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Syria – the Battle of Alternative Realities

February 8, 2013

The other day I happened upon an interesting example of the alternative realities being portrayed in the Syrian drama.

On February 3rd, the Saudi English language daily, Saudi Gazette, quoted the Saudi Ambassador to Jordan in a story that emphasises the humanitarian aspect of the imprisonment of Saudis in various Middle East hotspots. Mishal Al-Otaibi reports that:

“More than 2,500 Saudis have been stranded in different parts of Syria following the outbreak of the popular uprising in that country, according to Saudi Ambassador to Jordan Fahd Al-Zaid.

The majority of these people traveled to Syria before the conflict began, he added.

Al-Zaid made the remarks during a meeting organized recently by Abdul Rahman Al-Jurais, the Saudi lawyer who is following up the case of Saudi prisoners in Iraq. The meeting was also attended by the families of some Saudi prisoners.

Al-Zaid said there are at least 124 Saudis currently incarcerated in various prisons in Iraq and Jordan. They have either been convicted of terrorism and drug-related charges or are awaiting trial, Al-Zaid said, adding that the embassy was regularly following up their situation.”

Three days later, Pravda.ru, a Russian news website founded by former journalists from Pravda,the newspaper that has been telling the Russians all the news that’s fit to hear for 100 years, came up with an alarming headline: Saudi Arabia confesses support for terrorists in Syria.

The article states:

“Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Jordan, Fahad bin Abdul Mohsen al-Zaid, admitted that the Saudis residing in Syria are supporting and collaborating with armed terrorist groups in Syria, orchestrated from abroad, to fight against President Bashar al-Assad.

In this regard, the representative of Saudi authorities in Jordan in an interview with the newspaper Al-Hayat, a leading pan-Arab daily reported Monday that since the beginning of the Syrian crisis, some 2,500 Saudis have entered the Arab country.”

The highlighting of the conflicting statements is mine. The article goes on to say that:

“Saudi Arabia has dispatched to Syria a large number of dangerous criminals, including murderers and prisoners sentenced to death to take part in terrorist activities against the supporters of President Assad and ordinary citizens. There is footage of Sudanese, Yemeni and Saudi criminals beheading the Syrian people and committing other atrocities.”

The end of the article is somewhat garbled. It appears to refer to the western supporters of the Syrian opposition as “maggots”. However the term could be describing the fighters it claims are terrorising the Syrian population. Something appears to have been lost in translation of the piece, which apparently was originally in Spanish.

No prizes for guessing whose side Pravda.ru are on, then. The website has no official affiliation with the Russian government that I’m aware of, but it’s worth noting that if its stories deviated substantially from the official line, in today’s Russia I suspect that someone would be feeling its collar pretty quickly.

I have seen no official reaction in Saudi Arabia to the Russian piece, which suggests that the Saudi Government are maintaining a dignified silence. And it’s almost inconceivable that a senior Saudi official would speak in the terms described. If he did, he would be seriously worried about his job right now.

The claim that the Saudis are releasing criminals to join the jihadists in Syria also seems patently absurd, given the government’s diligent pursuit of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) since 2003. It would be the equivalent of releasing a virus that would eventually return to infect those who released it.

The Pravda.ru piece is so consistent with the Syrian government’s line on the causes of the conflict that it would not be surprising if it came directly from one of Bashar Al-Assad’s mouthpieces.

It seems as though in amongst the inconvenient truths about the Syrian conflict there are plenty of convenient lies floating around. Who swallows what will probably make little difference to the ultimate outcome.

From → Middle East, Politics

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