1967: Sword of Israel:
Voice of the Arabs
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
In June 1953, the Free Officers Movement, led by Lt. Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser, abolished the Egyptian monarchy. King Farouk had been sent into a comfortable exile in Italy the year before, leaving behind 10,000 silk ties and what was reputed to be the world’s largest collection of pornography.
Just over two weeks later, Radio Cairo began to broadcast a daily half-hour show called Sawt al-Arab or “Voice of the Arabs,” apparently on Nasser’s direct order to station manager Ahmed al-Said, who also served as the program’s chief announcer. Said quickly developed a hit formula: some pompous political statements, often from the regime’s puppet president, Gen. Mohammed Naguib, a few more by Said himself, and plenty of original music – nationalist, pan-Arab ditties from legendary Egyptian singers like Umm Khalthoum.
Umm Khaltoum lent her legend to the new radio station.
The Voice of the Arabs arrived at a crucial inflection point for Egyptian politics and society. The regime did not yet control the Egyptian press – that would come in 1960 – but did own and operate all broadcasters. A year after Voice of the Arabs began broadcasting, Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Company, soon rebranded as Sony, released their first transistor radio. This new technology, introduced in 1947, was far cheaper than the vacuum tubes of previous radios, but suffered from some manufacturing flaws in the early years. Throughout the 1950’s Sony improved the transistor and made its radios cheaper and cheaper, bringing them within reach of the masses not only in Egypt but across the Arab world.
By the early 1960’s, Arabic stood second only to English as a world-wide broadcasting language. And the Voice of the Arabs led the way, becoming its own dedicated station broadcasting at first 15 and then 18 hours a day, an unheard-of span in those days. The powerful signal could be picked up across the Middle East, North Africa and parts of southern Europe.
Said’s poison pen filled those hours with anti-colonial, anti-imperialist diatribes. He preached Arab unity stretching across the national boundaries imposed by the region’s colonial rulers – a message that dovetailed with Nasser’s pan-Arab ambitions. The message de-coupled Arab identity from Islam, building a national and cultural identity separate from religion. And it allowed Nasser to reach Arab populations in their own language, without going through their rulers, some of whom the Voice damned as puppets of their departed colonial masters in London and Paris.
Talent on loan from Allah. Ahmed al-Said on the job.
The broadcasts had a deep impact, inciting the mobs that overthrew Iraqi dictator Nuri al-Said (no relation) in 1958 and ripping him to pieces when he tried to flee while dressed as a woman. Anti-British riots in Aden in 1962 likewise had their origin in the Voice’s broadcasts, as well as the overthrow of Imam Ahmed of Yemen later the same year, following a series of broadcasts titled “The Secrets of the Yemen,” which concluded with the signal that launched the revolution. British newspapers labelled Said “Mr. Hate.”
The Voice of the Arabs also thundered against the Saudi royal family, though not with as extreme success. The broadcasts likely led to the abdication of King Saud in November 1964, to be replaced by his brother Faisal who promised (and, of course, did not deliver) reforms. Among the reforms he did allow, Faisal reversed a Saudi ban on radio (though not television) broadcasting in an attempt to counter the Voice of the Arabs.
But almost from the start, Nasser aimed this potent propaganda weapon at Israel. The Voice of the Arabs focused the ire of the “Arab street” on the plight of the Palestinians, even as the Arab governments (Nasser’s included) showed little interest in supporting the more than 700,000 Palestinian refugees jammed into 58 camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and the Egyptian-controlled Gaza Strip. The Palestinian issue caught fire with the audience to a degree that surprised and alarmed Nasser, who was not yet ready to confront Israel over the issue – doing so, he felt, would court Western intervention.
When Nasser finally felt ready for an aggressive war in May 1967, he looked to the Voice of the Arabs to prepare public opinion in both Egypt and the rest of the Middle East. In particular, he hoped to use the broadcasts to turn up public pressure on the Saudi, Iraqi and Kuwaiti governments to dispatch troops to reinforce Nasser’s wavering Jordanian allies. The Voice would also prepare the Egyptian people for war, and encourage unrest among Israel’s Arab population.
Nasser ordered his army commander, Field Marshal Abdel Hakim Amir, to keep the radio station informed of Egyptian military successes, and Amir obediently did so, according to Said. Said prepared programming for the scheduled opening of the Egyptian offensive on 27 May, but Amir’s liaison officer told Said that the Soviets vetoed the Egyptian plans. When the Israeli Air Force devastated its Egyptian opponent on the morning of 5 June 1967, leaving most of its planes destroyed on the ground, Said’s military conduits told him that the Egyptians had downed dozens of Israeli planes, which the Voice of the Arabs dutifully reported in its usual shrill manner.
The Cairo Tower hosts the Voice of the Arabs offices and transmitter.
And then came the ground campaign. Whether through incompetence or laziness, Amir’s staff didn’t prepare a false narrative for Said to broadcast: they simply forwarded an outline of their actual offensive plans, complete with unit designations and locations. The Egyptians had won great victories, they told Said, and were advancing according to plan.
