Arab language media reacted quickly, though sometimes in a somewhat stunned fashion, to American reports that U.S. forces had captured former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, touching off celebrations in Baghdad.
But the broadcast media of the Palestinian National Authority which has been very friendly to Saddam, tried to ignore the news, treating it as a marginal news item ttributed to rumors linked to a scheduled American press conference in Iraq.
“An American military spokesman said there would be a special press conference soon, and American reports say it is linked to reports of the arrest of former president Saddam Hussein,” declared a one ayem news bulletin by Voice of Palestine radio, controlled by Yasser Arafat.
The Palestinian broadcasts, which featured the news as the fourth news item, made no mention of Iraqi crowds celebrating the capture of Saddam, a big supporter of Arafat and a financial supporter of Palestinian “martyrs” who have blown themselves up attacking Israelis.
The Palestinian Authority’s television station broadcasting from Gaza ignored the news entirely for several hours, but other Arab media quickly broadcast details of popular glee at the news of Saddam’s arrest.
“There are signs of rejoicing in the streets, where people are parading and we hear celebratory shooting in the air,” declared Baghdad-based Rafah Sa’ad, reporter for Abu-Dhabi satellite television.
Similar reports were carried by Al-Jazeera satellite television, which broadcast its news along with biographical sketches of Saddam Hussein and his family.
Al-Arabiyya satellite television also featured family pictures and newsreel footage of Saddam inspecting troops and petting children, while underneath it showed captions detailing Saddam’s reported arrest in his home town of Tikrit.
The Arab satellite stations aired interviews with Arab security experts who said they felt the arrest of Saddam, if true, would aid American efforts inside Iraq.
Even the strongly anti-American Al-Manar tv station, controlled by the pro-Iranian Hiaballah terror group, opened its news shows with intensive coverage of the American capture of Saddam.
“Throngs of Iraqi people have rushed to the streets, and there are signs of joyful shooting in the air inside the Iraqi capital,” declared Diah Nasry, the Al-Manar correspondent in Baghdad.
[Michael Widlanski is an expert in the Arab media and a lecturer at the Rothberg School of the Hebrew University]
(c) 2003 Michael Widlanski