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Television channels do not overthrow regimes - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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It seems that the stream of Wikileaks documents is endless, yet it is strange that whenever an incident takes place in an Arab country, a new document emerges to tilt the balance, or direction of events. But here I do not refer to what Hezbollah’s media publishes about the documents, because that is another story altogether, rather I am talking about what is published in the West.

In the “Washington Post” yesterday, the latest documents revealed that the US State Department, during the George W. Bush presidency, funded a Syrian opposition television channel in London with US$ 6 million, to help support regime change in Syria. Is it conceivable that this television channel or even new media in general, can overthrow a system of government? I think this is a very simplistic view. Media stations did not overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime, just as they did not overthrow the Iranian regime. Of course, there are those who believe that the Qatar-based “al-Jazeera” television channel, for example, toppled Mubarak’s regime, or that of Ben Ali, but this is also too simplistic. Channels can promote ideas, or launch campaigns, and may influence public opinion, but they do not topple regimes. It is genuine grievances within the state that cause regimes to fall, and mobilize the people, convincing them to come out onto the streets and endure all forms of violence and repression that may be carried out against them by their regimes.

In order for regimes to be overthrown, several important factors must be in place for people to come out onto the streets or revolt. Such factors may include a disruption in the rules of the game, like in Egypt’s recent parliamentary elections, or an attempt to bequeath power. Other factors include corruption and the monopoly of power, as we saw in Tunisia, Yemen and Libya. This is not to mention political stagnation and underdevelopment, for almost all the regimes that are experiencing the political earthquake in our region have been frozen for nearly forty years. The Mubarak regime lasted for 30 years, whilst the Yemeni and Libyan regimes are even older, and the same applies to the Syrian Baath Party. Some might say: What about the Iranian regime? Certainly, all the factors for a civil explosion can be found in Tehran, and we are waiting for the spark that might occur at any moment, especially in light of the disputes between the ruling elite in the Iranian government. The latest evidence of this was the resignation offer put forward by Iran’s Intelligence Minister [Heydar Moslehi], which was accepted by President Ahmadinejad, but then subsequently rejected by the Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Ali Khamenei], who asked the intelligence chief to continue with his work. Accordingly, there are genuine signs of cracks in the Iranian regime.

We can say that the media is able to inflame emotions, increase frustrations, convince people with facts or illusions, and forge public opinion, but it cannot overthrow regimes. For this, there must be the final drop which causes the cup to overflow, and this is manifested in the genuine grievances felt by ordinary citizens, not the intellectuals. When the rules of the game are changed in society, and society, people will revolt when they lack hope. This applies to many of our republics. Finally, if the media, old and new, was capable of overthrowing regimes, then it would also be able to preserve such governments. However the pro-Mubarak media could not prevent people from coming out onto the street, and we saw the same thing in Tunisia, Yemen, and Syria today.

Therefore, what matters first and foremost is: are your people with you, and united behind you? Otherwise, it is mere demagoguery.

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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