Egypt this week pulled the plug on Al-Zawraa, the controversial channel controlled by Iraq’s Sunni insurgency, but it is still available across the Middle East thanks to America’s Gulf allies.
The channel broadcasts non-stop footage of attacks on U.S. troops interwoven with verbal attacks on Iran and Shiites, like Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who it accuses of being loyal to Iran. Since its launch in mid-November 2006, Al-Zawraa has been distributed by Nilesat, a satellite provider controlled by the Egyptian government.
The U.S. has been working behind the scenes to convince Egypt to shut the station down. The Egyptians have insisted that Nilesat is a private company and that it’s “just business.” In recent days, according to the pan-Arab newspaper Asharq Alawsat, the Nilesat feed of Al-Zawraa has been intermittently jammed by an unidentified signal. Early this week, ostensibly because it couldn’t counter the jamming, Egypt pulled the plug. The space on the dial once occupied by Al-Zawraa is now dark.
But viewers who still want their fix of anti-American mayhem need only move a few dozen spots up the dial to a channel bouncing off a satellite owned by the Dubai-based, Saudi-controlled company, Arabsat.
Arabsat began relaying Al-Zawraa’s signal last month at the height of U.S. pressure on the Egyptian government. The hosting of the Sunni insurgent channel by U.S. allies appears to be part of the growing cold war between Sunni Arab regimes and Iran. Late last month, Al-Zawraa also briefly appeared on a European satellite owned by Paris-based Eutelsat Communications, lending credence to an earlier claim by Mishan al-Jabouri, the exiled former member of the Iraqi parliament who runs Al-Zawraa, that he had cut other distribution deals as backup to the Egypt relationship.
But it’s not all bad news for the Bush administration. Al-Zawraa has also declared war on Al-Qaeda. Jabouri recently went on the air and launched a bitter attack on Al-Qaeda in Iraq for the killing of Sunni Muslim tribal elders who refused to cooperate with its forces.
Jabouri, whose footage comes from elements of the Sunni insurgency that include former pro-Saddam Baathists, promised that the insurgency would launch attacks against Al-Qaeda if it didn’t stop using threats to force Iraqi Sunnis to do its bidding. Now that’s the kind of psychological warfare the Pentagon folks should actually pay for.
Lawrence Pintak is founding dean of The Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University; a former CBS News Middle East correspondent; and creator of the free online Poynter course, Covering Islam in America. His most recent book is The New Arab Journalist: Mission and Identity in a Time of Turmoil.
Lawrence Pintak is director of the Adham Center for Electronic Journalism at The American University in Cairo, the author of Reflections in a Bloodshot Lens: America, Islam & the War of Ideas and publisher/co-editor of the forthcoming Web journal Arab Media & Society. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.