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As regional leaders shift stance, Syrian state TV aims rants at friends turned foes

By Ben Brumfield and Saad Abedine, CNN
updated 10:26 AM EDT, Thu October 4, 2012
Syrian state TV is insulting Egypt's president, Mohamed Morsy, and other regional leaders in scathing editorials.
Syrian state TV is insulting Egypt's president, Mohamed Morsy, and other regional leaders in scathing editorials.
  • Rhetoric turns to insults hurled at heads of state
  • Editorial slams Egypt's president Morsy as "Mr. Thank You" alleging he took payoffs
  • Assad lost former friends and regional respect over his violent crackdown
  • Regional leaders have responded to the rants on Syrian state TV

(CNN) -- As former friends turn against Syria for its brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters, the country's state television -- the government mouthpiece -- has taken to insulting and belittling those regional leaders in scathing editorials read to camera.

Egypt's president, Mohamed Morsy, is "Mr. Thank You" for allegedly taking money from Western ally Qatar to betray Syria.

Qatar's leader Sheikh Hamad, who has spoken out against the bloodbath, is "nothing but a kitchen knife only good for chopping off onions."

And other Arab states that have called for military intervention are "NATO's orphans."

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In the past, criticism of former allies-turned-foes has abounded on Syrian TV. But hurling undignified language at neighboring heads of state has been rare.

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Over the weekend, a male anchor twisted Morsy's name into "Mr. Merci" (Mr. Thank You), as he accused Egypt of taking payoffs from Qatar in an alleged plan to send 100,000 Egyptian troops via Jordan to fight in Syria.

"Mr. Merci Qatar is hallucinating, and he must have a high temperature," the anchor said. "Why don't you send your troops to liberate Gaza or Jerusalem?"

He ended by calling Egypt a young donkey leading the camels -- meaning other Arab states -- in an allusion to an Arabic proverb.

Egypt's foreign minister, Mohamed Kamel Amr, responded Wednesday, defending his country's role as diplomatic glue between nations in the region.

Amr denied accusations his country would send troops to Syria, saying Egypt was not even thinking of doing so.

But the foreign minister also insisted Bashar al-Assad's government had no future in Syria.

During a Monday newscast, the target was former Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who has expressed support for Turkey -- Syria's neighbor that stands in stark opposition to Assad.

For more than a decade, Syria hosted Meshaal in Damascus and supported his struggle against their common enemy, Israel. Meshaal has since exited the country and recently made a high-profile appearance in Turkey.

The anchor handed him a bitter reminder of his indebtedness and scorned him over his relations with Turkey.

"Do you remember when you were homeless and walking astray in the streets that it was Syria's great mercy that embraced you?" she read, accusing him of selling out.

"Hey Meshaal, always remember that the fire needs genuine oil to burn or it will just be smoke that will blind the eyes," she said in closing. "The Turkish oil will only blind your eyes, so be careful."

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In a speech in Cairo, Meshaal alluded to the insult -- but made his stance clear:

"Hamas does not forget those who supported and stood by the movement. But we will never compromise when it comes to bloodshed of our (Islamic) nation."

The rants illustrate the shifts in power and relations brought on by the Arab spring. Syria's government had more friends before the uprisings and more reverent neighbors in the region.

It was allied with Hamas over their common opposition to Israel, and had traditional ties with Egypt.

Turkey, a NATO member nation, was a cordial neighbor, whose warm rapport and liberal travel and trade relations with Syria served as a buffer against regional tensions.

But then things changed, when protesters from Tunisia to Bahrain hit the streets in 2011 to face tear gas and gun fire in attempts -- largely successful - to overthrow authoritarian governments.

In the ensuing reshuffle of international relations, the Syrian government lost support from key friends Turkey and Hamas.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for Assad's resignation, and Turkey has given Syria's expat opposition a home base on its soil. It has also set up refugee camps to receive the onslaught of Syrian refugees fleeing the armed conflict.

The relationship has also been marred by violent incidents, with Syria's military twice hitting Turkish assets.

A Syrian shell landed in a border town in Turkey Wednesday, killing five civilians, prompting the Turkish military to retaliate. Syria shot down a Turkish military plane in June.

As for Egypt, throngs of Egyptian protesters intent on democracy deposed former president Hosni Mubarak, opening the path to power to the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsy, who has taken the side of Syria's insurgents.

During a visit to Turkey, Morsy promised continuing support to Syrian rebels.

Even Hamas' exiled leader Meshaal quietly shuttered the party's office in Damascus in the midst of the bloodshed and walked away on cat's paws.

Hamas later announced it was moving its staff to a new office in Cairo.

Meshaal recently turned up in Turkey at Prime Minister Erdogan's side, interpreted by Damascus as a show of support for Ankara's stance against Assad.

It's all enough to set a dictator off.

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