February 7, 2017 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1299

Arab World Split Over President Trump's Executive Order Suspending Entry Of Citizens From Arab And Islamic Countries Into The U.S.

February 7, 2017 | By N. Mozes*
Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1299


On January 27, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order titled "Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States," which temporarily halts the entry of foreign nationals from seven Muslim countries, six of them Arab: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, and Yemen. The executive order sparked debate and disagreement in the Arab world, revealing the extent of the division that exists there surrounding the decision.

On the official level, there has been no collective response to the executive order from Arab countries, and Mahmoud 'Afifi, Arab League secretary-general Ahmed Abu Al-Gheit's spokesman, merely issued a moderate and cautious statement Several countries refrained from commenting on the order altogether, likely wishing to maintain good relations with the new U.S. administration. The countries that did criticize it, led by Iraq, did so cautiously and with restraint, especially in comparison to the criticism of the order by Mexico and Iran.

The broad range of official reactions was also reflected in numerous articles in both the official and unofficial press in several Arab countries.

This report will review these official reactions as well as articles from the Arab press reacting to President Trump's executive order:

No Collective Response By Arab Countries

As noted, the Arab countries issued no collective statement regarding President Trump's executive order; it appears that they are divided on the issue, each for its own reasons, and would also rather maintain good relations with the new administration. Some major countries such as Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan – whose King Abdullah was the first Arab leader to meet with President Trump after his inauguration – also refrained from commenting on it altogether.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, which seeks to stake its claim as leader of the Arab and Islamic world, as well as the UAE, supported the executive order, calling it a sovereign decision that is not aimed against Islam. Saudi Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falikh told the BBC: "It is the U.S.'s right to ensure the security of its people."[1] UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh 'Abdallah bin Zaid Al-Nahian said: "Countries undoubtedly have the right to make sovereign decisions. The U.S. made a move as part of these sovereign decisions. There is an attempt to give the impression that this executive order targets a certain religion. This is not true."[2] This support from these two countries seemingly derives from the executive order's inclusion of Iran, with whom their relations are very tense, their own exclusion from the order, and also emanates from a desire to maintain good relations with the new administration.

Even countries that openly opposed the executive order were cautious and restrained in doing so, focusing on the damage it would do to citizens of their own specific country rather than to other impacted countries, and stressing their cooperation with the U.S. in the struggle against terrorism. The main thrust of the criticism from these countries was to call on Trump to reexamine his position.

Chief among the opposing countries was Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi stressed his country's cooperation with the U.S. in the struggle against terrorism, and said: "President Trump's decisions are wrong, and they harm the Iraqis who are fighting terrorism. We want to hunt down the terrorists and their funds, not hold their victims accountable and punish them. I hope Trump's decisions will be rectified. We have options, and we are looking into them. The struggle against terrorism is a strategic goal, and I am working to find a solution that will lead to a reversal of Trump's decisions." He clarified that he would not accept the Iraqi parliament's recommendations for a reciprocal move preventing Americans from entering Iraq.[3]

Qatar – a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Trump administration is reportedly considering defining as a terrorist organization – settled for issuing a restrained statement. Foreign Minister Muhammad bin 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Thani said that the Islamic countries cannot be considered a source of terrorism, and called on Trump to reconsider his executive order.[4]

In its statement, the Sudanese Foreign Ministry expressed displeasure that Sudanese citizens were included in the executive order, but stressed that it would continue to cooperate with the U.S. in the struggle against terrorism.[5]

Yemen's Foreign Ministry also said, in a low-key statement, that Yemen is suffering from and fighting terrorism, and that "decisions such as these support the position of extremists and create division."[6]

The Arab League and Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) was also cautious. Mahmoud 'Afifi, spokesman for Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Abu Al-Gheit, said that the secretary-general had expressed "deep concern" with the executive order and that he was calling on President Trump to reevaluate it. The statement also expressed concern at the ban on Syrian refugees entering the U.S. and "the signs that indicate that religious criteria could be used" to determine which refugees would be allowed in.[7] Separately, the OIC expressed its apprehensions that "these selective and discriminatory measures, which will escalate extremist discourse and empower those who preach violence and terrorism, are being taken at a critical time when the OIC is seriously working with all its partners, including the U.S., in the struggle against extremism and terrorism."[8]

