The split in the way the Arab media is covering the escalating Lebanon-Israel war right now is one of the sharpest I've ever seen.
The Saudi media (including al-Arabiya and al-Sharq al-Awsat) seems to be falling happily in line with the official Saudi position: blaming Hezbollah for irresponsible adventurism, while continuing agitation against Iran and Syria; expressing sympathy with the Lebanese people but criticizing Arab public opinion and especially activists/demonstrators for being unreasonable and overly emotional. For instance, in al-Sharq al-Awsat today, editor Tareq al-Homayed blasts the Syrian Foreign Minister for his stance at the Arab Foreign Ministers summit; Abd al-Rahman al-Rashed (director of al-Arabiya today) compares the Arab demonstrators and others demanding action from Arab leaders to those who rallied against the Iraq war: irresponsibly demanding the impossible, while other Arabs (then Iraqis, now Lebanese) suffer for their enthusiasms; and Mamoun Fandy defends Amr Musa against the mean Egyptian journalists who attacked him and the Arab League for ignoring Arab anger over Lebanon and Palestine. (Al-Hayat, while also Saudi owned, seems to be an exception though - its coverage and editorials have generally been more hostile to Israel and supportive of Hezbollah than have al-Sharq al-Awsat's).
Al-Jazeera, al-Quds al-Arabi, and most of the more independent newspapers are offering a more diverse range of views, but predominantly are furious with Israel, contemptuous of the Arab regimes (did the usually meek Jordan Times really call Arab leaders a bunch of "nervous schoolgirls"!?!), and supportive of Hezbollah (which al-Jazeera termed "the Lebanese resistance" in the title of its prime time show the other night) and the Palestinians (who they generally see as an integral part of a single conflict) even if confused by their actions and scared of what will happen. Iran is drawing some praise, it's worth noting, a trend which Americans and Gulf regimes will be watching very nervously (as one Jordanian writer puts it, "at least Iran is in Lebanon - where are the Arabs?"). Abd al-Bari Atwan, in his lead editorial for al-Quds, writes today that the inevitable ceasefire will be a defeat for Israel, which scares the Egyptian, Jordanian, and Saudi regimes as much as it pleases the Arab public, Hezbollah, and Iran.
It's a pretty sharp split - even the New York Times picked up on it. It's reminiscent more of the intense public Arab arguments over Iraq than of anything typically seen when Israel is involved (though it's easy to forget that the peace process with Israel did generate plenty of heated polemics back in the day) While it's always hard to know for sure, I don't think it mirrors a similar split in Arab public opinion. (Note that while Youssif Ibrahim claims that the "silent Arab majority" has decisively rejected Nasrullah and Hezbollah, his evidence is the statements by Arab officials and heads of state, along with quotes from Rashed and Homayed - in other words, all of his evidence is from the official side and not from the popular side.) What it reveals is more that the Arab regimes, particularly the Saudis, using their media to try to sell their official viewpoint to the public. That's nothing new in the Arab world- that's what the Arab media always used to do. What will be interesting over time is to see how that plays with an Arab public now accustomed to the al-Jazeera approach and less likely to be bound to any single information source.
One other quick point. In my post over the weekend, I described the feeling of helplessness in much of the Arab discourse about the war - and then I mentioned in a subsequent post a couple of protests which had begun to emerge (heavily covered by al-Jazeera, at least). But those protests (especially in Egypt) were pretty small and low-key affairs (the Jordanian one was most interesting for its turn inward, in my opinion). Maybe that's because Egyptians are just exhausted with protesting, or because they really are more consumed by the domestic issues right now - that would be interesting, if true. Maybe it's because of tight security - that was the point of the picture I ran of the now all-too-familiar ring of security surrounding the protest. Maybe it's because of the contempt I've noted several times - a feeling that it isn't even worth demanding that Arab leaders act anymore. I don't know, but I'm going to be poking around a bit later to see what I can dig up. Readers involved in any of those protests (or who usually protest but didn't go out this time) should feel free to email me their thoughts!
The protestors were mostly of a Leftist/liberal persuasion, with a good number of Kefaya supporters. Americans have a tendency to think that leftists and liberals are more “moderate” on Arab-Israeli affairs than their Islamist counterparts. This is not necessarily the case. The crowd chanted in support of “resistance,” bombing Tel Aviv, and other such things. They expressed strong support for Hamas and Hezbollah. For example: "Nasrallah [our] loved one, hit hit Tel Aviv” (it rhymes in Arabic). Or “martyr martyr, Haifa and Yaffa are the land of our country.” Two Israeli flags were burned. And the American ambassador was requested to leave. There were, to be sure, no Sadat posters in the crowd.
The protestors kept their focus on the current crisis, but every now and then they would break out into pro-democracy chants. It was clear that they saw a clear link between the lack of Arab democracy and the deterioration of the situation in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. For them, President Hosni Mubarak is a dictator. America supports him and, in exchange, he acquiesces on US regional interests. He is dependent on the good graces of those above him – an agent, a lackey, so on and so forth.
More first-hand accounts welcome.