Voice of the Arabs

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Voice of the Arabs or Sawt al Arab (Arabic: صوت العرب‎)‎ (621 kHz on Mediumwave to Egypt, 9965 kHz on Shortwave to the Middle East, the rest of Europe and North America) was one of the first and most prominent Egyptian transnational Arabic-language radio services. Based in Cairo, the service became known as the main medium through which former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser spread his messages on Arab unity and revolutions across the Arab world. Despite its unmatched popularity in most of the 1950s and 1960s, the service no longer commands a large audience and does not play a significant role either in domestic Egyptian politics or in regional politics.[1]


The founding of Voice of the Arabs[edit]

Although there is some disagreement about who initiated the service, most media observers recognize that Gamal Abdel Nasser, one of the coup leaders at the time and later Egypt's president, was the main driving force behind the project.[2] The idea of the service however, is said to have come from Mohammaed Abdel-Kader Hatem, who would later hold the post of Minister of Information.[2] Up until 1967 the service was headed and managed by director and chief announcer, Ahmad Sa'id.[3]

Unlike the press, which was not under the control of the new government until 1960, the government had a monopoly over the radio decided to use this to their advantage.[2] Recognizing the immense potential of radio, Nasser devoted "considerable financial resources to the expansion of public broadcasting."[4] Voice of the Arabs was first aired on 4 July 1953, one year after the Egyptian Revolution of 1952 as a half hour radio programme on Cairo Radio. Quickly, the show developed into its own radio station broadcasting across the Arab world.[5][6] A year after its initial broadcast, the service's transmission time was tripled.[7] By 1962 the service expanded to broadcasting 15 hours a day.[7] This expansion subsequently made Egypt the "dominant broadcaster in the Middle East and a major international broadcaster"[2] during the 1950s and 1960s. The following decade, the service had expanded to 24 hours a day broadcasting.[7]

Voice of the Arabs under Nasser[edit]

Under Nasser's presidency, and the leadership of Ahmed Said, the service was characterized mainly by the revolutionary fervor of the coup leaders' ideology, the promotion of Pan-Arabism, an Anti-imperialist tone and the legendary voice of Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum. Voice of the Arabs also called for the liberation of Palestine and galvanized Arabs in North Africa, Iraq and Yemen to rise up against colonial and monarchical rule.[1]

During what came to be known as the "Ahmad Said Era" (1953–1967), programming consisted of news, commentary on political topics, speeches by public officials including Nasser, talks by and interviews with various Arab political figures and dramas with political themes.[2] Additionally, nationalistic songs by popular musicians, like Abdel Wahab and Umm Kulthum, praising Nasser and his accomplishments and promoting Pan-Arabism, were also a regular feature on the service.[3] Music was utilized not only as a propaganda tool but also to attract listeners to "serious programs schedule adjacent to the musical programs."[3] Frequently, Nasser's speeches would be broadcast immediately after a musical performance by Umm Kulthum.

While the audience for the service was broadly the whole Arab-speaking world, changing social and political conditions influenced the programming and the subjects for discussion.[2] Targeted programs were designed for the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.[3]


Voice of the Arabs functioned as Nasser's main vehicle in propagating his Pan-Arabist views;[7] it played a key role in propelling him to the leadership of the Arab Nationalist Movement.[8] The service was filled with declarations on Arab unity and statements which highlighted Egypt's and Nasser's roles as leaders of this movement. In 1954 it was declared on air that "the Voice of the Arabs speaks for the Arabs, struggles for the them and expresses their unity."[7]


The programming was also characterized by an Anti-colonial tone and a rejection of Western imperialism. On one occasion, the service announced that Voice of the Arabs was "in the service of the Arab nation and its struggle against Western imperialism and its lackeys in the Arab world."[7]

For the first three years of its broadcasts the service focused its attention on the political struggles taking place in North Africa.[2] The service supported the causes of French-exiled Sultan Mohammed V in Morocco and Habib Bourguiba's Neo-Destour Party in Tunisia.[3] As an expression of Nasser's anti-colonial stance, the service enabled and encouraged exiled Algerians to update Algerian followers on their activities.[9] Voice of the Arabs supported Algerian revolutionaries not only by allowing them to utilize the services and facilities of the station but also by explicitly advocating in favor of the FLN's struggle against the French and broadcasting Anti-French propaganda.[2]

The service then turned its attention eastward; Iraq and Jordan became the next targets of Nasser's anti-colonial rhetoric and broadcast. In an effort rid the Arab world from any Western influence, Voice of the Arabs launched a propaganda war against Iraq's then Prime Minister Nuri as-Said, criticizing Iraq's participation in the Baghdad Pact.[3] Voice of the Arabs also appealed directly to Jordanian citizens calling them to campaign against Jordan's potential participation in the Baghdad Pact.[3] This continued until the Iraqi Revolution in 1958 when the Iraqi Monarchy was overthrown and Iraq subsequently withdrew its participation from the organization.

