Tags Posts tagged with "Propaganda"

Propaganda

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Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer. I’m not a fan of quoting cliches, but in these Machiavellian times, few phrases seem to articulate the situation better. Take the case of the recent media campaign praising Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s recently resigned prime minister.

Now it’s very normal to see posters praising politicians hastily strung up on light posts across Beirut. As you would expect, these are usually produced by a PR company or low budget design shop associated with the politician in question and hung up haphazardly by his supporters, illegally, often under the cover of night.

But what if the group putting up the billboards is not loyal to the politician in question, but actually allied with his enemies?

I began to wonder about this when I saw a Facebook post revealing Hariri billboards in or around neighborhoods loyal to his rivals, Hezbollah and Amal.

Mar Elias, photo: Dina J. Salem

The next day on my way to work, I noticed more of the same posters with the same font and message “#We are with you” plastered across many parts of Beirut.

From downtown:

To the corniche:

Bliss street:

And Hamra:

On nearly every light post, as far as the eye could see:

Yet the last few locations are not known to be strongholds of Hariri, but of other parties such as Amal and the SSNP. This was made abundantly clear during the clashes of 2008, when militants from these parties took over the streets fairly easily and strung their flags across these locations.

In the decade since, SSNP flags have appeared regularly across Hamra street and the party’s annual march turned into a military-style parade a few weeks ago that saw hundreds of party faithful take over the entire of Hamra street:

SSNP march, Hamra street, Beirut, Sept. 2017
SSNP march, Hamra street, Beirut, Sept. 2017

I thought about all this when I looked up at one of the posters, which had been put up so shoddily, it appeared to give Hariri a grimacing look:

 

I asked some tough-looking middle aged men sitting in plastic chairs below the posters if they knew who had put them up. At first one of them, a burly man in his late 40s, answered by saying “the Lebanese people put these posters up” and “it’s natural for a people to support their prime minister.”  Sure, I replied,  there is public support and then there are printing companies that print hundreds of these and distribute them in trucks. He smiled and vaguely suggested it was “political parties… all the parties,” that worked together to install the posters in their respective neighborhoods.

But I pressed him further: “But only certain parties can do that in Hamra.” Finally he conceded. “Yes we are the ones who put those up. The Hezb, the Harake and the Oumi Souryi.” This is shorthand for Hezbollah, Amal and the SSNP.

That’s a pretty savvy, next-level media strategy isn’t it, I replied. “Well the Saudis are donkeys,” he said nonchalantly.

“And what about this one,” I continued, pointing to the grimacing Hariri. What happened there? The man motioned to one of his cohort sitting in a chair behind us. “That’s Ali’s fault, I told him to fix it, he didn’t know what he was doing.” Then Ali shrugged and shot back: “You didn’t give me enough wood to put it up properly.”

I left the bickering men and tried to corroborate the story elsewhere on the block. But most people said they had not seen who had put the posters up because they found them in the morning when they opened their shops. So apparently the operation had happened overnight. But another group of men admitted laughingly that it was indeed the “Hezb, Harake and Oumi.” And they thought it was pretty hilarious too.

If this is true, could the Saudis have ever imagined this outcome? Were they assuming that Hariri’s resignation would have been taken at face value and that his opponents would have simply said good riddance, creating greater division in the country? Could the Saudis have imagined that Hariri’s opponents would be demanding his return even more vociferously than his allies?

Of course this goes beyond billboards: the President of Lebanon and the leader of Hezbollah-traditional opponents of Hariri–have been demanding his return on a near daily basis.  Even the leader of the Catholic church in Lebanon, Cardinal Bechara Rai has demanded his return, making an unprecedented visit to the Wahhabist state.

This spawned some interesting memes. Here the two are speaking in code:

The highlighted letters in the Hariri caption say: “I’m being detained” to which Rai replies: “We all know.”

Perhaps the Saudis had imagined the Lebanese would react in a simplistic “sectarian fashion” where politicians or crown princes prioritize their own sect above all others. I wonder where they got that idea?

Suffice to say, Hariri’s opponents and even internet trolls have successfully thrown the ball back into Saudi Arabia’s court and the Saudi leadership probably didn’t see this coming. But since the Saudi royal court (or whatever is left of it) has effectively declared that Lebanon is at war with them, we can only hope the disintegration of their media strategy will give them pause before pursuing further actions on the ground.

Wouldn’t it be great if all wars were limited to creative media messaging, and the winner could be decided with likes and retweets instead of missiles and bullets?

Via: Abbas Hamideh

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There has been much fanfare about the removal of political signs and posters from Beirut, as part of a reported reconciliation deal between the parties/militias/old men that run this country. I have to admit, I was surprised to see the decades-old Amal mural painted over on Spears Street.

The Daily Star reported that Hezbollah had even removed posters of martyrs in Saida, though advertisements for the party’s museum remain up.

But what the Star didn’t report is that as posters came down for some groups, a massive billboard campaign went up commemorating the life of slain prime minister Rafik Hariri. The billboards promoted a political rally for his party that would be held on the day of his assassination last week.