Criticism Of Arab Officials' Silence

The conspicuous silence of most Arab officials regarding Trump's executive order evoked considerable criticism in the Arab world, especially as it contrasted with the harsh condemnation by social activists, politicians, and jurists within the U.S. itself as well as by the leaders of Mexico, Iran, and several European countries. The main argument in the Arab press was that the lack of response from Arab leaders, and the support for the order expressed by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, were another reflection of the Arab weakness that would only lead to further harm to them.

'Abd Al-Bari 'Atwan, founder and editor of the online daily Rai Al-Yawm, criticized the absence of a collective official Arab position on the executive order despite the fact that six of the countries targeted by it are Arab. In a series of articles in the daily, 'Atwan condemned Saudi Arabia and the UAE for supporting the order and the rest of the Arab countries for failing to denounce it firmly as had Mexico, Iran, and some European countries, as well as politicians and citizens in the U.S. itself. He said that this response reflected Arab weakness and an attempt to appease the new U.S. administration, which would only encourage it to be harsher towards the Arab countries.

He wrote: "We did not expect that Donald Trump's racist decisions to prevent citizens of seven Arab countries from entering the U.S. would be supported by two Arab countries, Saudi Arabia and the UAE... Saudi Oil Minister [Khalid] Al-Falih... defended the U.S.'s right to put an end to the dangers threatening its people, while pretending to forget that the perpetrators of the terror attacks against the U.S. did not come from Sudan, Iraq or Somalia, which are on the seven-state list along with Iran, but actually from Saudi Arabia itself, which is not on this list. We do not deny that Muslims have carried out terror in the U.S. But should all Muslim countries prevent Canadians from entering them because a Canadian terrorist attacked a mosque in Quebec [on January 30, 2017], firing at worshipers and killing many of them?

"It saddens, embitters, and pains us to see non-Muslims defending Muslims in the face of [Trump's] racist and arbitrary decisions while Arab countries support them, whether on the pretext of self-defense or on the pretext of sovereignty."[9]

In another article, 'Atwan praised Mexico's firm response to the executive order and called this firmness "the reason that the U.S. does not intervene militarily in any country except our countries, [in an attempt] to fragment them geographically and demographically and sow in them seeds of future sectarian wars, [and the reason] it finds tools to carry out [its plans]."[10] He added: "Whining and accusations will in no way win [us] respect or even a minimum of sympathy, and will never motivate Trump to change his racist positions that brought him to the White House. What does deter racists and inspires respect in them is action, the action of real men. But where are [these men]? Please show us where to find them."[11]

The London-based Qatari daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi called Trump's executive order illogical from both the political and the security standpoint, and asked whether he would have made such a decision had he thought that Arab countries would do the same against U.S. American citizens. It wrote: "Trump did not base his decision on actual considerations or specific facts that show political or security logic in it, since he cannot point to a single case in which a citizen of one of the countries [whose citizens he] banned was involved in terrorist activity... This decision was tailor-made for citizens of countries that cannot build golf courses for Trump's company or book rooms in his hotels, or [alternatively] threaten to withdraw their currency reserves [from the U.S.]. This begs a simple question: If Arab countries (or the influential ones among them) could treat American citizens in this way, would Trump still have released his decision?"[12]

