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August 21, 2006



Setting aside internal Lebanese debate, the references you give seem to miss a big part of the debate. Where's the other (I think representing the current majority) side of the coin: Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Jazeera, Ikhwan-related publications, etc? I know you follow this stuff too so I can only presume you got busy and are commenting on what you were able to read. Would be very interested to see you add the rest to your comments.


Ya Abu Aardvark,

while reading your fine commentary above a thought struck me: can we hold the London-based pan-Arab media (as-Sharq al-Awsat, al-Hayat, al-Quds al-Arabi and now perhaps Elaph) representative of the Arab debate, or even the Arab intelligentsia debate, on the Lebanon war? While I've noticed some of the restraints in discussing of this war in the Egyptian press, I think there is a wider range of opinions in Cairo -- from gung-ho cheerleading for Nasrallah (e.g. the celebration and free Nasrallah poster seen in last week's liberal ad-Dostour) to much more skeptical interpretations in most of the state press to warnings against Hizbullah in the cravenly pro-Gamal Mubarak daily Rose al-Youssef. There's also been a big debate about Egypt's position through the war, notably on whether the Camp David accords should be reconsidered, what Egypt could have done different, its diminishing regional stature, etc.

And then of course there's the debate as framed by the TV channels, which is probably most important of all. I'm not sure about most Arab countries, but newspaper readership in Egypt (and I think I can safely say the rest of North Africa) are low, while the quality of much of the press leaves a lot to be desired. On the other hand, al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya offer compelling viewing and live debates (where, sure enough, heated discussions often replace reasoned debate). Can we talk of multiple, overlapping Arab debates -- some qawmi (i.e. pan-Arab), some local, and much of it vocal but actually having little impact?

Also, in magazines here there's been some awareness of the complexity of the whole issue: one headline I saw read "The Lebanon war: Assad, Nasrallah, Olmert, Bush all declare themselves victorious." Political scientist Hassan Nafaa recently wrote that he was saddened by seeing Egypt split between those who saw Hizbullah as defeated and those who exagerated its accomplishments. Other editorials are emphasizing that this is no time for celebration and the first priority should be helping the Lebanese and thwarting off further Israeli hostile acts. And while the leftist press is triumphalist about Hizbullah (hoping to embolden the opposition by making Mubarak's Egypt look bad), there is a lot of caution in much of the other press. There is little doubt that the Arab public sphere, to use your book's expression, is behind the Lebanese, but the attitude to Hizbullah is more nuanced than first appears.


Yeah, I'm going to have to go with Issandr on this one. I think how we define the "Arab public" is crucial here. I think elite Arab political commentators and the -- for lack of a better term -- Arab street will differ. The latter is more likely to respond emotionally by seeing this thing as a loss for Israel, a triumph for Hassan Nasrallah, and a tragedy for Lebanon. As both you and Issandr point out, the elite will be more nuanced and probing, and there will be gaps between the state press and the pan-Arab, independent, and/or opposition papers.

Interesting point, btw, on whether Syria gets credit for this. Based on the Ibn Khaldun poll (which admittedly has some problems), no Arab leaders made the top ten in terms of popularity while Ahmadinejad was #2 right after Hassan Nasrallah. That suggest that Iran's reaping the PR benefits of this, and that Bashar isn't.

the aardvark

Hi folks, all three of you are right - more posts are coming, just ran out of time to add the stuff you're asking about!


As we call Assad in lebanon, the lion of damascus and the rabbit of the golan. Assad will never get credit because hanging over his rhetoric is the fact that the golan border is oh so quiet!
So my two cents, Iran looks like a winner, Hizbullah unclear, short term popularity boost across the arab world maybe, but in lebanon, some of their comments about retribution have been met with fear. This only solidifies them as a Shiite party in lebanon, not a national party but non shiites and even some shiites are not at all fans of Hizbullah. That old truism popping up ( we see it here in the states with our internet hawks), the farther away from the battlefield people are, the more hawkish! Thus Egyptians looking up to Hizbullah, but if bombs were raining on Cairo, they would be a little more circumspect. Lebanon a sure loser that is the only certainty, though there is always hope. This time have to give credit to elite. I mean what was Egypt meant to do, declare war and get trounced for no doubt they would. Let us remember the destruction lebanon suffered, something that a state has to take into account whereas Hizbullah can ignore in its "victory tally"


"rabbit of the Golan" - cracks me up every time!

Jim S

I really doubt the Arab street really cares about the people of Lebanon. Much as Bush cannot comprehend why the Iraqi people in their suffering aren't falling to their knees in gratitude to the U.S. for their liberation from Saddam they probably don't understand why some Lebanese (I have no idea if they are a majority or minority.) aren't happy to be martyrs to the greater Arab cause of harming Israel to whatever degree possible, preferably to destruction.


"rabbit" doesn't have to be pejorative. in egyptian amiyya, it could be "a million egyptian pounds," mish kida walla eh?


Asad el sham wa arnab el golan. In any case Bashar will not get any points from his link to Hizbullah. Yes Arab street does not care about lebanon, but i think word will seep out slowly that this victory is not all that victorious for the lebanese, and not the type of victory anyone would like for his own country. It is very much a majority who are not happy to be martyrs in the greater arab cause in lebanon. There is a strong feeling of lebanon is not going to bleed again for other Arabs to feel good about themselves, and especially for Iranian interests. that is the viewpoint of any non shiite and some shiites. Within the shiite community feelings are much more complex, given all the other things that Hizbullah provides in terms of social services, and pride in their accomplishments; in other words look how brave our guys are, and how can I not support this cause when my neighbor or cousin or brother just died for it. Kind of like a support our troops feeling. But I still think many want to live in peace, and any more adventurism from Hizbullah would not go over well. We shall see.


It also seems to me that the populist support for Hizballah in the Arab World has pointed to a melding and strenghtening of the remnants of Arab nationalism with the new form of political Islam, meaning actual political parties. Of course, by the remnants of Arab nationalism I do not imply some sort of nascent political movement for unification, but a potent solidarity that is more and more expressing itself in the language of political Islam. If I had to guess, the biggest result of all this will be the further popularity of Islamist parties domestically within the Arab countries. In the end this will be a boon to the MB in Egypt.

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