Wave of Muslim Fury Sweeps Middle East

News Telegram, U.K.

By Gerald Butt and David Blair (Filed: 27/03/2003)

Fuelled by graphic television pictures of wounded Iraqi civilians and text messages on mobile phones,a tidal wave of fury against Britain and America is sweeping the Arab world.

In Jordan, traditionally the most moderate and tolerant of Arab countries, people are leaving work early and paying obsessive attention to al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite channel. Its coverage of civilian casualties inflicted by the air raids on Baghdad has struck a particular chord. Pictures shown on Tuesday night of a wounded child have made an indelible impact.

"The whole British and American aggression against Iraq is evil, but the thing I can't get out of my head is the picture of the little boy who died in Baghdad," said Khalid Ramadan, 48, an engineer in the Jordanian capital, Amman. "The picture of that child resembles the bloody hands of Bush and Blair." Newspapers are echoing these sentiments across the Arab world. The Algerian daily, el-Kha, said young men were rushing to volunteer to defend Iraq. Beside a front-page picture of SaddamHussein, el-Kha carried the headline: "The American and British forces become bogged down in Iraq." Technology has fuelled the passage of emotive messages about Iraq's plight. In Jordan, text messages are being constantly transmitted. In the space of yesterday morning alone, one Jordanian journalist received three messages. One sent under the name "Baghdad" read: "I don't ask you for bread or guns. I only ask for your grief, because I am burning." Another text message that began on the mobile phones of Amman and is spreading throughout the Arab world says: "They have hit us with missiles from Apaches. Where are you, Arab masses? Will you help us?"

Countless expressions of sympathy and anger are particularly significant in countries such as Jordan and Saudi Arabia, whose governments are quietly supporting the Anglo-American offensive.

Nonetheless, several Saudi newspapers gave front-page prominence yesterday to a photograph of Iraqis jubilantly swarming over a downed Apache helicopter. Okaz, a Saudi daily newspaper, said an attack on an Arab state by outside powers was bound to engender Arab sympathy. "The firm position of Saudi Arabia is to oppose the military aggression," the paper claimed.

Al-Riyadh, which often reflects Saudi government thinking, maintains that America's overriding aim is to seize Iraq's oil. The paper carried a cartoon of President George W Bush pouring blood and human limbs into a barrel - with oil coming out of a tap. All these images have led Arabs with no sympathy for Saddam to rally behind his regime. "I acknowledge that Saddam is a dictator," said isham Bustani, a 27-year-old dentist in Amman. "But at the moment, I am with Saddam against the imperialist aggression. "You will not find a single person here who feels differently. We are against the aggression not out of any particular sympathy with the Iraqi regime but because it violates the territory of the Arab nation and Islam."

One country is dramatically out of step with these sentiments. Kuwait is the only Arab state to support the war publicly. Its commentators plaintively accuse al-Jazeera and other satellite channels of stirring up support for Saddam.

In the pan-Arab Ashsharq al-Awsat, Ahmad al-Rubai, a Kuwaiti MP, said Arab television stations were unquestioningly repeating Iraqi propaganda. Western journalists with the coalition forces were reporting the facts as they saw them "without any tone of heroics or even support for the allied armies". Amid a sea of anger, Kuwait is a lonely voice.