Qaddafi Turns to Syria Media to Keep Propaganda Machine Going

Qaddafi Turns to Syria Media to Keep Propaganda Going
A bullet-riddled mural depicting Muammar Qaddafi is seen in Tripoli. Photographer: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images

Muammar Qaddafi, in hiding and with Libyan state television knocked off the air by rebel forces, has turned to Syria to broadcast his propaganda.

Qaddafi has spoken in two audio messages since losing control of the capital, Tripoli, this week, both aired by a privately owned network called Al Oruba TV. It is linked to Arrai TV, a Syrian-based television station owned by former Iraqi lawmaker Mishan Jabouri.

“Cleanse Tripoli of the rats,” Qaddafi said yesterday. “Let the crowds march everywhere to Tripoli.” Days earlier, he released another rambling message via Al Oruba in which he also called on his loyalists to defeat his opponents.

Rebels, breaking a six-month stalemate, entered Tripoli three days ago, and, after invading Qaddafi’s compound, have taken steps to begin a transition period.

Qaddafi’s links to Syria may put further pressure on President Bashar al-Assad, who has been crushing anti-regime protests in his own country for the past five months. The U.S., Britain and France seek to freeze Assad’s assets and impose an arms embargo on Syria.

“By allying himself with Qaddafi like this, Assad is risking alienating himself further from the international community and the Arab community,” said Lina Khatib, who manages a program on Arab reform and democracy at Stanford University, in a telephone interview today. “We may see this situation escalate as the Qaddafi regime crumbles.”

When queried by Bloomberg News, Paris-based Eutelsat Communications SA, which carries the channels through a wholesale arrangement, said it seeks to shut down both Al Ourba and Arrai.

Terminate Transmissions

Eutelsat is “in contact with its distributor, Noorsat, who has committed to do everything in its power to terminate these transmissions on both channels and ensure they do not resume broadcasting on Eutelsat’s satellites,” spokeswoman Vanessa O’Connor said in an interview.

Arrai has links with Rami Makhlouf, Assad’s cousin who controls Syria’s telecommunications sector, Khatib said. “Even though Arrai is a private channel, it would not have been able to broadcast had it not been approved by the Syrian regime,” she said.

Television pictures yesterday showed Al Oruba’s coverage combined with Arrai, and their logos alongside each other. Arrai’s Twitter Inc. feed updates news on Qaddafi, and advertises when he is about to release a message on Al Oruba, which it calls its “sister channel.”

Qaddafi hasn’t been seen in public for weeks, hiding from the rebels who now control most of Tripoli.

State TV Hit

“The fact that he’s been able to broadcast causes some confusion and additional worry, apart from the concern that people already have about where he is,” Dina Matar, a lecturer in Arab Media and Political Communication at School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London said in an interview today.

NATO targeted Libyan state television in July when its warplanes bombed three of the station’s satellite transmitters in Tripoli. The alliance said it was seeking to degrade Qaddafi’s “use of satellite television as a means to intimidate the Libyan people and incite acts of violence against them.”

Two months earlier, the Arab League tried to stop Qaddafi’s propaganda machine when it asked the Arab Satellite Communications Organization, Arabsat, to block Libyan state television and any other channel loyal to Qaddafi.

Jabouri is wanted by the Iraqi government for suspected links to terrorism, and the U.S. Treasury Department in January 2008 froze his assets for similar reasons.

Libyan Link

At the time, Jabouri ran Al Zawra television, also Syria-based, and privately agreed to broadcast secret messages through patriotic songs to the Sunni terrorist group the Islamic Army of Iraq, according to the U.S. Treasury. It was shut down.

Jabouri’s Libyan link is Arrai’s general manager, Ahmad al-Shater, who is close to Qaddafi and is himself Libyan, Stanford’s Khatib said. “So we have Iraqis setting up a channel in Syria directed by a Libyan,” she said.

“Qaddafi has basically lost almost everything,” Khatib said. “The only thing he hasn’t lost is his ability to manipulate the media in this very limited way. If anything, it is just a sign of how desperate he is.”

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