Why Is Qaddafi Using Syrian TV to Tell the World He's Still in Libya?

The deposed Libyan leader depends on a foreign outlet to get his messages out

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In yet another sign of Muammar Qaddafi's loosening grip on power, the fugitive Libyan leader announced today that he would soldier on in Libya by phoning Syria-based Arrai TV, which has aired most of Qaddafi's audio messages through its sister channel Al Oruba since the fall of Tripoli. Bloomberg explains that the station is managed by a Libyan who's close to Qaddafi and owned by former Iraqi lawmaker Mishan Jabouri, who the U.S. has accused of broadcasting secret messages through patriotic songs to the Sunni terrorist group the Islamic Army of Iraq (the BBC adds that Jabouri, a Sunni Arab who was once close to Saddam Hussein, is also notorious for broadcasting television footage of attacks against coalition troops in Iraq). Arrai also has links with Rami Makhlouf, the Syrian telecommunications tycoon and cousin of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Arrai isn't just conveying Qaddafi's messages. According to the BBC, it's also broadcasting statements by his son Saif al-Islam and running pro-Qaddafi news bulletins and commentary on a daily basis. "Even though Arrai is a private channel, it would not have been able to broadcast had it not been approved by the Syrian regime," Stanford's Lina Khatib tells Bloomberg. "By allying himself with Qaddafi like this, Assad is risking alienating himself further from the international community and the Arab community." When Bloomberg contacted Paris-based Eutelsat Communications, which carries the channels through a wholesale arrangement, about its story, Eutelsat said it was trying to shut down Al Oruba and Arrai.

Arrai has sort of become Qaddafi's last remaining media mouthpiece. When the rebels seized Tripoli, they also assumed control of Libya's state-run broadcasting apparatus. The BBC notes that Qaddafi's Al-Jamahiriyah TV "now shows the NTC's tri-colour flag over the sound of Radio Tripoli, a new rebel-affiliated station." The website for the regime's Jamahiriya News Agency currently consists of one line, "This Account Has Been Suspended." The state newspaper Al-Shams, meanwhileis nothing more than a blank page. The arrests of some state media workers have been captured on video uploaded to YouTube. Still, the BBC adds that Arrai isn't the only outlet still in Qaddafi's camp. A channel named Al-Muqawamah TV is broadcasting out of a van in Libya, and provincial radio stations in Qaddafi strongholds like Sirte and Bani Walid may still be on the ousted ruler's side.

When the Libyan uprising first began in February, Qaddafi frequently delivered rambling and defiant messages on Libyan state TV, switching over to audio messages as NATO bombarded Tripoli. Qaddafi's state-controlled media was such a powerful weapon that NATO bombed Libyan TV's satellite transmitters in July in order to degrade Qaddafi's "use of satellite television as a means to intimidate the Libyan people and incite acts of violence against them." To get a sense of Qaddafi's diminished dominion over the media, compare today's audio message on Arrai TV with two defiant speeches he delivered on Libyan TV back in February, when the Libyan uprising was only just beginning.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.