'Abd Al-Nasser Salama, a columnist for the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, called for popular Arab and Muslim action against what he called the danger posed by Trump, in the absence of any official Arab condemnation. He wrote: "I was hoping for official statements and active positions condemning the moves of the U.S. president, because, contrary to what some people think, we in Egypt are not immune to [harm from] these moves. We heard the White House spokesman stress that Saudi Arabia, and in particular Egypt, may soon be included in the list of countries designated by Trump, [whose citizens] are prohibited from entering the U.S... [This decision reflects] a racist approach even more than a religious or sectarian one, and it completely corresponds to the Nazi and fascist approaches, and other such approaches, that caused the death of 50 million people in two world wars... This is a grave danger that requires a general diplomatic mobilization, on the level of [convening] an Arab or Islamic summit to determine how to deal with or respond to such moves. But in the absence of leaders who can be relied upon [to do this], public diplomacy may play a role, by means of professional syndicates and NGOs who will contact their counterparts abroad, especially in the U.S., at least in order to thank them [for their anti-Trump position] and to convey a firm message supporting their position..."[13]

(Al-Ghad, Jordan, January 30, 2017)

Saudi Columnist Responds: "Saudi Arabia First"

Hamoud Abu Taleb, a columnist for the Saudi daily 'Okaz, defended the Saudi position that seeks to maintain good relations with the U.S. despite Trump's decisions in various matters. He wrote under the headline "Saudi Arabia First": "We know full well that the U.N. and the extremist Muslims who are biased [against Saudi Arabia], as a matter of organizational and political policy will raise their voices and condemn the important ties between Trump and [Saudi] King Salman. As a pretext, they will cite Trump's ban on the entry of refugees and citizens from seven Muslim countries [into the U.S.], especially in light of his administration's trend towards designating the Muslim Brotherhood – the main incubator of all brands of terror – as a terror organization. They will accuse Saudi Arabia of treason and submission to the U.S., as the pan-Arabists and leftists used to do before them. But these [voices] are more despicable, since they play on religious sentiments and manipulate [the religion] everywhere, to serve their political plan. [But] they and others like them do not interest us... At this stage it might be reasonable and rational of us to say 'Saudi Arabia first' – for we assumed responsibility for the problems of many others, and they conspired against us or abandoned us."[14]

Arab Columnists: A Racist Decision Targeting Muslims, Arabs

Alongside the articles condemning the Arab silence were many condemning the executive order itself. The main argument was that the order had no security or political rationale, and constituted collective punishment of Muslims and Arabs for crimes committed by a tiny minority.

Salah Al-Qallab, former Jordanian information minister and columnist for the official Jordanian daily Al-Rai, wrote: "Even if Trump swears on all he holds dear that suspending entry into his country for citizens from seven [Muslim] nations is not aimed against Muslims, no one will believe him, because he probably doesn't even believe it himself... All the affected countries except Iran are Arab countries, including Iraq, which still hosts an active American military and political presence. This [move] can only be explained as an attack on Arabs as Arabs, which could cause most residents of this vital region – which is considered a region of American strategic interests – to feel that this superpower that is supposed to be their friend is treating them like a hostile people and nation, in addition to its hostility towards them as Muslims..."

Along with emphasizing that there is no justification for terrorism, Al-Qallab noted that those perpetrating the attacks in the West were, generally speaking, "the descendants of those who were burned by the fire of Western imperialism, and particularly by French colonialism... It is this generation that ISIS has managed to infiltrate – a generation whose only way to avenge itself and its family, country, and people is to commit these heinous crimes of terrorism, which are absolutely unjustifiable..."[15]

Trump targets "Islam" (Al-Arab, London, January 31, 2017)

The Decision Serves ISIS And Al-Qaeda, And Will Fan The Flames Of Terrorism

Another argument was that the executive order would only increase hatred for the U.S. and fan the flames of terrorism. The online daily Rai Al-Youm's January 26 editorial warned that this Trump policy "will make the U.S. a magnet for terrorist actions against it, and increase Muslims' hatred of it, and perhaps global hatred of it as well. This means that [this policy] will have the exact opposite of the desired effect in terms of the threat to the security of the U.S. and its citizens, both in the country and around the world. Showing all this hatred and hostility towards Islam and Muslims serves ISIS and Al-Qaeda, and will make it easier for them to recruit thousands of angry Muslim youths and turn them into human bombs..."[16]

'Ali Sa'd Al-Moussa, a columnist for the Saudi daily Al-Watan, wrote that the executive order is in line with the ideology of terrorist organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Under the headline "The Fatwa of Sheikh Donald," he wrote: "The decision made by U.S. President Donald Trump at the end of his first week [in office] constitutes swift and surprising compliance with the demand of [Al-Qaeda leaders Osama] bin Laden and [Ayman] Al-Zawahiri, and [ISIS leader] Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, to divide the world into two parts. Donald Trump's ban on the entry of citizens from seven Islamic countries into the U.S. is the implementation of a fatwa by a previous extremist, who banned travel to infidel countries. Thus, the extremist Islamic right corresponds with Trump's right...

