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Analysts: Attacks Weaken Sympathy for al-Qaida Among Arabs - 2003-11-10

Arab analysts say the suicide bombing that killed mostly Arab workers Saturday at a housing compound in Saudi Arabia, is likely to further weaken already dwindling sympathy for the al-Qaida terror network.

A syndicated journalist for five Arabic language newspapers, Taha Abu Baker, says al-Qaida had already been losing support among many Arabs because of the group's alleged involvement in attacks that no longer focus exclusively on the United States.

"If you connect what is happening to Riyadh, with what was happening in Baghdad during the last two or three weeks in which al-Qaida is accused also of killing innocent people in many places in Baghdad, I think there is no sympathy with al-Qaida in these days," he said.

But Mr. Abu Baker, who runs the Jenin Center for Strategic Studies in Amman, adds that there are those in the Arab world who believe what he calls the "conspiracy theory" that the United States is really behind the attacks blamed on al-Qaida.

Mr. Abu Baker and other analysts say such theories do not make sense.

Author, former diplomat, and political science Professor Abdullah Al-Ashaal, who teaches at two universities in Cairo, says such conspiracy theories become popular because many Arabs have a negative view of the United States, seeing it as anti-Arab and anti-Islam.

"This is the people's feeling in the streets. Why? Because they do not feel easy with the United States' attitude in Palestine, or even in Iraq," he explained.

Mr. Al-Ashaal, who writes extensively on the Arab Gulf region, says such feelings would diminish if the United States were perceived by Arabs to be doing more to speed the creation of a Palestinian state, and to stop what is seen in the Arab world as unjustified Israeli repression and land-grabs in Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Gaza.

The director of Cairo University's Center for the Study of Developing Countries agrees that anger in the region over what is seen as Washington's pro-Israel policies is behind much of the remaining Arab public support for al-Qaida. Mustapha Kamel Al-Sayyid notes that al-Qaida claims to be in a fight against American imperialism.

But he says the increase in the number of Arab civilians being killed, apparently by al-Qaida, has made it harder for many Arabs to sympathize with the terror group.

"If Western interests were targeted, sympathy with Qaida would increase, because of the kind of policy the U.S. is adopting in the region at present," he said. "But when innocent people are targeted, people who have nothing to do with the foreign policies of Arab countries or Western interests, I think people would not understand this, and they would start to wonder what purpose this serves. And in fact, they would view these actions as counter-productive in the sense that they perpetuate a negative imagine of Islam in the whole world."