Middle East papers focused Monday on protests in several world cities against an Iraq war. Beirut’s Daily Star published a front-page photograph of demonstrators in Washington, D.C., holding up the inevitable “No blood for oil” placard, oblivious to the fact that, at current prices, oil costs more than blood.
In its editorial, the Star, referring to the Bush administration’s growing isolation on Iraq and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s recent dismissal of the quartet of mediators advancing a “road map” to peace between Israelis and Palestinians, rails against American and Israeli unilateralism. Sounding the ecumenical note, the paper advised, “Those who truly want to avoid further turbulence in the Middle East have to stop seeing themselves as Americans, Iraqis, Palestinians and Israelis. … What is required is a new alliance of those who prefer trust to suspicion, cooperation to conflagration, and negotiation to annihilation.”
The paper’s appeal notwithstanding, conflagration seems increasingly likely in Iraq, despite a shift in the Bush administration’s position on Saddam Hussein’s departure from power. The London-based Saudi papers Al-Sharq Al-Awsat and Al-Hayat both lead with stories on U.S. recommendations that Saddam leave voluntarily, with Al-Sharq Al-Awsat noting a key novelty: “For the first time, [U.S. officials have] indicated a willingness to not legally pursue the Iraqi leader and his senior aides if they leave Iraq.” On ABC’s This Week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stated, “To avoid a war, I would personally recommend that some provision be made so that the senior leadership in that country and their families could be provided haven in some other country. I think that that would be a fair trade to avoid a war.”
Whether allowing Saddam out also means granting him immunity from prosecution, as the Saudis reportedly would prefer, remains to be seen. Such a move is bound to be controversial. Nor were the statements of U.S. officials as explicit as some papers believed. London’s Guardian published a story precipitously titled, “US offers immunity to Saddam.”
The focus on Iraq has drawn attention away from the rogues who arguably put an Iraq war in motion: the men from al-Qaida. On Sunday, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat published portions of a letter purportedly written by Osama Bin Laden, where he asks divided Muslim groups to unite, because “the current situation Muslims are living in requires a deployment of all efforts to fight the Islamic battle against the crusader coalition, which has revealed its real, evil intentions.” This is apparently the first time that Bin Laden (if he was the author) has set himself up as a unifier of disparate militant Islamist groups.
The police raid on a London mosque in the early hours of Monday morning happened too late for most Arabic papers. Around 150 policemen took over a mosque in Finsbury Park, arresting seven people. However, in a front-page story, Al-Hayat highlighted London police chief Sir John Stevens’ disclosure on Sky News Sunday that al-Qaida militants are operating in the United Kingdom and are collaborating with other terrorist groups inside the country—an apparent reference to the Algerians allegedly responsible for developing ricin poison. For Al-Hayat, this represented “unique recognition from a British official of such high rank that cells established by Osama Bin Laden’s partisans exist in his country.”
Bahraini commentator Abdulhadi Khalaf wrote in Beirut’s Daily Star, “Sooner or later the United States, the mightiest power on earth, will undoubtedly defeat al-Qaida.” Khalaf is less certain of America’s ability to win the “war on terror.” The problem is both semantic and structural: Khalaf resurrects the phrase “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter” to argue that the United States cannot easily defeat an enemy it can’t even properly define. Structurally, Khalaf argues that American global domination, and the animosity this provokes, will ceaselessly spawn countless groups—”the weak and humiliated in the global village”—opposed to the United States.
Meanwhile, several papers ran an Agence France Press wire report that Tawfik Mathlouthi, a Franco-Tunisian journalist, has established Mecca-Cola, a “politicized soft drink,” which he is just beginning to market in the Middle East. A portion of the revenues will go to helping Palestinians. Mathlouthi says he admires the United States but also sees his new drink as “a means of fighting American hegemony.” The weak and humiliated in the global village may have found their beverage of choice.