Al-Moussa also wondered why the executive order targeted some countries whose citizens had never perpetrated attacks on the U.S., but not other countries whose citizens have done so.[17]

Columnist for the Egyptian daily Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' Sa'id Al-Shahat wrote, under the headline "Trump's Gifts to Terrorism": "Some people here in Egypt practically hung out decorations to celebrate Trump's win in the U.S. presidential elections, because, they said, he is an American president who will take a firm stance against extremism and terrorism and America [under his leadership] will not support the Muslim Brotherhood. Although it is no doubt important that the U.S. fight terror and extremism, [people should realize that] wishful thinking is one thing and reality is another... In my opinion, [Trump's] decision is a slap in the face for anyone who was optimistic about his election... If Trump thinks his decision defends America's domestic [security], the protests inside the U.S. against him, which are increasing from day to day, prove otherwise. [And] if he thinks he is defending the world and purging it of terror, [I say that] the benighted policy of the U.S. towards the countries of the world, especially towards the oppressed countries, is the source of terrorism."[18]

Extremist exclaims "Wow! Thank you!" as Trump hands him the gift of the "travel ban" (Al-Quds Al-Arabi, London, February 1, 2017)

Egyptian Columnists: Egyptians Should Not Rejoice At Trump's Decision, Which Will Ultimately Harm Them Too

Several Egyptian columnists warned the opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood not to get too excited over Trump's promised measures against the organization, because his White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, had said that Egypt and Saudi Arabia would be the next targets for an entry ban. 'Amr Al-Shobaki, a columnist for the Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, warned of the global consequences of Trump's order: "Trump's decisions reflect not only the extent of his hatred of foreigners, chiefly Muslims, but also his superficial and extremist attitude, which can harm not only the Arab world, mostly Egypt, but also the U.S. and the entire world.... Those who cheer for Trump should not be so glad that [his administration aims] to classify the Muslim Brotherhood [as a terrorist organization]... because the entire world has paid a heavy price for those who saw themselves not only as presidents but also as defenders of the correct religion or of white supremacy, and eventually brought woe to their country and to humanity. Trump's plan will do us great damage... We must situate ourselves in a place that is different from any extremist discourse [including Trump's]..."[19]

(Al-Watan, Saudi Arabia, February 1, 2017)

Columnists: The Muslim World Has A Hand In Trump's Decision

Some columnists condemned Trump's policies but at the same time directed most of their criticism at elements within the Arab and Muslim world who, they said, had lay the groundwork for Trump's measures by expressing open hatred towards the U.S. and towards Christian minorities in their own region. Hazem Saghiya, a Lebanese columnist in the London daily Al-Hayat, wrote: "The entire West does not hate Islam and Muslims. That is a total illusion, albeit a useful illusion that is spread by peddlers of religious wars and culture wars. The emotional reactions and condemnations [of Trump] do not detract from the need for active intervention and action [by the Arabs and Muslims] and from the need to ask a fundamental question: What responsibility does the Muslim world bear to halt religious war in the world and then to halt Trumpism?...

"The Islamic world, and especially the Arab world, have done nothing worth mentioning in this area [of separating politics and religion]. And although over 15 years have passed since 9/11, we have not taken a single step along this road. In fact, the opposite is true, as evidenced by what the religious minorities [in the Middle East] have endured in the last years, [atrocities] which Trump is currently trying to exploit by promising to grant privileged status to [members of] Christian minorities from the Middle East [seeking asylum in the U.S.]...

