x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Qaddafi's last big media outlet, a private TV station in Damascus

Arrai, an Arabic television channel rum from a compound in the Syrian capital owned by the former Iraqi MP Mishan Al Juburi, has become the favoured platform for the deposed Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi.

Hawazen Al Juburi in the studios of Arrai, an Arabic television channel based in Damascus that has become the favoured forum for Muammar Qaddafi, who is now on the run after rebel forces took control of most of the country he lorded over for 42 years.
Hawazen Al Juburi in the studios of Arrai, an Arabic television channel based in Damascus that has become the favoured forum for Muammar Qaddafi, who is now on the run after rebel forces took control of most of the country he lorded over for 42 years.

DAMASCUS // In the upmarket Yafur district of Syria's capital, Mishan Al Juburi has set aside part of his palatial compound to house Arrai, an Arabic television channel that has become the favoured platform for Muammar Qaddafi.

The hangar is littered with satellite dishes, and a recording studio is separated by a window from the office of the channel's director, Mr Al Juburi's 27-year-old daughter, Hawazen, one of 11 children.

"We are the only channel in direct contact with Muammar Qaddafi and his family," she said. "Our competitors have invested in presentation technology, but we have invested in secure communications. Because of our system, [Colonel Qaddafi] has called us six times."

Asked why Colonel Qaddafi had chosen Arrai to broadcast his messages, Hawazen, a graduate in English literature from Damascus University, replied: "He knows that we are honest, and we do not misrepresent what he says. I can assure you that he is still with his fighters."

Arrai has twice interviewed his son Seif Al Islam, as well as his daughter Aisha. Mr Al Juburi claims to speak to Moussa Ibrahim, Colonel Qaddafi's spokesman, every other day.

The 54-year-old former Iraqi MP fled his homeland in 2007, four years after the US-led invasion, because, he claims, American forces were after him. He founded Arrai the same year. He says he invested US$3 million (Dh11m) in equipment for the channel, and annual operating costs amount to $1.5m. The building is housed in a compound that includes a 2,400-square-metre house with themed rooms, including one modelled on the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.

The channel's formula is simple: there is no advertising, and anchors moderate debates in which callers can phone in, with their numbers hidden to protect their identities.

Yara Saleh, one of Arrai's anchorwomen, said: "You can say whatever you want against the leadership of Arab regimes - we only do not allow insults or obscenities."

Mr Al Juburi said at one point he was approached by a Syrian businessman, apparently dispatched by the new authorities in Tripoli, offering him a hefty sum to stop talking about Libya. "What would we tell our viewers?" he said. "That we are no longer showing the resistance? No, thank you."

Arrai, which is broadcast over the Eutelsat European satellite broadcasting system "to avoid pressure from Arab regimes", was a frequent irritant of Col Qaddafi before falling from grace with Libya's interim prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril.

"As we defended the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, a furious Qaddafi called [Syrian President] Bashar Al Assad eight months ago and demanded he shut down my TV station or he would bomb it," Mr Al Juburi said. "And Jibril, he recently said that if the Syrian authorities did not block our broadcasts, he would create a TV channel for the Syrian opposition."

As a precaution, Arrai keeps a van ready, able to broadcast if anything is done to the studio. "I used to keep a van just like it in Iraq to escape the attacks from [George W Bush] who wanted to silence my channel, Azzawara, because I supported the Iraqi resistance," said Mr Al Juburi, a Sunni supporter of the anti-US insurgency.

And why does he now broadcast Colonel Qaddafi's messages?

"We are against all dictators and, when the demonstrations began in Benghazi, we were with them," said Mr Al Juburi, once an ally of Saddam Hussein who later turned against the Iraqi dictator.

"In Iraq, in parliament, I defended the resistance against the American invaders. In Libya, I was immediately against foreign intervention. We support those who are against the occupation and today, we are behind Qaddafi who is defending his country against Nato."