Countering Communist and Nasserite Propaganda: the Foreign Office Information Research Department in the Middle East and Africa, 1954-1963
Collier, Simon M W
This thesis considers the role of the Information Research Department (IRD) in countering Arab nationalist and Communist propaganda directed at British interests in the Middle East and Africa between 1954 and 1963. It argues that the 1956 Suez Crisis and its fallout was the catalyst that drove a significant expansion of IRD's remit and responsibility. From 1956 the department – which up to this point had had a purely anti-Communist function – was given the responsibility of countering the increasing flow of Arab nationalist propaganda emerging from Egypt. The same year, the Communist powers mounted a renewed and concerted effort to culturally and ideologically penetrate Africa. IRD, who to this point had been excluded from directly operating in Africa, began counter-Communist work in the face of stiff Colonial Office resistance. Analysis of IRD in the Middle East has rarely considered events beyond the immediate aftermath of Suez. IRD's work in Africa is almost wholly unexplored. It is a central contention of this thesis that the two regions cannot be viewed in isolation post-Suez. Egypt's standing was buoyed by the propaganda capital of victory over Suez, and Nasser's position as the figurehead of Arab nationalism was assured. In seeking the removal of colonial influence from the Middle East and Africa, Arab propaganda – particularly the Voice of the Arabs programme of Cairo Radio – ties the regions together. Communist and African nationalist propagandists were drawn to Cairo in the wake of the Suez Crisis. The former, building relationships through aid, sought to leverage Cairo's expanding influence to their own advantage. The latter sought facilities and support for their own propaganda efforts. After Suez, IRD sought to manage Egyptian propaganda whilst avoiding direct confrontation, seeking to normalise relations. In Africa, the department sought to build an infrastructure for information work aimed at influencing future leaders, their efforts constrained by the timetable of British decolonisation. In both regions, through developing relationships with local agencies and the BBC, and from initiatives such as the Transmission 'X' news commentary service, IRD continued to address Arab nationalist and Communist propaganda with a flexibility and responsiveness not recognised in the current literature on IRD.