda for the despotic regimes (say, the Saudis) or they have more freedom (al Jazeera) and then they tend to portray terrorist groups with much complacency if not approval. It seems that even though it is hard to say for sure, public opinion in the Arab world most likely tends to support the latter view.
The Saudi media (including al-Arabiya and al-Sharq al-Awsat) seems to be falling happily in line with the official Saudi position: blaming Hezbollah for irresponsible adventurism, while continuing agitation against Iran and Syria; expressing sympathy with the Lebanese people but criticizing Arab public opinion and especially activists/demonstrators for being unreasonable and overly emotional.

Al-Jazeera, al-Quds al-Arabi, and most of the more independent newspapers are offering a more diverse range of views, but predominantly are furious with Israel, contemptuous of the Arab regimes (did the usually meek Jordan Times really call Arab leaders a bunch of "nervous schoolgirls"!?!), and supportive of Hezbollah (which al-Jazeera termed "the Lebanese resistance" in the title of its prime time show the other night) and the Palestinians (who they generally see as an integral part of a single conflict) even if confused by their actions and scared of what will happen.

What it reveals is more that the Arab regimes, particularly the Saudis, are using their media to try to sell their official viewpoint to the public. That's nothing new in the Arab world- that's what the Arab media always used to do. What will be interesting over time is to see how that plays with an Arab public now accustomed to the al-Jazeera approach and less likely to be bound to any single information source.
So people must be careful not to confuse the official view of the Arab regimes with that of the street. No wonder the current regimes are nervous.

In the end, what would happen if democratic elections were to be held in those countries? Well, probably a group similar to Hamas would get elected until people realize that radicalism does not work. That may take at least another generation though. So what is the future for the Arab world? It sure seems that the current perception of the actions of US and Israel are pushing things back once again.

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