Emotions in Arab World Run Gamut

Emotions spilled into the streets of several Arab capitals Friday, with antiwar protesters in Egypt, Yemen, Jordan and Kuwait attacking police and shouting anti-American slogans.

In the Yemeni capital, Sana, gunfire erupted at a protest outside the U.S. Embassy, killing at least two people. In Cairo, as many as 40,000 demonstrators turned out, burning U.S. flags, setting a water-cannon truck afire and charging policemen who dispersed the crowds with the help of dogs and 4-foot-long bamboo batons.

Beyond the street clashes, the assault has altered the rhythms of everyday life.

In a mosque in Doha, the Qatari capital; at an amusement park in the Saudi capital, Riyadh; during a quiet family dinner in Cairo; and in a small Jordanian border town war is never far from people's minds. Reports from five Times correspondents captured the mood.

Doha, Qatar

Dressed in traditional black attire, the women of Doha arrived at the large Masjidin Mosque for prayers in twos and threes. The men -- some in traditional dress, others in Western casual clothes -- crowded into the main hall and filled a large balcony.

They came to hear the Friday sermon on the Muslim day of rest. Sitting apart, as Islamic custom dictates, the men and women listened to the imam's words coming through loudspeakers. On this day, the sermon was politically charged.

The imam, Sheik Badawi, spoke with passion, his voice cracking at times with an emotion verging on hysteria as he denounced the invasion of Iraq.

"The crusaders have returned," he said, to approving nods. "There is no social order anymore."

Referring to the United States only as "them," Badawi continued: "We have warned them. If they don't stop this killing, then it is up to the Muslims to be unleashed on them like tigers."

After reciting from the Koran, Badawi resumed his talk of war.

"This is a war on humanity," he said. "Look at what's happening in Iraq and in Palestine."

A group of young women seemed to share the imam's feeling that this is a war on Islam. Disturbed by prior conflicts in Islamic regions, they spoke among themselves, adding other countries to the list.

"And what about Bosnia and Chechnya and Sudan?" said one young woman.

His voice now soaring, the imam declared: "They said if you're not with us, you're against us. Could there be any more hatred?

"It is the law of the jungle," he screamed. "The strong is killing the weak. The strong is killing the weak."

Among the women, emotions rose and tears began streaming down faces. Some took out white handkerchiefs they had tucked away in their sleeves.

Um Osama, a 72-year-old Yemeni living in Doha, came to prayers because she needed to talk about events. "I don't always come to the Friday sermon," she said, "But this time I needed to share my despair with someone."

-- Tyler Marshall

and Jailan Zayan

Al Ruweished, Jordan

Outward signs suggest life is normal in this town near the border with Iraq. But inside the sparsely furnished, unheated houses, families gather for hours around their televisions, watching the bombing of Iraqi cities that many of them know well.

The news hits especially hard those with relatives in Iraq. The footage of each bomb brings fresh anxiety. Each air raid cuts lines of communication. Each announcement of territory taken leaves uncertainty about loved ones' fates. For people here, the war means desperate, expensive phone calls to check on children and parents, brothers and sisters.

Sitting in the spartan home of a neighbor, Um Salah Zamil Ali said she has four children in Iraq, all from her first marriage. She used to call them every month or two, now it's every day.

As she recites their names and ages, tears slowly fill her eyes.

"I am so worried about them."

She is unsure why the Americans have decided to attack, but her confusion has not bred hatred. As an American visitor rises to go, she rushes over to her and reaches for her hand.

"Can you take me to America with you?" she asks. "I just want to work. I just want to support my family. Please take me."

-- Alissa J. Rubin


The chatter around the dining room table of Abdel Aziz Sabai and his wife, Nadia, is usually of small matters -- the latest movie or how fast their 4-year-old grandson is growing or the odd the behavior of the cousin three flights up who was born a Muslim and is now an atheist. But these are not normal times, and the Sabais feel the worrisome shadows of change around them.

Their TV, tuned to the pan-Arab satellite channel, Al Jazeera, carried images Friday of flames over Baghdad. Their local newspaper, Al Akbar, told them America "did not achieve its aims in the first stage of the war against Iraq" and wrote of "martyred" Iraqis. On this day, no one had an appetite for a big meal, so the Sabais sent out for hamburgers and fried chicken.

"The war is all anybody talks now," said their daughter-in-law, Mona, 24, who graduated from American University in Cairo. "I really believe most Arabs do hate the United States now."

Others around the table criticized America. But Abdel Aziz, 62, claimed the issue isn't about the United States per se, it is about trust and fairness.

"It's like this," he said, pulling close to a visitor on the sofa and putting his hand gently on the visitor's arm. "If I trust you and feel you will be fair, then I find out you are not fair, I don't trust you," he said. "That's what's happened, mostly because of Israel and Palestine. You are not fair. So you have lost our trust."

-- David Lamb

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

As a hazy sunset settled over this capital, neon lights at the "New York, New York" ride began flashing red, yellow and green, and a dozen women sped madly around in bumper cars, clenching steering wheels and slamming their feet on the accelerators with gusto -- then breaking into peals of laughter.

The Big Apple-themed attraction at Al Hokair Land amusement park bills itself as the only place in Saudi Arabia where women can legally drive.

On Friday, dozens of women took advantage of ladies' day at the park (no men allowed) to throw off their black smocks and scarves, climb into cars, and let loose. For those not automotively inclined, there were the roller coaster, the river rafting ride and Time Gate 3-D, where mummies leap out of tombs with gleaming spears.

With war raging just on the other side of the border, Al Hokair Land offered an escape from the unrelenting anxiety over Iraq.

"When we sit at home, it's just the TV news on, all day long, bad news after bad news, they attacked this, they attacked that. Depressing," said Mona, a 24-year-old university graduate who came to the park Friday evening with her two sisters.

"You feel pressure all the time because in Iraq, they are Muslims, and we feel sorry for them because we are Muslims too," she said.

"But when you stay in the house and think about it all the time, you just feel helpless."

Huda Awdi, a spokeswoman for the park, said staff came to work Thursday prepared to turn around and go home. Why would anyone come to an amusement park when war had just broken out, they wondered.

The crowds came and did again Friday: women pushing strollers, mothers in jeans and T-shirts chasing toddlers, stylish teenage girls sipping Diet Pepsis at the hamburger stand.

"I think people are running away," Awdi said. "They're trying to find a way to forget what's happening."

-- Kim Murphy

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World