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State-Run Arab Newspapers Show Noticeable Decline in Anti-American Rhetoric - 2003-07-30

In recent weeks, in government-run newspapers in the Arab world, there has been a slight but noticeable decline in the level of anti-American rhetoric. Political analysts say there are several reasons, including a new hope for Israel-Palestinian peace, and a renewed interest in domestic issues in each country.

While the main stories in newspapers in the Arab world have continued to focus primarily on the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, observers can't help but notice that some of the usual anti-American rhetoric found in Arab government-run newspapers has seemingly been reduced in recent weeks.

For example, stories in Egypt's influential Al-Ahram newspaper about the Palestinian-Israeli crisis have begun discussing the real possibility that the U.S.-brokered roadmap for peace might just work.

The head of the political science department at Cairo University, Hassan Nafae, says there is cautious optimism. "The roadmap got a start. It is facing some difficulties but many of the countries in the Arab world, including Egypt, think now that all these obstacles could be overcome through contacts with the United states or contacts with the Palestinian authority, and so on," he says.

Mr. Nafae also says no Arab government wants to be seen as hindering the peace process. "Nobody wants to be blamed or to be considered as the one who really did not make it work. Everybody wants to appear as really willing to help the roadmap to be executed," he says.

Others say that with new hope of eventual peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, residents in the region are beginning to focus more on pressing domestic issues.

Political science teacher Mona Makrahm Ebeid, at American University in Cairo says people are tiring of news from elsewhere in the region, and concerns about domestic issues are rising. "People are very concerned about domestic issues now. And, there's a certain fatigue with regional problems, and also there is a tendency to give them a chance. People see that there might be a chance that the roadmap will eventually maybe end in some kind of advantage for the Palestinians, but people are really much more concentrated on the domestic problems because prices are soaring up," she says. "I think every family has a problem. From the rich, because of the dollar problems, to the poorer classes because of the lack of subsidies they're removing on primary commodities."

But Arab media analyst Said Sadek Amin says Middle Eastern governments have, for decades, used their media to focus attention away from domestic issues. He says that has hurt the development of democracy in the region, which could challenge some entrenched regimes.

As a result, Mr. Amin does not expect the Arab media's recent lull in anti-American rhetoric to last very long. "The Palestinian question has been used for over 50 years to escape facing pressing domestic needs, to justify oppression, to justify the absence of democracy, human rights, transparency or accountability. The real solution to our problems is when Arab countries discuss their own problems, not the problems of their neighbors," he says. "Domestic development is the thing that would lead to real democratization, real development. Not looking for other people's problems and trying to resolve the problems of others when you cannot resolve your own problems."

A senior Egyptian government official told VOA he thinks there are at least two other reasons why Arab government-run newspapers have seemingly been less critical of late. The official, who asked not to be named, said it is summer time and many of the region's most influential participants are on vacation.

In addition, the official points out there are 160,000 extra U.S. troops in the region. He says although they are focused on Iraq, their presence could be making Arab governments a bit more reluctant to have their media launch barrages of criticism against the United States.