Free Patriotic Movement, Hezbollah, Lebanon, March 14, Syria

The Eagle Strikes Back: Okab Sakr vs. al-Akhbar & OTV

My, my, my… what a tangled web we weave.

The embattled Lebanese MP Okab Sakr treated us to a dizzying piece of political theater today (reminiscent in all of its finger-pointing and high inflection to the most spirited performances of the great master himself) and promised that there would be more to come, thereby threatening my hopes of getting anything done at work over the next couple of weeks.

To recap: Sakr had recently been the subject of an “exposé” by OTV and al-Akhbar, who published an audio recording of the Zahle parliamentarian apparently coordinating (by telephone) arms transfers to Free Syrian Army commanders. For about a week, the Aounist media gleefully celebrated the scoop as a journalistic coup and the end of Sakr’s career as the impresario of March 14th messaging and inevitable heir to Nabih Berri’s throne.

okab-sakr-me3rabWas it Okab’s absence from the limelight over the past year that led his opponents to somehow forget his formidable political talents, or was it willful amnesia? In either case, whoever was behind the scoop gambled that the short game (playing fast and loose with out-of-context audio clips) was aggressive enough to turn back any counter-attack by March 14. My sense is that they probably miscalculated, although who knows what the next episode of Okabgate will bring?

(I can’t help but feel, by the way, that if the tables were turned and Hizbullah officials were the ones accused of aiding an armed insurrection against a brutal dictatorship, Sayyid Hasan would have gone on the rhetorical offensive a long time ago, owning up to his party’s military and moral support for a just cause.)

Here’s a quick outline of the press conference:

1. Audio and video recordings, plus some photographs were stolen. We will explain the details of this operation at a later stage. (0:2:45)

2. Sakr channels Nasrallah in the build-up to his revelation of the first complete tape that was stolen and then edited down.

3. The critical introduction (that was missed in the material aired on OTV):

Sakr’s interlocutor (who is Abu al-Nu`man, a militant not part of the FSA, and one of the people holding the kidnapped Lebanese Shiite pilgrims for ransom) demands weapons and Sakr says he’s not in the weapons business. Abu Nu`man says to him: “We’re not asking for much. All we need are some basic equipment to get rid of this son of dog [i.e. Bashar]. We don’t want money or anything. Surely you with all of your international contacts to Saad al-Hariri, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and America, etc. can manage that.” In response, Sakr gets annoyed and says: “I can get money, aid, medicine, but not weapons. And by the way, you’re supposed to be in the opposition, so why are you talking like you are getting all your information from Syrian state TV? We are not weapons dealers. We can connect you with the FSA and we can provide political support and money and coordination, but not weapons… I don’t know anything about weapons and I don’t have weapons to give you.”

At this point, Abu Nu`man reiterates to him that they are totally surrounded by the Syrian army and that they badly need weapons. This is where the OTV clip began. A resigned Sakr says: “Ok, what kinds of weapons do you want? Tell me precisely.” The segue, to my mind, is still quite strange. He had just finished telling him that he’s not in the weapons business, and now he’s taking delivery orders? At any rate, the OTV clip ends with Abu Nu`man telling Sakr what kinds of ammunition and weapons they want and where the drop-off point should be. The original clip goes on to reveal a befuddled Sakr asking for clarification about where this is and who all the mysterious people involved are.

4. Sakr explains the new information for the assembled journalists. He promises to provide all of the complete tapes so that it can be verified that they haven’t also been doctored and played around with.

5. The second tape, in which Okab promises milk, vegetables, and other supplies for Syrian refugees. He goes on to say that Saad al-Hariri has been instrumental in providing aid to Syrians in Homs, etc. He calls the resistance a joke that has forfeited all honor and dignity, quoting Ali ibn Abi Talib. (Oh yeah, he went there…)

6. The third tapeIn this one, Okab speaks on the phone with Luay al-Miqdad, the spokesperson for the Higher Revolutionary Council of the FSA in Turkey. Okab is recounting to Miqdad his discussion with Abu al-Nu`man, or maybe someone else, in which the guy demanded a certain amount of ammunition in exchange for three Lebanese prisoners. They joke darkly about the situation.

