Former Egyptian Intelligence Chief Discusses Psychological Warfare

By Aboul-Enein, Youssef | Infantry, July/August 2006 | Go to article overview

Former Egyptian Intelligence Chief Discusses Psychological Warfare


Aboul-Enein, Youssef, Infantry


The issue of public diplomacy remains one of the weaker aspects of American policy in the Middle East. There have been admirable tries at reaching the so-called "Arab Street," yet these attempts have not been successful because they focus primarily on popular cultural icons, sports, and other superficial issues to bring the news from an American perspective. While these can influence opinion, it would be more effective for the U.S. to give voice to Arab intellectuals, thinkers, and security experts who oppose Islamist extremists and their tactics. AlJazeera offers the kind of shock TV that, although extremely biased, defies Arab taboos. The United States also needs to offer such programming highlighting Arab opinions that favor democracy, representative governance, and a fresh debate about the future of Islam in the 21 st century. A discussion by Arabs on Prophet Muhammad's interaction with Christians in early Islam (late sixth century AD), or the Christian emperor of Abyssinia's offer of asylum to Muslims escaping Meccan persecution can begin to stem the tide of hate preached by extremists and radical clerics. Even debates on the origins of the Caliphate, a pre-Islamic notion, would serve to punch holes in the argument of Islamic militants wanting to reestablish this institution.

Public diplomacy as an instrument of war has historically played a significant role in the Middle East. One example is Salah Nasr, a controversial figure in Egyptian modern politics who headed Egypt's General Intelligence Directorate from the late 1950s until 1967, when he was arrested and tried after the Six-Day War. His reputation as a womanizer came back to haunt him when, shortly after his death, his mistress published her memoirs revealing intimate details of how he exerted significant control on Egyptian President Gamal Abdel-Nasser by throwing in his path real and imagined coups, assassination and terrorist plots - all of which he was responsible for foiling. He also used many tactics in violation of human rights to purge and liquidate opponents of Nasser and the Revolutionary Command Council that toppled the Egyptian monarchy in 1952. Among his chief adversaries was the Muslim Brotherhood. His purging of this illegal faction in Egyptian politics was so thorough that many leaders sought refuge in Saudi Arabia and Jordan. These Arab monarchs were more than willing to provide the Muslim Brotherhood refuge as a proxy army to throw back at Nasser to undermine his pan-Arab agenda that vowed to sweep away traditional monarchies in the region. Salah Nasr was also a prolific writer while incarcerated in Nasser's prisons when he fell out of favor. He published an autobiography and also a two-volume work in Arabic entitled "Al-Harb AlNafsiyah: Maraka Al-Kalimah wal Moutaqad," (Psychological Warfare - the Battle of Words and Perceptions) the subject of this review essay. It is perhaps the finest work on psychological warfare in the Arabic language combining not only Arab, but German, Russian, British, and American sources.

Nasr is a man who combined a vicious and violent passion of subduing enemies of the Egyptian revolution with an intellect in the tradecraft of his dark arts. The two volumes are a survey of psychological warfare techniques in mankind's history. This review will look at Salah Nasr's discussions on the inter-Arab techniques used to undermine Nasser's regime and the tools used by clandestine services in the western world that he viewed as playing a direct role in subduing Nasser's power and message of Arab unity. It is vital for American military planners and academics in our war colleges to dust off works by Arab authors on warfare, terrorism and military-political affairs, particularly as the United States becomes committed to long-term reform and reconstruction in the Middle East.

Nasr's Arabic book demonstrates the importance of media wars in many modern Middle East conflicts. Employing this skill in warfare is more complex today because of the Internet and satellite channels, which exponentially increase the average Arab's exposure to varying opinions. …

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