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On The Scene

Shifting mood of Arab protests

By Hala Gorani
CNN

CNN's Hala Gorani
CNN's Hala Gorani

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AMMAN, Jordan (CNN) -- Friday's prayers at the Kalouti Mosque in a middle-class Amman neighborhood ended quietly. Then a few men starting shouting antiwar slogans.

Quickly, as in many parts of the Middle East this week, an impromptu protest erupted, with many of the young men attending the service joining in.

The protest was relatively small, but in many ways reflected the subtle shift in the mood of the Arab street.

Instead of directing their anger solely at President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, some demonstrators have started criticizing Arab governments in Kuwait, Qatar and Egypt.

Some protesters perceive the leaders of those three countries as supporting the U.S.-led attack against Iraq.

"Hosni Mubarak is CIA," chanted some of the protesters outside the Kalouti Mosque, referring to the Egyptian president.

Many analysts say this type of public criticism is likely to make leaders across the Arab world nervous, if opposition to the war against Iraq continues to turn into opposition to the region's governments, especially those more closely allied to the United States

In another notable twist, some demonstrators more than ever before are openly singing pro-Saddam Hussein praises.

"What's wrong with Saddam?" one man asked outside the mosque, "What did he do wrong? Is it just because he says no to American and to Britain?"

"O Saddam, attack Kuwait," "O Saddam, attack Qatar," many shouted, in chants encouraging the Iraqi leader to take on Arab states seen close to the West.

Women also took part in this particular demonstration, which is unusual in impromptu protests across the Arab world.

They chanted on the sidelines, brandishing photocopies of the picture of a dead child many in the Middle East claim was a civilian victim of coalition bombings in Basra in southern Iraq.

This spontaneous rally, like so many others in the Jordanian capital, ended peacefully, with only minor, sporadic clashes with riot police.

But with at least some of the outrage in the region about the war in Iraq now being re-directed at Arab governments, some are asking how long leaders will tolerate such open criticism from their own citizens.


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