The Arab press downplays WikiLeaks

The L.A. Times‘ Babylon and Beyond blog reports that unlike in most of the world, the WikiLeaks dump of U.S. diplomatic cables isn’t getting that much attention in the pan-Arab press: Headlines in the heavily state-controlled Saudi media were dominated by news of King Abdullah’s ongoing physiotherapy, while the top story in the Emirati newspaper, Al ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

The L.A. Times' Babylon and Beyond blog reports that unlike in most of the world, the WikiLeaks dump of U.S. diplomatic cables isn't getting that much attention in the pan-Arab press:

Headlines in the heavily state-controlled Saudi media were dominated by news of King Abdullah's ongoing physiotherapy, while the top story in the Emirati newspaper, Al Bayan, centered on Prince Mohamad bin Rashid's praise for the country's progress toward "transparency." Most mentions of the WikiLeaks documents in official Arabic news outlets were scrubbed of any reference to the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, focusing instead on U.S. attempts to control the damage to its diplomatic relations.

Even the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, considered one of the most credible pan-Arab news outlets, tread lightly in its coverage and generally refrained from repeating the most incendiary quotes from the heads of neighboring states.

The L.A. Times‘ Babylon and Beyond blog reports that unlike in most of the world, the WikiLeaks dump of U.S. diplomatic cables isn’t getting that much attention in the pan-Arab press:

Headlines in the heavily state-controlled Saudi media were dominated by news of King Abdullah’s ongoing physiotherapy, while the top story in the Emirati newspaper, Al Bayan, centered on Prince Mohamad bin Rashid’s praise for the country’s progress toward "transparency." Most mentions of the WikiLeaks documents in official Arabic news outlets were scrubbed of any reference to the countries of the Arabian Peninsula, focusing instead on U.S. attempts to control the damage to its diplomatic relations.

Even the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, considered one of the most credible pan-Arab news outlets, tread lightly in its coverage and generally refrained from repeating the most incendiary quotes from the heads of neighboring states.

It’s hardly surprising that state-controlled Arab media wouldn’t report on the repeated requests by Arab heads of state for the United States to put a stop to Iran’s nuclear program. Some Arab leaders have gone as far as supporting military strikes against Iran. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, for example, called on the U.S. to "cut the head off" the Iranian snake.  

These positions might make sense from the point of view of an Arab autocrat, but they remain deeply unpopular with the populations they rule over. A 2010 public opinion poll of the Arab world found that 57 percent of Arabs think that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be positive for the Middle East. (H/T Friday Lunch Club.)

Issandr El Amrani (a frequent Foreign Policy contributor) writes on his blog:

There is so much information flowing around about US policy – and often, a good deal of transparency – that a smart observer with good contacts can get a good idea of what’s happening. Not so in the Arab world, and the contents of the conversations Arab leader are having with their patron state are not out in the Arab public domain or easily guessable, as anyone who reads the meaningless press statements of government press agencies will tell you. Cablegate is in important record from the Arab perspective, perhaps more than from the US one.

The leaked cables bring to light the behind-the-scenes positions of Arab politicians from Mubarak to Abdullah, but if that information doesn’t make its way into the mainstream Arabic media, what kind of effect will it really have?

 Twitter: @maxstrasser

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