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WAR WITH IRAQ / ARAB REACTION

Emotions in Arab World Run Gamut

People in a Jordanian town worry about kin across the border in Iraq. In Saudi Arabia, women find escape at an amusement park.

March 22, 2003|Tyler Marshall and Jailan Zayan;Alissa J. Rubin; David Lamb; Kim Murphy

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

Cairo

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."

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