IRAQ: The shoes that shook the Arab world

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Throwing a shoe at someone is the ultimate insult in the Arab world. And journalist Muntader Zaidi’s decision to hurl a couple fastballs with his loafers at U.S. President George W. Bush during a Baghdad press conference on Sunday left no doubt about how he felt.

But his action also elicited a strong wave of mostly positive reaction throughout the Arab world, which gives you an idea how that part of the world feels about Bush and how happy that community is that Bush will be leaving office, having invaded Iraq and taken on policies perceived as pro-Israel and anti-Arab.

Across the Middle East, ordinary people wrote poems and sang praise for Muntader. Some even suggested erecting statues to the guy. (Maybe it could replace one of Saddam Hussein’s statues, which Iraqis repeatedly beat with their shoes after the 2003 U.S. invasion.)

In a barbershop near downtown Beirut on Monday, customers buzzed about the reporter’s political gesture.


“It was great,” one customer said, beaming with satisfaction.

Another responded by saying that Bush certainly deserved it for inflicting “disaster” on the Iraqi people.

The video of the journalist throwing his shoes at Bush was played over and over again on television stations including the pan-Arab Al Jazeera as well as Iranian state television and even radio.

“Please listen again,” said a radio announcer in Tehran. “This is the sound of the shoe hitting the wall and missing President Bush.’

The left-leaning Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar featured the news in on its front page under the headline, “The farewell kiss for Bush,” calling the reporter a “hero” who stood up to the president.

‘This was without a doubt the best farewell as seen by millions of Iraqis who were heartened’ by the reporter’s action, said the daily, adding that Iraqis were ‘probably sad when they saw their Prime Minister Nouri Maliki throwing himself in front of his guest to protect him.’

In an opinion piece posted on the website of the al-Arabiya news channel, commentator Khaled Walid Mahmoud wrote that the pair of shoes that were hurled at the U.S. president would ‘enter history ' as the shoes of painter Vincent Van Gogh once did.

He described the action of the reporter as ‘bold and nationalistic” and said it reflected ‘the real face of every honest Iraqi.’

The burgeoning Arab online scene was bursting with commentary, poems and even an online fan club for Zaidi on Facebook.

“He achieved what many Arabs couldn’t achieve over the years in the face of either the Israeli occupation of Palestine or the American invasion of Iraq,” a visitor named Zahraa said on the website of Arabian Business magazine.

“The famous shoes should be exhibited in a museum as it resembled a rocket that talks on behalf of all Iraqis,’ she wrote.

Asad from Dubai, on another Arab chat website, wrote:

“It is without exaggeration that I can say that the flying shoe speaks more for Arab public opinion than all the despots/puppets that Bush meets with during his travels in the Middle East.”

-- Raed Rafei and Khaled Hijab in Beirut and Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran

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