Then something strange happens (at 0:32:28). We suddenly find ourselves in the second clip that OTV published, in which they argued that Okab was speaking with Saad al-Hariri. In the new context, it’s clear that this is not Hariri at all but actually Luay al-Miqdad. But there’s still something weird about it, as it appears that Saqr’s team dropped the “forged” clip into the middle of another clip, maybe creating a new forged clip? I’ll have to listen a little more closely, but there’s clearly something fishy going on. For one thing, the 10-second segment where Luay is saying “Allo? Allo?” and Okab coughs is repeated in two different places (at 0:31:35 and again at 0:32:28), so someone definitely engaged in a little cut and paste.

[Update: OTV has released a preliminary response to the Okab Sakr press conference which includes the following audio analysis of the third tape discussed above. For once, I agree with OTV... there's something totally wrong with the "complete" tape presented by Sakr. It's clearly been stitched together from two different tapes. On the other hand, it seems that they've quietly admitted that the unknown interlocutor is not Saad Hariri but rather Luay al-Miqdad.]

7. Sakr claims that he had been told about the tapes a long time ago and that there was an attempt to make a deal over them. Instead, he went out of his way to give his opponents the confidence that they could bring him down, by going on Future TV and making his statements about not being a merchant of blood. In other words, he provoked them into going forward and releasing the tapes so that he could ambush them with the press conference today. (Are your heads spinning yet?)

8. Sakr attempts to prove that the cut-and-paste operation did not take place by the intelligence officials who stole the original tapes, but rather by the media office (i.e. al-Akhbar, on the order of Ibrahim al-Amin) that published them.

9. More gems from Nahj al-balagha, followed by an explanation of why Sakr was recording his own calls with people. It seems that these clips were recorded 7 months ago when the Lebanese pilgrims had first been kidnapped and nobody knew where they were. At that time, Saqr and Hariri were getting calls from all kinds of people (majmu`at samesra) who claimed to have the Lebanese.

10. A message to those who are calling for Sakr to be stripped of his status as a Shiite. More proverbs from Ali and even some poetry by Mozaffar al-Nawwab. I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying this…

11. A message to Michel Aoun, dripping with more invective and Biblical references than you can shake a stick at.

12. Questions from the press pool. Sakr promises to sue OTV and al-Akhbar. A journalist asks Sakr why anyone should accept the interpretation he’s presented today, given that there are people saying that there are more tapes that will be aired soon that prove his involvement in weapons dealings. Sakr further emphasizes his commitment to Lebanon because he has been working to free the Lebanese pilgrims. He promises to provide information about how the tapes were stolen.

I’ve run out of time… I’ll finish off the rest of this tomorrow… 

Discussion

39 thoughts on “The Eagle Strikes Back: Okab Sakr vs. al-Akhbar & OTV

  1. My God did he love the limelight……His ego was soaring. I think he believed that that presentation elevated him to a point of replacing the Sayyed himself as the uncontested Shiite leader of Lebanon. Cunningly deceptive, If all that he said was true were looking at a brilliant operator well endowed with the dark shadows of real politik, I mean to fake and feign emotions on live TV, pick the exact wording and feed them false signals in order to ambush them, why this is just entrapment on steroids. Go Okab….

    Posted by Maverick | December 6, 2012, 10:10 pm
  2. Putting aside BV’s dismay that we are taking such pleasure from morbid theatre…………..

    I am SOOOOOOOOOOOO loving this.

    Thanks for posting a link to the Youtube video.

    By the way… who is Yuhanna al iskharioti. My Arabic needs polishing. Is Judas called yuhanna in Arabic?

    Posted by Gabriel | December 6, 2012, 10:35 pm
  3. Oh make no mistake, I too am enjoying the hilarious drama (specially after watching that youtube video).

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | December 7, 2012, 12:26 am
  4. Gabriel,

    Yuhanna is John.

    Something tells me, our guilt ridden excitement watching this performance stems from a deep seeded feeling of being on the receiving end of a psycho-political onslaught by the same dodgy characters Oqab so ineloquently bashes and verbally sodomizes in what has to be the regarded as the conference of the year. For many who are reluctant to burn tires and take to the streets, this “pay back” surpasses any acts of retribution against a bunch of dirty scoundrels.
    Facebook statuses in Lebanon are inundated with …” Fashaytelna khel2na”

    Posted by Maverick | December 7, 2012, 1:38 am
  5. QN,

    A while back you were stating that the M14 leaders did not have charisma or orators like SHN. Well I think the little prince should be crowned as emperor for his amazing use of the podium with his incredible skills that Machiavelli would marvel at!

