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May 14, 2003

How is the Arab media in the ME reacting to the Saudi Suicide bombing?

Arab Condemnations of Bombings Reflect Dominant U.S. Role in Region

In the Islamic world, online commentators are condemning the bombings in Saudi Arabia that killed at least 29 people. Even in Web sites that strongly opposed the U.S.-led war in Iraq there is outrage, along with strong feelings about the now-dominant role of the United States in the region. Several observers say that the attackers are aiming at nothing less than taking power in Saudi Arabia.

"This was an undertaking of sheer evil," say the editors of the Arab News, an English-language Web site in Riyadh that was harshly critical of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The coordinated attacks were "targeted as much against Saudi Arabia as against Westerners — not just because Saudis and Westerners alike have been killed and maimed but because the prime aim of those responsible for this despicable crime is to create panic and terror. Those responsible are the new fascists," their editorial says.

The problem, the editors stress, lies within Saudi Arabia.

The presence of al Qaeda operatives in the Saudi capital "was a wake-up call — particularly to those who steadfastly refuse to accept that individual Saudis or Muslims could ever do anything evil, who still cling to the fantasy that Sept. 11 and all the other attacks laid at the doors of terrorists who happen to be Arab or Muslim were in fact the work of the Israelis or the CIA.

"We can no longer ignore that we have a nest of vipers here, hoping that by doing so they will go away," they continue. "They will not. They are our problem and we all their targets now."

The problem, the Arab News editors believe, is not U.S. policy in the region.

"There is much in U.S. policy to condemn; there are many aspects of Western society that offend — and where necessary, Arab governments condemn. But anti-Americanism and anti-Westernism for their own sake are crude, ignorant and destructive. They create hate. They must end. Otherwise there will be more barbarities."

In Kuwait, Ahmed Al-Jarallah, editor in chief of the Arab Times, is calling for Arabs to put aside politics and support the U.S. war on terrorism.

"The war on terror is an international war, which has no other goal but to eliminate terrorists and those who perpetrate them. It should not be understood as a war for dominance and occupation," Jarallah says.

As for the motives of the bombers, Jarallah says their target was the Saudi ruling family.

"What are the motives behind the blasts in Riyadh? Are these for Jihad? Are these meant to eject Americans from the Arabian Peninsula? We do not believe so because Americans have already left," he writes. "Indeed, such acts of terror are meant to take over the ruling power and nothing else. "

In an editorial entitled "Resolute on Terror," the Gulf News, based in the United Arab Emirates, condemned the bombing, saying, "There is no supposed political argument that can justify such an act. If there is a political cause driving the people behind these killings, it has lost all credibility."

The online daily, which opposed the war in Iraq, noted that Secretary of State Colin Powell arrived in Saudi Arabia just hours after the explosions and "used his visit and the unfortunate coincidence of the attacks to emphasise resolutely that the war against terror will continue."

But along with this expression of support for U.S. leadership came in a companion editorial, Irresolute on Israel, chastizing Washington for being less firm in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Powell's firm resolution deserted him when he passed through Israel and Palestine earlier in the week," the editors write.

"The 'roadmap,' the plan to move towards peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, did not get the start it needs when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon did not accept the plan. Powell appeared to accept this situation when he noted that there was 'sufficient agreement' to move ahead with the plan, despite Israel's refusal to accept it."

In Lebanon, the editors of the Daily Star declare that "the people responsible for the bombings in Saudi Arabia overnight deserve nothing but contempt, especially from Arabs and Muslims."

The independent daily seeks to distinguish between the bombers in Saudi Arabia and Palestinian suicide bombers.

The targeting targeting of civilians for political violence "is always wrong, but at least some of its practitioners have both an address and clear connections to a legitimate struggle for national liberation," the Daily Star argues. "Palestinian militants, for instance, make a terrible mistake every time they send suicide bombers to attack civilians instead of soldiers. Misguided though their efforts may be, however, everyone knows what they are fighting and how to communicate with them in hopes of addressing the grievances that motivate them."

The Saudi bombers, by contrast, have no discernible agenda, the paper says, with the effect of their actions only undermining the Arab world.

The victims were "Westerners who wanted to live and work among Arabs, people who would have gone home with anecdotes of hospitality and grassroots 'dialogue,' steadily chipping away at the stereotypes that make so many of their compatriots see the Middle East as a wellspring of fanaticism."

The paper calls on Islamic leaders to speak up: "It would be nice to hear a few pre-emptive pronouncements from leading Muslim scholars to the effect that while no one can stop a common criminal from debasing himself and his religion, depravity should find no support among decent people of any faith."

Meanwhile in England, friends and relatives of six Britons imprisoned in Saudi Arabia say the attacks further their case that their loved ones have been wrongly convicted, according to the BBC.

"The men were jailed in 2001 after some of them publicly admitted taking part in a bombing campaign which killed another Briton.

"Their families have long alleged their confessions were false and were beaten out of them. They say the Saudi authorities have 'concocted' the motive of a feud between alcohol bootlegging gangs," the BBC reports.

Monday's suicide bombings "have added to fears the Britons have been used as scapegoats by a regime which did not want to admit that Islamic terror groups might be to blame."