|THE REAL AL-SAHAF IS IN ABU DHABI. AL-SAHAF CLONES ARE AT
THE U.N. "WE ARE CLOSING EUROPEAN OFFICES BECAUSE KOFI ANNAN IS MORE POPULAR THERE THAN EUROPE'S
OWN LEADERS." "ARAB MEDIA OVERTURNED NOW FULLY SUPPORTING
ANNAN. THE MOST POPULAR SECRETARY GENERAL EVER."
1 August 2003
The real Mohammad Saeed Al-Sahaf, who single-handedly turned a tragic war into a media farce
traveled to Abu Dhabi in mid-July. He had business dealings there while in government and
received special status as political refugee.
He had been arrested briefly by American troops and let go. He then gave interviews to two
TV stations: one in Dubai, the other in Abu Dhabi; both in the United Arab Emirates. A manager in
one of the stations said Al-Sahef demanded $200,000 per interview. When asked for an exclusive,
he demanded $500,000. He ended up saying nothing much except that he will have much to say later --
in his forthcoming book.
Al-Sahaf proved that being publicly ridiculous was not a crime; indeed being repeatedly and
blatantly ridiculous may be rewarding if addressed to an amenable audience. That is being
increasingly displayed by some at the U.N. who must have been recently cloned "a la" Al-Sahaf.
The more the Secretary-General comes under media attack around the world, the more he is lavishly
portrayed in some internal feedback. While questions were asked about his performance over
Iraq in European media, an internal draft gave a bizarre explanation for (unwisely) closing down the
Information Centres in Europe and disbanding the only available voice in a crucial region. "Kofi Annan
is more popular in Europe than Europes own leaders," claimed
the ridiculous incense burner. Fortunately, that was deleted in the final text. Presumed feedback
from the Arab media is the most bizarre. As Annan was brutally savaged and (unfairly) accused of firing
the first bullet in the war against Iraq, being an American puppet, and generally against Arab
causes, internal feedback almost totally ignored that there was a problem. An interview given to the
editor of "Al-Sharq Al Awsat," was well-timed and its editor Abdel Rahman Al Rashed, a highly
regarded pan Arab journalist, did his best to place it well and say a few thoughtful words. He also
showed it on his "Future TV" regular weekly program. It was a good --
much needed step. Yet the report to headquarters from Beirut made it look as if the "tide has
turned" -- that headlines in all the regions were hailing the Secretary-General -- all due of course
to the press officer's own efforts! In fact, the writer of the interview is quoted as saying that
Kofi Annan was the most popular Secretary General ever when the printed version quotes a staff member
from the press office as telling him that he must be lucky to meet the boss who rose from their
ranks and that he was most popular among staff (that was before closing the Staff Committee). As
recently as 21 July, Al-Hayat displayed a large photo of Annan carried by Palestinian demonstrators
showing his eyes covered by Israel and his mouth taped by the U.S. Another leading pan-Arab daily
had a cartoon of Annan under Israeli Prime Minister Sharon. None of those were
reflected in the feedback.
It is of course crucial to rise to the defence of the Secretary-General and immediately defend
the U.N. position. That has to be done through working with the media, spotting negative reports,
and seeing how best to respond. It does not help to whitewash
criticism by telling New York only what it likes to hear. Hailing Kofi Annan is best done by the
media itself, not by a self-promoter corresponding with another.
Incidentally, the real Al-Sahaf appeared on TV as he really is -- without the paraphernalia of
power: hair colouring gone, khaki uniform gone, air of authority gone. Without power, the
ridiculous turn to pathetic.