The billboards are literally ubiquitous across the city. From downtown:

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To Hamra:

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The highways:

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The northern suburbs:

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Multiple images on the same panel:

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Even three billboards on one street:

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I wonder if this campaign was excluded from the reconciliation deal and why.

Look out for my column next month in Bold Magazine for more on Beirut’s history with political posters, how the latest crackdown compares to previous removal campaigns and what is often left out of the process.

 

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Israeli TV is on all Lebanese channels as we wait for Israel’s expected response to an attack on one of its convoys in South Lebanon. Hezbollah is saying the attack is retaliation for the killing of several of its men a week ago by Israeli warplanes.

It’s hard not to feel reminded of those days in 2006 when soon after an Israeli convoy was attacked, Israel’s military began shelling south Lebanon as is happening right now. At the time, I remember a colleague in my office laughing it off, while I worried things would get much worse. Sure enough, things escalated over the next few days when Israel warplanes destroyed highways, bridges, airport runways and eventually leveled several villages and parts of south Beirut in a month long war that left over 1,000 Lebanese civilians dead.

Is this Deja Vu or have things changed? This time around, Hezbollah is already involved in a war in Syria and some believe its forces are stretched too thin for a second war. But on the other side we have Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is considered one of the most hawkish Israeli leaders, far more so than his predecessor in 2006, Ehud Olmert.  Some say Israeli elections are upcoming in March and a war won’t help him win. Or will it?

The ironies are already starting to pour in. Today a former Lebanese warlord was warning current Lebanese warlords about the dangers of in war:

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If he’s worried, should we worry? Or is a large part of this media theatre, with all sides trying to score propaganda points?

You’ll notice the Western media frequently calls Israeli attacks retaliations, but will almost certainly frame any action by Hezbollah as offensive. Hezbollah also claims the Israeli soldiers were occupying Lebanese territory– rather than peacefully minding their own business in Israel. That’s another detail you probably won’t hear much about in major Western media outlets.

On the other hand, Hezbollah media are broadcasting call-in congratulations from various officials and they just aired a report on a handful of cars near the border, claiming these spectators proved that ‘people are not afraid.’

“No one is scarred,” said one pundit on Al Manar. ‘On the contrary, people had been waiting anxiously for the resistance to respond.” Meanwhile Arab media are reporting up to 15 dead Israelis, while Israeli media only report “medium to light” injuries.

All we know for sure is that it started out as such a beautiful morning…

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Yet now my only hope is for a massive storm. Maybe a deluge will wash away some of the belligerence.

Follow me on Twitter for updates.

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UPDATE: More evidence not to worry? Al Jadeed TV just posted a video of Lebanese smoking arguileh (hookah) near the border.

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Lebanese TV channels are often at war with one another and the battles go far beyond ratings. They range from routine verbal insults and propaganda attacks to actual war as some channels were physically shut down during the 2008 clashes between rival forces allied to various stations. 
That’s why it was really surprising to see all 8 Lebanese channels united in a call for solidarity with the people of Gaza, with nearly 600 now killed as a result of Israeli bombing, shelling and neighborhood pulverizing.  The broadcasters aired coordinated video packages and read a poem by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish.
It was especially surprising to see the arch rivals Future TV and Al Manar TV in a side-by-side anchor reading session: 
  

Future TV was actually burnt and shut down by supporters of Al Manar during the 2008 Beirut clashes, as I reported for Variety at the time.
Burnt Future TV offices in 2008. Photo: Menassat.

Gunmen with Amal, which is associated with NBN TV, take over Future TV offices in 2008. See full post.
Watch yesterday’s rare joint solidarity broadcast here.

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I recently stumbled upon a familiar sight at a Middle Eastern art exhibit in Chelsea, New York. It was a view anyone living in Lebanon during the 2006 war may have seen.

The piece by Ali Cherri was projected on the wall at the center of the gallery:

The viewer watches a slide show, revealing military ships appearing on the horizon.

First one:

Then two:

Then three:

The rhythm of the slides bring back the mix of monotony and fear we felt during those days. The ships–most of them from the US Navy- were evacuating American and European nationals during a brief truce.

Watching it was a bit agonizing for those who would not go. All day long ships would disappear and reappear. Tens of thousands of people had been evacuated by the time it was over after about a week. And everyday we wondered anxiously what was in store for us when it ended and the bombing resumed.

The piece was also accompanied by an audio recording of a message by the Israeli military, which had infiltrated the Lebanese radio waves and played the following message.

I too photographed and video taped the ships at the time but the footage seemed so mundane I never really used it.

Looking at the price tag suggested for these few slides, I really wish I had!

You can bid on this piece and watch Ali’s full slideshow and audio here. And you can view all the Middle Eastern works in the auction which will benefit the New York-based Alwan for the Arts, a non-profit which regularly brings Arab and regionally-focused film screenings, lectures, book readings and other great events to the city.