April 26, 2002 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 92

The Arab Leadership and Media on Powell's Middle East Trip

April 26, 2002
Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 92
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent trip to the Middle East was fraught with difficulties. The following is a review of reactions to his trip by the Arab leadership and press:

The Palestinian Reaction
The London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat quoted a "reliable Palestinian source" concerning Powell's first meeting with Yasser Arafat: Arafat began the meeting with a long speech focusing on "massacres being carried out by Israel… and the massive demonstrations in Arab countries and worldwide." Arafat maintained that a Japanese citizen had committed suicide in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

In reply, Powell told Arafat, "…Let's be frank. You are a general, and I am a general. Generals must be clear, direct, and practical. The Japanese [person] who committed suicide is already dead. Demonstrations are demonstrations. I say to you frankly: If you do not move ahead, nothing will happen. But if you comply with the international desire to fight terror, many things will happen."[1]

After Powell left the Middle East, the Palestine News Agency (WAFA) published an editorial headlined "The American Mailman," expressing disappointment with Powell and the U.S. administration in general:

"Powell did nothing. He was completely committed to the Israeli point of view and did not deviate from it. He was always cautious, even on the issue of the Israeli withdrawals that should have taken place if the American president, Powell himself, and Miss Genius Condoleezza had kept their word!…" [2]

Leading Palestinian Authority officials were more critical. Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Ereqat spoke of threatening American interests in the region. He stated that President Bush's support for Israel would continue "as long as President Bush is certain that American interests in Arab countries will not be harmed – and I refer to bilateral agreements with Arab countries on fighting terror, military agreements, and the American military presence in Arab countries… This also goes for American economic interests, American companies, their oil resources, etc. – none of these are harmed. Why, then, do we wonder when President Bush says such things? …"[3]

The Syrian and Lebanese Reaction
Following his meeting with Powell on April 15, 2002, Syrian President Bashar Assad issued a statement arguing that the American demand to condemn suicide attacks was "a waste of time" because "Martyrdom operations [i.e. suicide attacks] are an outcome, not a cause, of what is happening; they are a response to the Israeli actions. Since hundreds of millions of people throughout the Arab and Islamic world support these operations, - condemning them has no effect on reality. It is better to remove the cause than waste time opposing these operations...."[4]

In Damascus, 300 demonstrating students shouted, "Colin Powell Go Back [Home]," "Syria Will Not Surrender," and "Colin Powell Out – The Intifada Will Continue."[5] In Lebanon, too, Powell heard no word of condemnation for the suicide attacks. On the contrary: The Lebanese stressed that Hizbullah's firing on Israeli targets across the Blue Line set by the UN following Israel's withdrawal – was not terrorism, but 'legitimate resistance.' Powell was greeted by a series of demonstrations and calls of "Death to America," "Death to Israel," and "The Lebanese People Does Not Welcome Powell."

"[T]wo Lebanese Attorneys, Muhammad Talal Adib and Nabil Al-Halabi, demanded that the Lebanese attorney-general arrest the American secretary of state - regardless of his diplomatic immunity – or, alternately, deport him because he had carried out crimes against humanity and participated in the murder of civilians and military personnel and in destroying civilian infrastructures in Lebanon… and because he seeks to restrict the right of the Lebanese resistance to bring about liberation."[6]

The Egyptian Reaction
Secretary Powell's planned meeting with President Hosni Mubarak was cancelled by the Egyptian government, and Powell had to settle for meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher. At a press conference in Jerusalem on his last day in the region, Powell was asked what Mubarak's cancellation meant. He replied: "I was going to meet with President Mubarak, but I hear he is indisposed, so I will be meeting with the foreign minister. I spoke to President Mubarak the night before last, so don't read anything into the cancellation."[7]

But the Egyptian government press stressed that the cancellation was aimed at conveying a message to the Americans. Galal Duweidar, editor-in-chief of the Egyptian government daily Al-Akhbar, wrote an article titled "No to Powell's Provocation and to the Clear American Bias in Favor of Israel": "President Mubarak did well, as a statesman and as a national and Pan-Arab leader, to pass Powell's request to meet with him on to Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher, in order to express the fact that the president is too great to listen to more runaround and provocation, and to solutions based on the overt and obvious [American] bias in favor of the Israeli aggression…"

"…The problem with Bush and his administration is that they do not want to understand that there is a difference between the attacks on Washington and New York on September 11, and what the Palestinians are doing in the occupied lands. The U.S. is not occupying the land of the terrorists who attacked it, and therefore the entire world condemned their acts… [W]hat the Palestinians are doing against the Israelis constitutes legitimate resistance and struggle… Washington, which terrorizes anyone who criticizes the crimes of Israel, accusing them of antisemitism born of Hitlerian Nazism, stands idly by, even supporting the Nazi crimes of Israel, which surpass every kind of Nazism the world has ever known."[8]

Samir Ragab, editor-in-chief of Egypt's government daily Al-Gumhuriya, ] wrote at length against Powell and his role in the region: "As a result of all this frustration and the obscurity of views, has President Mubarak reached the conclusion that Powell's 'shuttling' has not led to the hoped-for result, which would have allowed him [Mubarak] to meet with Powell? In my opinion, this was the case."[9]

Continued Support for Martyrdom/Suicide Attacks
At the same time, Egypt's government newspapers continued to express unqualified support for suicide attacks, sometimes even encouraging the Palestinians to broaden their scope. At the conclusion of Powell's trip, Ragab wrote, "The [Palestinians] must expand their suicide operations and intensify the violence of their attacks against everything 'Jewish.' All Islam's clerics, from the various schools, have stated that these operations lead to Paradise. That is, they are not dead, but go on living with their Lord."