The nationalization of the Suez Canal in 1956 by Nasser and the removal of British Forces from Egypt was also broadcast widely, contributing to the popularity of the service and the heightened level of concern amongst Western powers regarding the service.[3] Combined with attacks on British and French allies in the region, this series of events led to an increased monitoring of Egyptian broadcast by Britain and France.[3] Subsequent violent and non-violent efforts to silence the radio failed and contributed further to the radio's and Nasser's prestige and popularity.[3]

Between 1956 and into the 1960s, Voice of the Arabs also gave expression to anti-British sentiments vis-a-vis its broadcast in North Yemen.[3] The service provoked action against the British presence in Aden (Southern Yemen), a move that was countered with Saudi-Arabian supported pro-British radio broadcasts from Aden.[3] The Voice then took a more aggressive stance against Saudi-Arabia [to be continued]

Following the union with Syria in 1958 and the expansion of Egypt's transmitter power, the service was also used to promote liberation struggles in African countries south of the Sahara.[3]

Decline in popularity[edit]

The station's popularity was tied to Nasser's accomplishments and successes as President and symbol of Arab unity. Therefore, the lack of spectacular success for Pan-Arabism and Nasser between 1958–1967 contributed heavily to the gradual loss of credibility and fame of the station.[3] The decline in popularity was consolidated with the transmission of false reports during the 1967 war.[10] From the start of the war, the Egyptian military relayed updates from front to the service, yet not all reports had been true.[5] Despite the defeat of the Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian forces on every front by Israel, Voice of the Arabs' chief announcer and general manager, Ahmad Sa'id reported great victories.[5] Days after the war had begun and Israeli forces had captured and the Gaza Strip from the Egyptians, East Jerusalem and the West Bank from the Jordanians and the Golan Heights from Syrians, the Voice continued to report an Arab victory. Sa'id's initial claims that Egypt was winning the war were broadcast across the whole Arab world by other radio stations as well and contributed to the build-up of hope that victory was near.[3] This made the eventual let down even bigger and cost the station its credibility. Sa'id was thereafter dismissed from his position, although the decisions behind the false broadcasting were not made by him but by Nasser.[3] The Voice and Ahmad Sa'id later became known as symbols of Egypt's self-deception and the Voice could not regain its former reach or impact.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Labidi, Kamel. "The voice of the Arabs is speechless at 50". Al Jazeera. Retrieved 2 April 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Boyd, Douglas A (Winter 1975). "Development of Egypt's Radio: 'Voice of Arabs' under Nasser". Journalism Quarterly 52 (4): 643–653. doi:10.1177/107769907505200406. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Boyd, Douglas A. (1993). Broadcasting in the Arab World. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press. p. 316. ISBN 0-8138-0468-X. 
  4. ^ Dawisha, Adeed (2003). Arab Nationalism in the Twentieth Century: From Triumph to Despair. Princeton: Princeton University Press. pp. 147–159. ISBN 0-691-12272-5. 
  5. ^ a b c James, Laura M. "Whose Voice? Nasser, the Arabs, and 'Sawt al-Arab' Radio". Transnational Broadcasting Journal. Retrieved 7 March 2011. 
  6. ^ Noha Mellor; Khalil Rinnawi; Nabil Dajani; Muhammad I. Ayish (20 May 2013). Arab Media: Globalization and Emerging Media Industries. John Wiley & Sons. p. 70. ISBN 0-7456-3736-1. Retrieved 5 October 2014. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Cull, Nicholas J; Culbert, David H. & Welch, David (2003). Propaganda and mass persuasion: a historical encyclopedia, 1500 to the present. California: ABC-CLIO. p. 16. ISBN 1-57607-820-5. 
  8. ^ Vaughan, James (2002). "Propaganda by Proxy?: Britain, America, and Arab Radio Broadcasting, 1953–1957" (PDF). Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 22 (2): 158–172. doi:10.1080/01439680220133774. Retrieved 3 April 2011. [dead link]
  9. ^ Abun-Nasr, Jamil (1987). A history of the Maghrib in the Islamic period. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 344. 
  10. ^ Edmund Ghareeb (Summer 2000). "New Media and the Information Revolution in the Arab World: An Assessment" (PDF). Middle East Journal 54 (3): 395–418. Retrieved 5 October 2014. 

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