    Like the rest above; I just love this. I have watched it over three time already.

    More to come I am sure. HA must be feeling a lot yellower by now. :D

    Posted by danny | December 7, 2012, 8:47 am
  6. Your theory that no one else but M14 were behind the leaks is interesting and still holds water. What lead you to it?

    Posted by JY | December 7, 2012, 9:39 am
  7. I love how you took the time to translate his press conference into English…..

    It is definitely a theatrical show, with houdinis rising in the lebanese political arena….

    Posted by adelnehmeh | December 7, 2012, 12:43 pm
  8. Maverick:

    I know Yuhanna is John. I was wondering about the biblical reference that Saqr made in the Aoun blurb. Is there a biblical figure called John Iscariot? (Nothing pops up in Google) Or was that an error in Saqr’s speech? Or does Judas also translate to Yuhanna in Arabic? (Wiki translates it to Yehuda, and I don’t recall hearing the name in Arabic masses. Not sure if that’s because I have a short attention span though).

    Posted by Gabriel | December 7, 2012, 5:09 pm
  9. يهوذا الاسخريوطي the Falcon made a mistake

    I dont understand the fascination with the Okab, really, he is just like the rest of the motherfuckers running this show in Lebanon

    Posted by Vulcan | December 7, 2012, 6:18 pm
  10. QN,

    Can we open a separate Arab-Israeli page in parallel with the rest of your site? Otherwise there’s no one to argue with. Hostility is the name of the game. q:o)

    Posted by Akbar Palace | December 7, 2012, 7:44 pm
  11. V

    Maybe I can take a stab at what I think is absolutely fascinating about Okab (to me at least).

    Look at him. Just look at him. He talks a lot, loves the sound of his own voice. He’s not one of those loud-mouth ideologues talking about “3uruba”, or religion. And yet. And yet he does.

    QN put it succinctly when he brings up the bit about Ali, and says: “Oh yeah, he went there”.

    I don’t know if Uqab is dealing in weapons. If he’s just another motherfucker or not. If he gives a rats ass about Lebanon, or doesn’t give a rats ass about Lebanon. But I don’t think he gives a rats ass about Muhamad or 3issa or Musa or teezee.

    And yet.

    And yet he went on in this masterpiece theatrical show. The Cirque de soleil of press releases, and he bla-blaed a whole lot of religious gibberish.

    He used the same words that gets young Arab men “stand in attention” (double entendre intended) when people like Hassan Nasrallah spew their rubbish.

    He managed to bring in Ali, and Al-Iskharioti together. He blabbed about the Commandments. And he turned Aoun into the Crucifier. Comedy Par Excellence. He’s almost put Moliere to shame. You can take this incident and write a new Tartuffe out of it. And he’s no poet. No bumbling Saad Hariri either mind you, but definitely no poet.

    I ask myself.. what’s the purpose of all this theatre?

    I think he’s gone beyond making a mockery of Jamil Sayyed, or the people who apparently “doctored” the tapes, that he and the Hariri camp likely fed them. He’s managed to mock the establishment, the ideologues, the peddlers of religious gibberish.

    Now given my history of mockery here, I think you’d understand why I take my hat off to this man.

    Posted by Gabriel | December 7, 2012, 9:21 pm
  12. Why aren’t there any secular Leftist politicians in Lebanon with good screen presence?

    Posted by habib | December 8, 2012, 12:21 am
  13. I believe the “cut paste” you mention in point 6 is just a montage that Okab did to show the context that OTV switched around the convo.
    IN OTHER WORDS, the second “alo eh khayeh” was moved by OTV, and not Okab, but Okab’s team made it very obvious that they switched to the OTV report (notice how the video switches to OTV’s video with the subtitles).

    It would be easy to check this by listening to the original, unmodified, tapes … the ones Okab has sent to the Lebanese court.