"The region is now entering a horrific stage: tyrannical regimes are sowing the seeds of a complete religionization of public life, and the oppressed societies are responding with a complete willingness [to accept] this religionization. The tyrannical regimes oppress the majorities, and the latter take revenge upon the minorities which support these regimes, seeing them as [their] saviors..."[20]

Tariq Alhomayed, former editor of the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, wrote that while Trump's decision was indefensible, there was no justification whatsoever for Iranian and Islamic fundamentalists to be angry at it, because they have called for attacks on the U.S. for many years. He then asked: "Doesn't Trump's decision constitute proof that our region has failed to attract people who want to live, and therefore they are flocking to America?" Criticizing Islamic elements, primarily Shi'ite, who are attacking Trump's executive order for excluding Saudi Arabia and Egypt, he wrote: "Clearly, just as Trump's election exposed the danger of populism, it also exposed the ugly hypocrisy of those who claim [to be defenders of] rights and resistance [i.e. the Iran-led resistance axis], in particular [the hypocrisy of] the Iranians, who in the past called America 'Satan.'"[21]

Columnists Justify Trump's Decision As An Anti-Terror Measure, Not An Anti-Muslim Measure

On the other hand, many articles, mainly in the Saudi and Egyptian press, supported Trump's order, arguing that it did not target Muslims in general, but only those who constitute a threat to U.S. security. The countries it includes are weak, they maintained, and there can be no security coordination with them in order to prevent terrorists from them arriving in the U.S. Proof of this, they said, was the measures that Trump has taken against non-Muslim countries such as Mexico. Some articles urged Trump to expand the order to include Hizbullah and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Thus, 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, former editor-in-chief of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, wrote: "It cannot be said that Trump is anti-Muslim, and the evidence of this is that he is building a wall to prevent infiltration from his Mexican neighbors, most of whom are Christian. He also promised to deport more than 11 million who are in the U.S. illegally, most of whom are also not Muslim. Trump has banned entry [to the U.S. for citizens from] seven out of 57 Muslim countries, all of which have wars and upheavals and weak leadership. Most countries in the world are slow to issue visas to citizens of these countries, because they do not have regimes capable of security coordination with them. Terrorism is not unique to these countries, but exists also in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and other Muslim countries, and even in Western countries like Belgium, France, Italy, and more. The reason that Muslims in those countries were not included in the list of those for whom visas are denied is that they have central leaderships and security systems with which it is possible to coordinate on intelligence and threat reduction. Trump's moves are not against Muslims or Mexicans, but are being made for American public opinion. He feels that he has made promises to his voters and is trying to fulfill most of his campaign promises..."[22]

The American Fear Of Muslims Is Understandable In Light Of ISIS Atrocities

Several articles also justified American fears of Muslim immigrants because of ISIS and Al-Qaeda, and because of the characteristics of the immigrants in this era. Saudi journalist Muhammad Aal Al-Sheikh wrote, under the headline "Trump Made the Wise and Proper Decision": "The claim that U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to prevent citizens of Iran and six other Arab countries [from entering the U.S.] targets Muslims is incorrect. If the president [wanted] to harm Muslims, he would have first prevented citizens of Saudi Arabia from entering the U.S., since Saudi Arabia is the foremost Muslim country, and its citizens are all Muslims. This clearly proves that the decision is unrelated to Islam or Muslims, but rather concerns defending the U.S. against the infiltration of terrorists pretending to be devout Muslims – large numbers of whom live in the countries whose citizens are included in the ban. Five of the six Arab countries that are included suffer from security chaos and are experiencing oppressive civil wars, making them fertile ground for terrorists. For caution's sake, citizens of these countries are temporarily being prevented from entering the U.S., until administrative restrictions are put in place and aggressive steps are taken to reduce the chances of terrorist infiltration into the U.S. All six of the [Arab] countries whose citizens are temporarily barred from entering the U.S. had legitimate reasons [for inclusion], which are unrelated to religious or racial discrimination, as claimed by the Iranians and those who belong to the brothers' movement, whose members pretend to be devout Muslims [meaning the Muslim Brotherhood]."[23]

