The Global View: Arab Media

The English-language Arabic media weighs in on President Bush's re-election bid and the Republican Convention.

| Thu Sep. 2, 2004 3:00 AM EDT

To say that President George W. Bush is unpopular in the Arab world, and that Arabs have more than a passing interest in the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, is to state the obvious. So we thought it would be interesting to see what Al Jazeera and other English-language Arabic media have been saying about Bush's reelection bid and the festivities in the Big Apple.

As during the Democratic Convention, Al Jazeera's website is not the way to go if you're after unconventional convention coverage. In fact, the sole exception to the wire stories it has been running was a piece on a Zogby survey finding that many New Yorkers believe the government had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks, but did not act to prevent them. As Al Jazeera reports:

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"Half (49.3%) of New York City residents and 41% of New York state citizens say some US leaders 'knew in advance that attacks were planned on or around 11 September 2001, and that they consciously failed to act.'
According to the poll, 66% in New York would like to see a new probe into the 'still unanswered questions' surrounding the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon."

The Egyptian Al Ahram urges Arab-Americans, who voted overwhelmingly for Bush during the last election, to cast their ballots for Ralph Nader—the independent candidate of Lebanese descent—this time around. Arab-American voters, it says, should feel betrayed by the Bush administration for its invasion of Iraq, the Patriot Act, and its unqualified support for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, but the paper goes on to argue that there are no substantial differences between Bush and Kerry on these issues. (Which is a questionable reading, shall we say.) Mobilizing for Kerry, therefore, would be a signal that the Arab-American vote could be won without concessions on policy positions that matter most to Arab-Americans—an unwise political move. As Al Ahram concludes:

"Supporting Nader, therefore, whose platform is the only one that responds to Arab-American interests and positions on Palestine, Iraq, civil liberties and world-wide respect for international law, would not only be an act of conscience but an exercise in self-assertion and the only demonstration of electoral strength as well. Far from being a 'wasted' vote, it would constitute the initial necessary investment in a long and continuing process designed to keep all future candidates apprised of the actual worth of the Arab-American vote."

In his Lebanese Daily Star commentary, Patrick Seale blames British Prime Minister Tony Blair for failing to restrain George W. Bush and argues that the way to address Islamic terrorism is through a fundamental, long-overdue overhaul of U.S. foreign policy:

"At the heart of America's failure lies the administration's refusal to recognize that the contemporary roots of Islamic terror are to be found in American policies. Although the whole world sees terrorism as essentially a response to US policy, senior American officials—and particularly the neoconservative friends of Israel among them—angrily reject any such link. For them, hostility to the US is the product of backward Muslim societies, 'failed states' and an inherently violent religion. It has nothing to do, they argue, with America's wars or Israel's brutal occupation. More effort should be made, they say, explaining American values to Muslim opinion!
The committee investigating the Sept. 11 attacks recommended that the US government provide 'much larger resources' to support broadcasts to Muslim audiences; rebuild scholarship and exchange programs; help fight high illiteracy in the Middle East; do more to encourage economic development and trade—in fact do every thing except change American policies!"

This week's Pentagon spy scandal provided fodder for the "Jews are running the Bush administration and plotting to take over the world" crowd. A refresher: the FBI suspects that Lawrence Franklin—an analyst in the office of Douglas Feith, the undersecretary for policy at the Defense Department—passed on information about Iran to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. If AIPAC passed on the information to Israeli intelligence, a claim that both AIPAC and the Israeli government have so far denied, this will be the first confirmed case of Israeli spying on the U.S. since the 1985 Jonathan Pollard case. The Syria Times did a press roundup of its own:

"Jordanian daily al-Doustour has stressed that the case of the new Israeli spy in the United States proves to the American people that most of the troubles in the world can be attributed to the presence of Zionists at all the influential centres of the US Foreign Policy."

The Dubai-based Gulf News alleged that the "latest spy scandal provides proof of the role Israel is playing in prodding America into another military adventure in Iran and possibly Syria." The Yemen Times, meanwhile saw evidence of Israeli hubris in planting a spy in the first place, arguing that the Bush administration does everything Israel want to as it is:

"The White House and most of the neo-con clique have gone out of their way in accommodating Israel, not just in terms of policy adjustments that suit Israeli whims, but even to the extent of engaging the United States in a senseless war in Iraq…
Yet, in all likelihood, Israel will get away with it, just as it did in the Pollard case (the Israelis have aggressively lobbied all the US Presidents since then for the release of Pollard, so he can be given a well-deserved hero's welcome as one Israel's finest). As for AIPAC, in all likelihood, it will continue diligently coordinating with probably hundreds of Israeli agents implanted throughout the US Government, to whom the FBI has yet to expose."

With Michael Moore's anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 in theatres throughout the Middle East, the Saudi Arab News noted the filmmaker's unwelcome presence at the Republican National Convention, which he is covering for USA Today. After Senator John McCain criticized Moore for failing to acknowledge that Saddam Hussein regime was brutal and a threat to the United States, the party faithful broke out into chants of "four more years" for the Bush administration. In turn, Arab News gleefully reports:

"Moore responded by holding up two fingers, saying, 'two more months,' then tipped his hat in acknowledgement to McCain's address, gave a wave and held up his hand in the shape of an L, for loser as the boos rose around him. Some delegates and their guests also took his photo."
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