Iraqi national Mishan al-Juburi
Iraqi national Mishan al-Juburi stands on the roof of his studios in the upscale Yafur district of Damascus, where he has set aside part of his palatial compound to house Arrai, an Arabic television channel that has become the favoured forum for Libyan strongman Moamer Kadhafi, on September 26. © Louai Beshara - AFP/File
Iraqi national Mishan al-Juburi
Sammy Ketz, AFP
Last updated: September 28, 2011

Resistance broadcaster Arrai now in Kadhafi's graces

In the upscale Yafur district of Damascus, Mishan al-Juburi has set aside part of his palatial compound to house Arrai, an Arabic television channel that has become the favoured forum for Moamer Kadhafi.

The 250 square metre (2,700 square foot) hangar is littered with satellite dishes, and a recording studio is separated by a clear-glass window from the office of the channel's director -- Juburi's 27-year-old daughter, Hawazen, one of 11 children.

"We are the only channel in direct contact with Moamer Kadhafi and his family," Hawazen said, referring to the longtime Libyan strongman who is now on the run after rebel forces took control of Tripoli and most of the country he lorded over for 42 years.

"Our competitors have invested in presentation technology, but we have invested in secure communications. Because of our system, (Kadhafi) has called us six times," she added.

Asked why Kadhafi 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," she added.

The channel has also twice interviewed the Libyan strongman's son Seif al-Islam, as well as Kadhafi's daughter Aisha. Mishan al-Juburi also claims to speak to Mussa Ibrahim, Kadhafi'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 $3 million in equipment for the channel, and annual operating costs amount to $1.5 million.

The building is housed in a grandiose compound that includes a 9,000 square metre (97,000 square foot) garden and a 2,400 square metre (26,000 square foot) house with multiple themed rooms, including one modelled on the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg and another on a Chinese theme.

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

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

Mishan al-Juburi said that at one point he was approached by a Syrian businessman, apparently dispatched by the new authorities in Tripoli, offering him a hefty sum -- he did not say how much -- to stop talking about Libya.

"What would we tell our viewers?" he said. "That we are no longer showing the resistance? No, thank you."

Ironically, Arrai, which is broadcast over the Eutelsat European satellite broadcasting system "to avoid pressure from Arab regimes," was a frequent irritant of Kadhafi before falling in the bad graces of Libya's interim prime minister, Mahmud Jibril.

"As we defended the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions, a furious Kadhafi called (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad eight months ago and demanded he shut down my TV station or he would bomb it," 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 fully equipped van ready, able to broadcast if anything is done to its studio.

"I used to keep a van just like it in Iraq to escape the attacks from (then US president George W. Bush) who wanted to silence my channel, Azzawara, because I supported the Iraqi resistance which was fighting the American occupiers," said Juburi, a Sunni Arab supporter of the anti-US insurgency.

And why does he now broadcast Kadhafi's messages?

"We are against all dictators and, when the demonstrations began in Benghazi, we were with them," said Juburi, once an ally of Saddam Hussein who later turned against the now-executed 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 Kadhafi who is defending his country against NATO."

Juburi is reticent about commenting on Syria, however, where the United Nations say Assad's bloody crackdown on protests has left more than 2,700 dead and tens of thousands detained or missing since mid-March.

"Like Al-Jazeera never talks about what happens in Qatar, we do not intervene in Syria affairs, even if mistakes have been made and the demand for greater democracy is legitimate," Juburi said, referring to the Al-Jazeera satellite channel, which is based in Doha.

"Of course, Syria is not Plato's Republic, but the pack of international wolves that are against the country do not intend to support democracy."

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