"Conditions are obviously not in their favor, due to the tightening of the suffocating grip on their brave 'operatives' and the establishment of 'isolation' roadblocks and barbed wire fences around the [Jewish] settlements, cities and villages. But there is no dispute that each fedaai [martyrdom] operation now will resonate. If America and Israel view [these activists] as 'terrorists,' that's their business… [T]he word of Allah will still be supreme. Woe betide the aggressors and the sinners who gnaw at both dead and living flesh. Their punishment is hell, and they will reach the fire [of hell] in this world and in the world to come."[10]

Al-Akhbar columnist, Mahmoud 'Abd Al-Mun'im Murrad wrote of the frustration caused by America's demand that the Arabs condemn suicide attacks: "…The most recent invention of the Israelis, the Americans, and the Europeans, is to ban suicide by Palestinians – their martyrdom – because killing oneself is forbidden. They must not kill themselves in martyrdom operations; they must leave the job to the blood-letter Sharon, because the killing of the Palestinians, collectively and individually, is a matter within his area of jurisdiction alone…"

"At first, I was struck by a cruel, idiotic, and false happiness when I heard in the media that the meeting of the American, Russian, European, and UN representatives [a reference to the Madrid Declaration] all demanded that Israel withdraw immediately from the occupied Palestinian land and cities… But at the same time they demanded from the Arab side in general, and from the Palestinians in particular, [prevention of] martyrdom operations and to prohibit killing oneself as a means of expressing the sense of injustice and allowing their brothers a life of honor… These calls are ostensibly humane and just, but in effect they express bias in favor of the West and the Jews at the expense of the Arabs and the Muslims…"[11]

An Al-Akhbar editorial focused on female suicide bombers: "…There have been some 200 martyrdom operations; they stressed that the Palestinian people would not surrender until its land was liberated from the defilement of the occupation, and that it would continue to struggle even if everyone else renounced it…"

"…All martyrs preferred dying a martyr's death to living with the invading Nazi Jews… They struck horror into the hearts of the Zionists, who live in fear, afraid to patronize cafes, shopping centers, and public places. Also, the rate of Israeli soldiers and officers who evade military service has increased… The Jews, murderers of the prophets, killed the children in cold blood… Blessings to all the martyrs of the Intifada, and the young girls [who carried out] martyrdom operations – Wafa, Darin, and Ayat – and to all those who prefer martyrdom to Sharon's threats."[12]

Al-Ahram columnist Fahmi Huweidi rebutted columnists in the West who claimed that suicide attacks express Islamic culture's contempt for human life: "…No one can teach Islamic culture about respect for human life… The Hadith [Islamic Tradition] says that anyone who kills [even] an animal unjustly or not for a [vital] interest commits a sin for which he will be punished on Judgment Day – let alone killing a man… How, then, can it be said that the Muslims hold human life in contempt …"[13]

"But the Islamic culture does not defend any life – only life governed by truth, justice, and freedom, life in which the individual has a sense of strength and honor… For this reason, the military Jihad sees everyone who dies defending right[s], justice, and honor as a martyr and a mujahid [Jihad Warrior] for the sake of Allah… The Hadiths say that of all the dwellers of Paradise, only the martyr wishes to return to this world in order to be martyred again and again 10 times…"[14]

Condemnation of Suicide Attacks
While the overwhelming majority of the Arabic press supports suicide attacks, the London-based Arabic newspapers – with the exception of the more extreme Al-Quds Al-Arabi – feature articles condemning suicide attacks. The Saudi-owned London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, which was the first to use the term "suicide operations" instead of the more accepted "martyrdom operations" in its news reporting, published an article by columnist 'Ali Ibrahim that read: "…No one can deny that these operations have caused heavy damage to the Palestinians with regard to world public opinion's support for their cause… Even those supporting and encouraging these operations have been forced to defend themselves morally every time children, women, or even Israeli Arabs were killed. Even if we assume that what is happening now is a real war in response to [Israeli] aggression, and that the Palestinian people has the right to resistance, including armed resistance, we must accept that this war also has rules, and that the most important rule is not to intentionally harm civilians. There is no argument that the Israeli army has violated these rules… but the response must be exposing it and acting to judge those [Israelis] responsible for it."[15]

Another article condemning suicide (martyrdom) attacks, by Lebanese columnist Wadhdhah Shararah, appeared in Al-Hayat.[16] The Lebanese Christian daily Al-Nahar recently published three articles critical of the suicide attacks.

[1] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), April 18, 2002.

[2] WAFA (Palestinian News Agency), April 17, 2002.

[3] Al-Jazeera Television (Qatar), April 18, 2002.

[4] Al-Hayat (London), April 16, 2002.

[5] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), April 16, 2002.

[6] Al-Hayat (London), April 16, 2002.


[8] Al-Akhbar (Egypt), April 18, 2002.

[9] Al-Gumhuriya (Egypt), April 18, 2002.

[10] Al-Gumhuriya (Egypt), April 17, 2002.

[11] Al-Akhbar (Egypt), April 12, 2002.

[12] Al-Akhbar (Egypt), April 11, 2002.

[13] Al-Ahram (Egypt), April 16, 2002.

[14] Al-Ahram (Egypt), April 16, 2002.

[15] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (Egypt), April 18, 2002.

[16] Al-Hayat (London), April 10, 2002.

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