    Posted by OTVislying | December 8, 2012, 1:58 am
  14. Nice review Gabriel…..

    Posted by Maverick | December 8, 2012, 2:47 am
  15. QN, question about language, if you would, please:

    I was not familiar with the translation of “Ooqab” as eagle. His last name, “Saqr,” translates into falcon. The most common word for eagle, as I remember and after verifying in sources, is “Nisr” ( نسر ). Then, in one of the web searches, I found a possible translation of “eagle” into Arabic as “Ooqab Ta2er” ( عقاب طائر ), and after that found many more references to that. So the question is about the difference between the two translations of “eagle.” Also, doesn’t the word “ooqab” ( عقاب ), if with a “kasra,” i.e., pronounced “Eeqab” mean punishment?

    … and thank you ( و شكراً ), Professor ;-)

    Posted by Honest Patriot | December 8, 2012, 7:59 am
  16. I got to watch most of the press conference.

    One can easily conclude that Sakr contradicted himself of being a humanitarian man simply by his ill conduct in calling his opponents derogatory and very offensive names, he even used eunucs. It was obvious from quoting Martin Luther king “The hottest place in Hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict,” definitely reveals that he is definitely involved in other than humanitarian activities. In my humble understanding, humanitarians help regardless of who is injured and for what cause.

    Posted by KM | December 8, 2012, 9:33 am
  17. HP… not sure about the value here. I was actually wondering the same thing here. I had typed it into google translate on my android.

    Then last night, I happened to be dining at a Persian restaurant, and I wanted to translate a word. So out came my phone, and I changed language from Arabic to Persian.

    Uqab was still there… and lo and behold:

    http://translate.google.com/#en/fa/eagle

    Posted by Gabriel | December 8, 2012, 10:03 am
  18. Aha! I always knew there was an Iranian conspiracy in all this ;-)

    Posted by honestpatriot | December 8, 2012, 10:10 am
  19. HP… this may help:

    http://ar.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D8%B9%D9%8F%D9%82%D9%8E%D8%A7%D8%A8

    The first page leads (when you write it unaccented to):

    http://ar.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D8%B9%D9%82%D8%A7%D8%A8

    So it is used in Arabic as well.

    I wish there were an etymological dictionary for the Arabic language online somewhere. Not sure if one exists.

    Posted by Gabriel | December 8, 2012, 10:27 am
  20. HP

    Nisr (or nasr) is Levantine colloquial for “eagle”, but it’s also used in classical Arabic for a kind of vulture and other carnivorous raptors. `Uqab is the generally accepted classical term for “eagle”, although there are lots of different kinds of eagle, and consequently different terms. As for the word `iqab, it does mean punishment, which is why some of Saqr’s opponents have nicknamed him `Iqab Saqr. I think a more appropriate nickname would be Ta`qiib (“commentary”), because of his prolixity.

    You may have also noticed that he sarcastically refers to al-Akhbar as “al-Ikhbar”… Ahh, fun with ishtiqaq.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | December 8, 2012, 10:56 am
  21. Thanks everyone for the helpful explanations.

    Posted by honestpatriot | December 8, 2012, 4:15 pm
  22. To quote QN; “veracity is beside the point”.

    What’s left but the humor of this amazing spectacle?

    Posted by lally | December 8, 2012, 7:06 pm
  23. Elias,

    Do you know if there is an (online or otherwise) etymological dictionary for Arabic?

    Posted by Gabriel | December 9, 2012, 2:11 am
  24. Don’t hate on the guy because he is passionate about a nation being burned to the ground by a handful of hateful thugs. I don’t doubt his sincerity for a moment, but even if I were to play the devil’s advocate I’d say ‘so what?’. Even if the man is out there brokering international arms deals between the Saudis and the rebels (he SO clearly looks like a warlord after all), is that really such a bad thing considering what Assad and his gang have done to our country for half a century? I think it’s the least we can do. And why hate on the man because he stood up and did what no other Lebanese politician has dared to do in decades, take the hit like a man and admit his shortcomings?

    To the guy posting a Nido picture, have respect to the tens of thousands of Syrian children that don’t have access to milk or basic nourishment. Shame on you.

    Posted by firaskay | December 9, 2012, 9:12 am
  25. Firaskay wins the “Post of the Week” award.

