- The Washington Times - Friday, March 28, 2003

Anti-war protests were held across the Islamic world — and also in some non-Muslim countries — on the second Friday since the war in Iraq began, all mirrored by al Jazeera television.

In most places, people gathered outside mosques after offering their weekly prayers and dispersed peacefully after the protest.

In Iran, which fought a 10-year war with Saddam Hussein, tens of thousands of anti-war protesters marched in the streets of capital, Tehran, chanting: "Death to America, Death to Saddam."

Iran does not have diplomatic ties with the United States and has vowed to remain neutral in this war.

Such display of public anger is not new for Iran where large demonstrations on almost every issue have become a norm since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

In Cairo, the most populous Arab capital, hundreds of Egyptians took to the streets of Cairo Friday to protest against the U.S.-British war in Iraq, which they argued was aggression aimed at the Iraqi people.

The demonstrators departed from al Azhar mosque in the center of Cairo, brandishing anti-war placards and urging Arab countries to stop providing support or logistic facilities to the invading forces.

Among the protesters were Muslim extremists who called on Arab countries to open their borders to facilitate the transfer of Arab volunteers to fight on the side of the Iraqis.

Observers were surprised by the unprecedented scope of the protests since most Arab states have sharply curtailed public demonstrations. Because of the coverage on al Jazeera satellite television, unprecedented or not, the size of the demonstrations was seen in all Arab states.

Even the tiny Persian Gulf state of Dubai had a large rally, the first in many years. Protesters marched through Dubai's central market, chanting: "God is great, long live Saddam."

Some were carrying Iraqi flags while others were holding placards condemning the U.S. attack on Iraq.

The same pattern was repeated in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

Both the Jordanian and Egyptian governments are allied with the United States, and reports in the Arab media have suggested that they also have provided logistical support to the U.S. forces in the region.

Both governments deny such reports, saying that they would never support a military offensive against a fellow Arab state.

In both Cairo and Amman, the protest appeared to be relatively spontaneous.

The processions began after the formal prayers with worshippers praying quietly for the Iraqis. After someone shouted an anti-U.S. slogan, however, people began gathering around him. The crowd came out on the street and the march began.

U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair were the favorite targets of the protesters. Protesters at some demonstrations burned the two leaders in effigy.

But at some places they also targeted pro-Washington Arab rulers. "Hosni Mubarak is a CIA agent," one protester chanted in Amman, referring to the Egyptian president.

Kuwait, which was invaded by Iraq in 1990 and where anti-Iraq feelings run high, was also targeted for openly supporting the U.S. military offensive.

"U.S., U.K., Spain and Kuwait: The new axis of evil," one placard said. "Attack Kuwait, attack Qatar," protesters chanted.

The protesters, who last week were also criticizing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's repressive regime, appeared to have changed their stance as the war intensified — this week praising him as an Arab hero defying the world's sole superpower.

"What has Saddam done? Nothing. Nothing other than saying no to America," said an Amman protester interviewed by CNN.

Such defiance is new for Arab states where governments do not tolerate open disagreement with government policies.

Observers say that the protest could either force the regimes to give more freedom to their people or could force them to become more repressive.

Both options may hurt America's image in the Arab world, said Faiz Rehman, communications director of the American Muslim Council. According to Rehman, giving more freedom at this stage would benefit anti-American forces in the Arab world. On the other hand, he said, curbing the masses would also increase anti-American feelings as most of these governments are seen as U.S.-friendly.

Also rare is the large-scale participation of Arab women in anti-war protests. Traditionally, Arab women stay away from such political activities.

Protests were also held in non-Arab Muslim countries like Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia, where rallies were held in dozens of large and small cities.

Even in non-Muslim South Korea, angry protesters battled with police to show their rejection of the government's decision to send 700 engineering and medical troops to Iraq.

In India, which has a large Muslim minority, tens of thousands of Muslims and Communist Party activists protested the war in towns and cities across the country.

In New Delhi, nearly 20,000 Muslim protesters, some holding pictures of Saddam and plastic replicas of AK-47 rifles, shouted slogans against Bush, witnesses said.

Tens of thousands of pro-communist students in Kolkata boycotted classes to stage a protest march, witnesses said.

Waving red flags, the students held placards reading: "No more blood for oil" and "War-monger Bush, stop. The world needs food, not war."

A Friday protest also was held in Canberra, Australia, where more than 2,000 people gathered in the city at lunchtime for the second major emergency protest against the war on Iraq. Many workers took early lunch breaks to reach the protest, and students left schools and universities to attend.

In Washington, D.C., Friday a small number of protestors blocked two main traffic routes into the downtown area briefly.




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