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Media : Muslim Voices Joining Mideast's Press Chorus : New newspapers oppose secularism and the West and promote Islam as the political idiom of the future.


CAIRO — As the riots focused world attention on Los Angeles last spring, one newspaper gave its twist to the news in large red and green letters across the top of its front page. "Divine Justice," the Egyptian weekly Al Nour proclaimed. "Los Angeles Tastes Bitterness of Kuwait and Baghdad."

According to this account, the violence wasn't the product of a faulty legal system, or racial discrimination, or even the momentary triumph of the have-nots over the haves. It was the will of God.

"Divine justice has hit the U.S. The slogans of democracy, human rights, the respect of minorities and other such slogans praised by the West and considered there as the base of progress and the foundation of democracy were defeated," Al Nour announced cheerfully. "Just as communism collapsed, the next years will witness the collapse of Western society from the inside."

The same newspaper--published in a country that is America's strongest ally in the Arab world--had a few months earlier termed George Bush "the worst man on the face of the earth."

This is the voice of Islam, its message printed in tabloids, magazines and booklets that are becoming one of the most important instruments of political opposition in the Arab world.

No longer limited to leaflets from extremist groups declaring jihad or newsletters from Muslim universities expounding on the Koran, the Islamic press has evolved into an influential alternative medium in virtually every country in the Middle East and an outlet for some of the region's most prominent intellectuals.

Al Shaab in Cairo, officially the organ of the Egyptian Labor party but in fact the voice of the Muslim Brotherhood, reaches an estimated 250,000 readers a week, many of them outside of Egypt. Al Ribat, the Muslim Brotherhood organ in Jordan, reaches up to 15,000, and the now-shuttered publication of the outlawed Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, Al Forkane, was usually sold out from the newsstands within minutes of its arrival.

There are regular Islamic publications in Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen, in addition to much of Muslim Asia--countries whose governments range from secular Baathist to traditional monarchist. And their message is, by degrees, the same: a call to the world's 2 billion Muslims to stand together against secularism, oppression and the West and to adopt Islam as the social and political idiom of the future.

"After the number of people we had elected to Parliament (in 1989) . . . it was very necessary for the Islamic movement to have a newspaper to reflect its point of view, thoughts, programs, to make a connection between them and the people inside and outside," said Kamel Rashid, editor of Jordan's Al Ribat.

The slow rise of democracy in the Arab world has fueled the growth of the Islamic press, which, because of the reluctance of many regimes to appear to be criticizing Islam, is often allowed to operate with a freer hand than much of the secular media.

Egypt's Al Shaab, particularly detested by the government, has waged a nonstop campaign against official corruption, particularly targeting the country's former oil minister. It editorialized against the allied coalition involvement in the Persian Gulf War, and even President Hosni Mubarak has felt its journalistic sting.

"You can easily differentiate between what we publish and all the other media," said Al Shaab's editor, Adel Hussein, a former Marxist who has become one of Egypt's best-known Islamic writers.

"Our main topics are different. We have committed to certain red lines which we do not cross, according to our Islamic beliefs, which others may cross: From minor things--we don't for example publish any advertisement for alcohols, we do not say something positive even about cigarettes, we don't publish naked women--to major things--we cannot accept Western dominance, we cannot accept imperialist invasion in the spheres of culture, values and economy."

The Islamic press has helped frame international issues in a new perspective, loudly condemning the political conflicts in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Myanmar, India and Indonesia as a worldwide "massacre" of Muslims that it often equates with the 12th- and 13th-Century Crusades.

Last spring, Al Shaab used the Muslim feast that follows the fasting month of Ramadan to solemnly declare: "On the occasion of the Eid al-Fitr feast, our joy was wasted. This is because the Islamic nation is going through the worst era of its history. Everything is sold. America is playing the role of the hooligan in the Islamic world. It led the West and its followers into the destruction of Iraq. It is now besieging our people in Libya in preparation for a military strike. The Security Council is used in all this as a toy. . . ."

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