    It’s always encencouraging to see someone with their head screwed on correctly.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | December 9, 2012, 12:20 pm
  26. Don’t worry guys. Uqab was really just there coordinating transfer of baby milk and blankets to the poor rebel babies and women. Uqab, and March 14 in general, have nothing to do with the weapons entering Syria. Also on Fridays, under certain weather and atmospheric conditions, dogs go meow.

    Posted by Murad | December 9, 2012, 12:22 pm
  27. It is hard to believe that either side have managed to keep their hands clean. I found Sakr’s tone to be very childish, and while his array of Biblical, Quranic and literary references may resonate strongly with young Arabs, he is certainly no match for the assured demeanour of the Grand Master of Deception.

    Sakr was pouncing up and down that podium like an uncontrollable toddler and blabbering mindlessly. Just look how he responded to the journalists with aggression and impatience. He has a lot to learn.

    Posted by Ahmad | December 11, 2012, 3:32 pm
  28. Baby milk is used as a reference to ammo
    Blankets are guns
    Arms trader code

    Posted by Aczay | December 11, 2012, 5:41 pm
  29. I see plenty of criticism in these comments towards his demeanor but very little towards what the man actually said. Such typical Lebanese “intellectual” elitism … all critical with no substance. I say this wreaks of buckets of Bull crap…

    Posted by firaskay | December 11, 2012, 6:55 pm
  30. Firaskay

    I would not pay too much attention to the mullah lackeys here…They give a carde blanche to Nassrallah to lie and kill and maim but try to attack Sakr as he has allowed people to steal from him. He is guilty of being alive and being a victim.

    Posted by danny | December 11, 2012, 7:20 pm
  31. Thanks Danny. I would have guessed that from the ‘Hezbollah logo-ed – offensively bad photoshoping – innocent Syrian children hating’ dude! :)

    Posted by firaskay | December 11, 2012, 7:40 pm
  32. Danny,

    It is quite shameful to correlate one’s opinion of a mullah’s public speaking skills with being ‘mullah lackey’. Hitler was one of the best speakers history has ever seen – woops, saying that would make me a Nazi…

    You have a lot to learn too.

    Posted by Ahmad | December 14, 2012, 2:31 pm
  33. Ahmad,

    It befits you to be an “admirer” of the worst mass killer evil in history! I do look at the mullah’s with the same disdain! You can go ahead and admire Nasser or Castro for that matter.

    Case closed. You are who you are!!! Kindly ignore me.

    Posted by danny | December 14, 2012, 4:43 pm
  34. Danny – you seem intent on typing brashly rather than reading carefully. I am not sure whether this ignorance is genuine, or merely a frustrating debate strategy.

    Posted by Ahmad | December 14, 2012, 11:40 pm
  35. Ahmad,

    Why would stating that Hitler was an excellent orator make you a Nazi? Hitler’s evil was finding a scapegoat for all of Germany’s problems. It is the same tactic used today by many ME governments and anti-semites.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | December 15, 2012, 7:46 pm
  36. Akbar,

    Exactly, it would not. I would prefer not to spell out the situation, but my claim that Oqab Sakr was a less agile speaker than a political rival led Mr. Danny to accuse me of being a full-blown Mullah lackey; a baseless claim which could not be farther from the truth. He seemed to have a hard time differentiating between being impressed by speaking skills, and killing-people skills.

    Anyway, I countered that Hitler was an agile speaker, but recognizing this does not mean I am a Nazi – just like saying a mullah is a good speaker does not make me a mullah supporter. In line with his brashness, however, Mr. Danny went on to claim that it would befit me to admire history’s most evil killer.

    After finding no rationale in these brazen attacks by Mr. Danny, I concluded he was either foolish, or just pretending to be.

    Posted by Ahmad | December 16, 2012, 10:15 pm
  37. Ahmad,

    Thanks for the clarification. I guess Danny has some bad experiences with some of the “radical” actors who have helped to “fracture” Lebanon. I’ll let Danny answer for himself.

    And from my vantage, as bad and as evil as Hitler was, the ME is REPLETE with leaders with ideologies just as evil as Hitler’s.

    Posted by Akbar Palace | December 16, 2012, 11:43 pm

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