Hani Assal, a columnist for the official Egyptian daily Al-Ahram wrote: "... As far as the U.S. is concerned, this is a matter of national security... The ordinary American citizen has justifications, since he does not currently see moderate Islam or moderate Muslims. His view of Islam is poor, as it was shaped by Al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, the 9/11 attacks, and the sights of burning, destruction, and beheadings. Only a few decades ago, first-generation immigrations in the U.S. were a substantial addition to the multiracial American society. They included clerics, engineers, and doctors, and this was also true for all those who came from the Arab and Islamic world [as well]. Today, among the immigrants and refugees coming to the U.S. there are both honest and corrupt people. They include doctors and scientists, but also extremists fleeing [their countries] who prefer to live in an Islamic ghetto isolated from infidel society, and nothing prevents them from one day becoming lone wolves who kill and destroy, or terrorists who blow themselves up in the country that hosted them and granted them refuge..."[24]

Iraqi Journalist: The Arabs And Muslims Who Are Defending Trump's Order Have Done Nothing To Help Refugees And Immigrants

Iraqi journalist Ibrahim Zubaidi harshly censured those in the Arab world who are criticizing Trump's order but do nothing to help Muslim refugees. He wrote on the liberal Saudi website Elaph: "The strange thing is that those who furiously call for protests and publish numerous statements condemning Trump's decision have for years refrained from raising their voices on Islamic and Arab television channels to defend the rights of Arab and Muslim immigrants who are herded like cattle or subjected to various prohibitions at the airports of Arab and Muslim sister countries...

"Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps [IRGC], the Muslim Brotherhood, the Arab leftists, and the ideologues of the [axis of] steadfast resistance to imperialism and to Zionism – how many protests have they staged to mourn the hundreds of women, children, youths and elderly [refugees] who drowned [trying to reach safe haven] and in protest of the Arab and Islamic 'jihad-fighting' countries' betrayal [of these refugees]...?

"[To] those who protest Trumps 'inhuman' decision that is hostile to the Muslim world: Wouldn't it be better if [you] opened their own borders, hearts, and purses to those whom Trump has barred from entering his 'infidel' country?... Have any of you [who protest ever] entered a mosque or a Muslim center in the U.S. or in the European countries that respect our freedom of worship and opinion and allow us to practice our religion freely, safely and with dignity, and heard some bearded [preacher] give a sermon... permitting the killing of those who treat [the Muslims] with respect and who host them...?"[25]


*N. Mozes is a research fellow at MEMRI


[1] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), February 2, 2017.

[2], February 1, 2017.

[3], January 31, 2017; Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), January 30, 2017. Harsher comments were made by Iraqi Shi'ite leader Muqtada Al-Sadr, who said that the executive order was "patronizing and arrogant," and by Al-Hashd Al-Sha'abi militia spokesman Ahmad Al-Assadi, who called for preventing Americans from entering Iraq and for expelling all Americans currently in the country., January 29, 2017.

[4] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), January 30, 2017.

[5] Al-Nahar (Lebanon), January 28, 2017.

[6], January 31, 2017.

[7] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), January 29, 2017.

[8] Al-Sharq (Saudi Arabia), January 31, 2017.

[9], February 1, 2017.

[10], January 26, 2017.

[11], January 29, 2017.

[12] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), January 30, 2017.

[13] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), February 3, 2017.

[14] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), February 1, 2017.

[15] Al-Rai (Jordan), January 29, 2017.

[16], January 26, 2017.

[17] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), January 30, 2017.

[18] Al-Yawm Al-Sabi' (Egypt), February 2, 2017.

[19] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), January 30, 2017.

[20] Al-Hayat (London), January 31, 2017.

[21] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), January 30, 2017.

[22] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), February 1, 2017.

[23] Al-Jazirah (Saudi Arabia), January 31, 2017.

[24] Al-Ahram (Egypt), February 1, 2017.

[25], February 4, 2017.

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