Reconciling the irreconcilable
The photographs of the dead bodies of Uday and Qusay Hussein that appeared in the Arab and Western press this week marked a morbid start to a morbid week, writes Amina Elbendary
Predictably, the photographs of the dead bodies of Uday and Qusay Hussein made the front pages of the Arab newspapers this week. However, debate over whether to publish them was carried on in an ad hoc fashion, mainly concerning the controversial decision by the Western press to publish the photographs.
The Saudi daily Asharq Al- Awsat on 25 July did not publish the photographs on its front page, publishing instead a photograph showing a group of young men watching a news item on the brothers' deaths on television in a café and running the photographs themselves on the inside pages. On the other hand, the London- based Lebanese daily Al-Hayat ran the photographs of the "unreconstructed" corpses on its front page that same day, as did other newspapers, such as the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyasa and the Qatari daily Al-Watan.
In Asharq Al-Awsat on 28 July Tarek El-Hamid argued that the decision on whether to publish the photographs had been a difficult one. But, he added, Qusay and Uday had not been prisoners of war, hostages or innocent bystanders, and they could not be considered to have been "victims" either. Therefore, it was important that the photographs be published, in order to forestall questions about the deaths of these tyrants.
Talal Salman in As-Safir on 26 July criticised the debate that had surrounded the publication of the photographs in the West, "the grand legislator, Donald Rumsfeld, ruling that publishing the gruesome pictures of the corpses of Uday and Qusay Hussein serves the original purpose of the occupation: terrorising the Iraqi people. So, he set aside humane and ethical concerns and ordered their publication."
What about the other crimes that have been carried out in the name of Iraq, Salman asked. "Terrorism by corpses is the greatest of all kinds of terrorism," Salman wrote, arguing that the American killing of the two brothers had denied the Iraqi people the right to see them stand trial.
The US Congressional report on the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington was the subject of much commentary in the Arab press this week. In Asharq Al-Awsat on 26 July Editor-in-Chief Abdel-Rahman Al- Rashed criticised the report for what he called its implicit and unfounded blame of Saudi Arabia. He drew attention to the recent arrests of Islamist militants in the kingdom and questioned how the Saudi regime could have been construed to have supported terrorists that oppose it.
He also pointed out that the report did not contain enough proof to implicate Al-Qa'eda in the attacks. The committee had chosen to absolve the US government, its senior officials and intelligence institutions, and to implicate Saudi Arabia, even though the Americans knew more about Al-Qa'eda than the Saudis, Al-Rashed wrote. However, Saudi Arabia's fault in the matter had been the same as that of the US: allowing the free movement of persons and capital.
"Saudi Arabia is unlike other countries in the region that prohibit the movement of their citizens except by special permission, prohibit the collection of charity funds except by government institutions, and limit the ability of individuals and institutions to transfer money outside the country. Saudi Arabia's long borders, and the fact that the country is as big as most of Europe, makes it impossible to monitor completely," Al-Rashed said.
The Arab position on Iraq remained fragmented. For a pessimistic Ahmed El-Rab'i, writing in Asharq Al-Awsat on 27 July, the Arabs should "let the Iraqis be". The Arab experience in dealing with the Iraqi situation, he wrote, had been a sad one, especially as the Arab states had no real weight to exert, and any call to discuss Iraq would lead to more inter-Arab conflict.
However, for Irfan Nizameddin, writing in Al-Hayat on 28 July, the first thing that the Arabs and Iraqis should do was to strengthen Iraqi national unity and work towards building a democratic and constitutional Iraq. The Arabs should support their Iraqi brethren, Nizameddin said, by realising the dangers of a continuation of the status quo, by providing support and aid to the Iraqi people, by not participating in actions that would promote division among Iraqis, and by helping the Iraqis rule themselves. They should help to build a new Arab order that would maintain a minimum level of solidarity and unity, and work to gain international support by exerting pressure on the US and Britain in order to set up a time schedule for the evacuation of the occupying forces.
What exactly was going on in Iraq, however, remained unclear, with the recently announced Ruling Council not having earned credibility and discussions of Iraqi "resistance" to the US-led occupation abounding.
As-Safir devoted an opinion page to the issue on 24 July. The council was, in the words of Alaa Al-Lami, a contrived solution to the crisis of occupation, seeking to reconcile military occupation and independence. US Administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer's council, he wrote, was impotent and had no real powers, and Al-Lami, himself Iraqi, was clear in his support for the resistance. The inherent contradiction between military occupation and this "parody of a ruling council" would give way to a popular revolt that would put an end to the occupation, he wrote.
The security situation in Iraq pointed to the inevitability of such an explosion. The role of Islamists or infiltrators from abroad in the resistance to the occupation had been exaggerated, Al-Lami wrote, in order to downplay the role of national and patriotic forces in Iraqi society that opposed it. Furthermore, all religious authorities in Iraq had also called for resistance and the boycotting of the occupation.
However, Nabil Jassem, also writing in As-Safir on 24 July, analysed the Sunni element in the Iraqi resistance, juxtaposing it with what was perceived as a lack of Shi'ite resistance. Jassem pointed to the individual nature of the early acts of "resistance" against the American occupying forces, and the fact that they had been in reaction to specific decisions taken by the occupiers. Thus, elements of Iraqi society severely affected by the occupation, such as disbanded soldiers in Mosul, had been the first to resist.
Jassem also pointed out that Sunni institutions were historically connected to the establishment in Iraq, while Shi'ite institutions more often than not had constituted the opposition and had suffered persecution from successive Iraqi regimes.
The recent publication by Khalil Al-Shiqaqi of a poll claiming that most Palestinian refugees would not want to return to their homeland if this was offered them has been the subject of vehement debate in the Arab press. It has also renewed interest in the Right of Return (ROR) of the Palestinian refugees driven out of Palestine in 1948 and later, especially since the current "roadmap" for peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis ignores the ROR.
Writing in Asharq Al-Awsat on 27 July, Bilal Al-Hassan argued that with every round of negotiations Palestinians instinctively renew their activism in favour of the ROR. The activism of groups such as Al-Awda comes in the context of Israeli pressure that actively promotes the "transfer" of the Palestinian populations on the West Bank as a way of "solving" the Palestinian question, Al- Hassan wrote. Israel has also benefited from divisions among the Palestinians themselves, he said, saying that Palestinians who argue for a "two-state" solution implicitly support the giving up of the ROR, while others, such as Al-Shiqaqi, have carried out polls claiming that only 10 per cent of Palestinian refugees want to return in moves that were clearly pro-Israeli.
Asaad Abdel-Rahman, writing in the Jordanian daily Al-Rai on 26 July, was also adamant in attacking efforts, carried out by Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims who serve Zionist interests, to undermine the Palestinian ROR.
Of particular interest in the Arab press this week were two articles by Egyptian academic Galal Amin, a frequent contributor to this paper, published in Al-Hayat on 26 and 27 July and entitled "Bernard Lewis ... or the Intelligent Man's Guide to Slandering Muslims". In the articles, Amin critically examined the negative views of the Arab and Muslim world put forward by Lewis, a British academic working in the United States whose views have enjoyed a certain currency in the West, exposing their bias and the unfortunate effect of Lewis's writings on American foreign policy.