While these victories did not actually happen, it’s unclear whether or not Said’s handlers knew this. At the front, most regimental and battalion staffs lied about their initial contact with the Israelis, and claimed that their troops had held them off successfully even if the enemy had broken through their lines. At the division level, the staffs embroidered these successes still further, and passed the reports up to the Sinai Field Army. There the same process occurred, and again in at General Headquarters in Cairo. By the time the tales reached Said’s office in the Cairo Tower – the tallest building in Africa – the false stories of battalions or regiments beating off Israeli attacks had become stunning victories and even advances.
Said, brilliant propagandist that he was, carried the charade still further. He had an inkling of the Egyptian planned May offensive, and used that as the outline for the story Voice of the Arabs now wove. Soon enough, Said had the brave Egyptians on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, shelling the Israeli capital and on the verge of total victory.
In Amman, Jordan’s King Hussein and his military advisors listened in horror as Said’s shrill voice listed the actual positions of Jordanian formations, including the crucial armored brigades, and that of the Iraqi 3rd “Salah ad-Din” Armored Division on its way to reinforce the Jordanians.
“In Cairo they believed that they were doing a wise thing,” the king recalled after the war. “They thought, no doubt, that this was a good way to raise morale in the home front. Whatever the reason, all Israel had to do – and they did not give up the pleasure – was to listen to Sawt al-Arab in order to thwart our efforts with little risk. Easy.”
The Israeli Air Force devastated the approaching Iraqi brigades, locating them with the aid of Said’s broadcasts. On the Jerusalem front, Gen. Uzi Narkiss of the IDF’s Central Command listened on the afternoon of 5 June, the war’s first day as Said described the Jordanian capture of Mount Scopus and Al-Mukkaber Hill, events that had not actually happened. But Narkiss recalled that during the 1956 war, Voice of the Arabs had described planned Egyptian operations as though they had already been carried out. Based on that assumption, Narkiss decided to strike first, and that night the Israelis opened a full-scale offensive aimed at capturing East Jerusalem. The Jordanian 60th Armored Brigade, intended to counter-attack such an Israeli move, had instead been diverted to the south-west to prepare for an attack into Israeli territory to link up with the non-existent Egyptian armored advance described by Said.
At first, the Voice of the Arabs had the desired impact. The Egyptian public believed that their army had won the war and that Israel would soon be wiped off the map.
“We rejoiced and hugged each other,” Egyptian dissident Fawzi Habashi recalled, “for we had won the war, or at least were well on our way to doing so. The real news quickly seeped in from the front-lines of this war, however.”
And you know what he said? Well, none of it was true!
The story began to unravel, first from Western media reports leaking into the country, then from eye-witnesses. Amir suffered a nervous breakdown soon after the fighting began, and ordered a general retreat by the Sinai Field Army even as the issue remained in doubt. Some Egyptian divisions conducted an orderly retreat, but others completely collapsed, abandoning weapons and equipment as their men fled for the supposed safety of the Suez Canal. Some of these men arrived in Egyptian cities, and the stories they told bore no resemblance to the triumphal march described by Voice of the Arabs.
“It was as if something had been broken in each Egyptian,” Habashi wrote. “And this shook the Egyptian people’s confidence in the ability of the regime to rule.”
That brought massive crowds into the streets, this time enraged not by the radio station, but against it. “Nasser failure! Nasser traitor!” they shouted, and on 9 June – before the fighting had even ceased – Nasser announced his resignation. Now the crowds demanded his return, and Nasser, always skilled at reading the room, “reluctantly” agreed to remain in office.
While Nasser’s political fortunes survived the war, he would die of a heart attack three years later, only 52 years old. Said was fired after the war, not for telling lies about the Egyptian army’s performance, but for referring to Nasser as the country’s “former leader” following his resignation. In his own defense, Said later pointed out that refusing Nasser’s orders to broadcast the hysterical reports would have been treason under Egyptian law, punishable by death. Said went into retirement and died in 2018 at age 92.
Voice of the Arabs, however, never recovered from the loss of credibility. Overnight it went from the Middle East’s (and possibly the world’s) most powerful propaganda tool to an international laughingstock. The Voice of the Arabs remains on the air today, but no longer commands an audience, influence or professional respect.
In our Campaign Study Voice of the Arabs, you can fight out the battles of 1967 the way Ahmed al-Said told the story: as an enormous Egyptian victory over the tough but doomed Israelis. It’s a unique take on the war’s battles: not exactly alternative history, but fake history the way Nasser wanted it told.
You can order Voice of the Arabs right here.
1967: Sword of Israel (Playbook)
IDF: Israel Defense Forces
Voice of the Arabs
Retail Price: $147.97
Package Price: $120
Gold Club Price: $96
You can experience the Arab-Israeli Package right here.
Sign up for our newsletter right here. Your info will never be sold or transferred; we'll just use it to update you on new games and new offers.
Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and NASA Journalist in Space finalist, he has published an unknowable number of books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his new puppy. He will never forget his dog, Leopold.
Want to keep Daily Content free of third-party ads? You can send us some love (and cash) through this link right here.