Fri, Dec 03, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Arab media coy over Web revelations

The Guardian, LONDON

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has dismissed the WikiLeaks revelations of Arab hostility to Iran as worthless “psychological warfare,” but the idea that more than 250,000 pages of classified US documents actually shed any new light on Middle Eastern realities has also been widely dismissed by many Arabs or simply ignored by their governments.

In Riyadh, where Saudi King Abdullah was shown to have repeatedly urged the US to attack Iran to “cut off the head of the snake,” the only official reaction has been to say sniffily that the documents “do not concern the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, nor does the kingdom have any role in producing them, nor is it aware of their authenticity.”

Mainstream Arab media have covered the story of the leak, but little attention has been paid to the most sensational aspect of it for the region — that Saudis, Bahrainis, Emiratis and other leaders repeatedly urged the US to strike Iran to stop its nuclear program. Many have wondered, however, why Israel appears to have escaped any damaging exposure — and hinted at an improbably vast conspiracy to deceive.

It is true of course that Arab governments enjoy little popular support and that Arab public opinion tends to favor a strong Iran, even a nuclear-armed Iran, as a counterweight to Israel and to US hegemony. That explains why hawkish comments about Persians or pragmatism about Israel are expressed largely in private. Public candor is rare.

So even al-Jazeera, the freest media outlet in the Arab world, has been coy about reporting on the indiscretions of the emir of Qatar (whose family owns the Doha-based satellite channel), who is shown to speak frankly to US interlocutors about telling lies to Iran.

“It is a very sensitive story,” one employee said.

Also in Qatar, the Peninsula newspaper quoted psychologist Mozah al Malki as saying: “It is all deliberate. We can clearly see through the ploy. The idea of the so-called leaks is to further intensify tension between Iran and the Gulf Co-operation Council countries.”

According to the paper: “The so-called expose by the much-touted whistleblowing Web site WikiLeaks involving Iran and three GCC states does not have many takers in Qatar.”

Other Gulf papers simply ignored details about their rulers’ comments to US interlocutors. Rami Khouri, a syndicated columnist, found the revelations sad, shocking and even pitiful: “The assorted Arab leaders who are quoted as asking the United States to hurry up and do something about Iran’s growing nuclear technology capabilities reveal an apparent inability to take care of their own countries and citizens,” he wrote in Beirut’s Daily Star.

The splenetic Asa’d Abu Khalil, who writes the Angry Arab blog, noted that many Arabs on Twitter and Facebook have been raising questions about WikiLeaks because the revelations about the Middle East were largely either known or expected.

“Some are noticing that nothing damaging to Israel — even diplomatically — has been released. Some are suggesting that the US government is behind WikiLeaks. Personally, I discount those conspiracy theories although conspiracy theories can be helpful.” However, he then asks: “Is it possible that the intelligence officer who released them protected Israel by holding off on some documents?”

See editorial on page 8

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