Posted at 12:38 PM ET, 12/ 8/2006

Relaunching the Roundup

World Opinion Roundup is evolving.

With the rise of the Internet in the late 1990s, a new global discussion of international news events took shape. The World Opinion Roundup, from its inception in 2001, has sought to leverage an ever-growing online medium to capture different perspectives from throughout the global community for washingtonpost.com readers. Such growth and the advent of blogging have enormously expanded and deepened the discussions surrounding some of the most important issues in the news. It has been a challenge for World Opinion Roundup to keep up.

The inauguration of PostGlobal on washingtonpost.com earlier this year marked a major step toward more comprehensive, in-depth and interactive coverage of these discussions. With the success of PostGlobal, World Opinion Roundup has an opportunity to relaunch with a new and more focused approach, aimed at expanding an informed debate on world news.

As we revamp World Opinion Roundup to better meet our readers' needs, I will take a break from posting in the coming weeks. I welcome comments and suggestions from you about how the column might be improved -- what you think worked best and what should be improved.

I will return in the New Year with a new and improved feature for following, understanding and participating in global news debates.

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Posted at 01:23 PM ET, 12/ 6/2006

Jimmy Carter, Palestinian Sympathizer

Jimmy Carter has emerged as the most prominent pro-Palestinian public figure in America.

In a new book, the former president offers a passionate defense of Palestinian aspirations rarely heard in the U.S. media and unprecedented from someone who once occupied the Oval Office.

Entitled "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid," Carter's book has won him praise in the international online media and scathing criticism from U.S.-based Israel supporters. In the Israeli media, the reaction to Carter's defense of Palestinian rights has been more tempered.

"The bottom line is this," Carter writes in an online excerpt posted by his publisher." "Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law, with the Roadmap for Peace, with official American policy, with the wishes of a majority of its own citizens -- and honor its own previous commitments -- by accepting its legal borders. All Arab neighbors must pledge to honor Israel's right to live in peace under these conditions."

In the United States, Carter's linkage of Israeli policy and the now-defunct South African system of racial apartheid has been greeted coolly by fellow Democrats, including incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"It is wrong to suggest that the Jewish people would support a government in Israel or anywhere else that institutionalizes ethnically based oppression, and Democrats reject that allegation vigorously," Pelosi said.

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Posted at 01:53 AM ET, 12/ 5/2006

Lebanon: Civil War or Nasrallah's Peace?

As Middle East newspapers were warning this weekend that Lebanon is on the brink of civil war, Beirut enjoyed a moment of civility.

As tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators began an indefinite occupation of the city's center last weekend, thousands of marathon runners skirted the massive protests without incident.

Amidst the country's worst worst political crisis since the end of a bloody civil war 15 years ago, Lebanon also displays habits of accommodation that some hope will help it avoid the most dire of scenarios. But a peaceful democratic resolution, some commentators say, will most likely benefit the man most antagonistic to Washington and Israel -- Sayyed Nasrallah.

The latest developments show a deepening impasse between the opposition, led by Hezbollah, the Shiite party and militia, and the pro-Western government it seeks to topple.

• Tensions mounted Monday as thousands turned out to mourn a Shiite demonstrator who was killed during clashes in a Sunni neighborhood Sunday.

• The government responded to the weekend demonstrations by deploying more troops to the capital to head off the possibility of sectarian violence, according to Aljazeera.net.

• AP reported that Egypt's president and Russia's foreign minister are calling for for calm.

In Lebanon's diverse online media, commentators on both sides proclaim their own peaceful intentions while fearing the worst of the opposition.

Fingerpointing Powers

On Friday, the pro-government Arabic daily Al-Mustaqbal warned that the demonstrations organized by Hezbollah and supported by some Christians were actually the makings of a coup orchestrated by Syria and Iran.

"The direct goal of the Syrian-Iranian coup against the situation in Lebanon is to thwart the [establishment of] an international tribunal [to investigate the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri]," said Al-Mustaqbal, according to a translation by the pro-Israeli Middle East Media Research Institute.

Iran and Syria, said the Sunni daily, also hope to thwart the implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which mandates the disarmament of Hezbollah's militia.

"This is a coup against the very existence of the state. Oh [Lebanese] Army, as of today you face the test of defending the state, the regime, and its institutions," said the Al-Mustaqbal editors.

But Al Manar, Hezbollah's Web site, charges that it is pro-government forces preparing for civil war by distributing guns in the Mount Lebanon region, north of Beirut.

Hezbollah, of course, has its own militia, as Al Manar acknowledged. But "Hezbollah's chief Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah sought on many occasions to reassure the Lebanese that the sole use of the arms of the resistance is to confront the Israeli enemy adding that these weapons will not be used internally," the editors said.

Ya Libnan, a pro-government site, was not reassured.

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Posted at 03:30 PM ET, 11/27/2006

World Opinion Roundup Hiatus

Jeff Morley is away temporarily for a family emergency and hopes to resume World Opinion Roundup soon.

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Posted at 02:04 PM ET, 11/16/2006

Nasrallah's Brinksmanship

It has been just over three months since the United Nations brokered a cease-fire in the month-long war that left Lebanon battered and made Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah a hero to many in the Arab world.

But Nasrallah's success is costing Lebanon potentially more than the 1,200 civilians killed by Israeli attacks. Commentators see a political quandary that has brought the country to the brink of war.

Nasrallah, supported by a majority of the country's impoverished Shiites, has pitted himself against both Lebanon's pro-Western government and the popular March 14 movement, a coalition of Christian and Arab middle-class groups staunchly against Syrian influence.

Talks to establish a national unity government broke down when six cabinet ministers aligned with Hezbollah resigned over the weekend. The remaining ministers then approved a plan, opposed by Hezbollah, for an international tribunal to try the assassins of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri. Hezbollah and its Syrian allies want to block the tribunal because U.N. investigators have implicated senior Syrian officials. Hezbollah says that the rebuilding the country is more important than satisfying the demands of the United States and Israel.

The internal power struggle has broader implications as the U.S. attempts to salvage a deteriorating situation in Iraq, an effort that some say will give leverage to American foes, Iran and Syria.

Political Impasse

Lebanon's latest power struggles have so far been peaceful, but tense nonetheless.

Nasrallah is banking on popular demands for rebuilding to trump politics in his push for greater control in Lebanon's government. He predicted Tuesday that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's administration would fall and a "clean one will replace it" to rebuild areas destroyed by this summer's Israeli assault, according to Almanar.com, Hezbollah's news site. Nasrallah warned that Hezbollah could stage street demonstrations to win public support, but scoffed at talk of civil war.

Siniora has rebuffed Nasrallah's demand for veto power in a national unity government, which he called "tyranny of the minority."

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Posted at 09:00 AM ET, 11/15/2006

Doubting Baker

While many in Washington expect former secretary of state James Baker to engineer a shift in U.S. Iraq policy, a variety of international online commentators doubt he can do it.

Baker and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton lead the Iraq Study Group, a bipartisan panel expected to issue a report in the coming weeks on the rethinking of American strategy in Iraq. Along with incoming defense secretary Robert Gates, Baker's group marks the return of policymakers from the first President Bush and, in the words of The Australian, "the first steps toward a new policy."

Skepticism about the Baker group has united Arab and neoconservative commentators who otherwise agree on little. Mir Shakil-ur-Rahman, editor in chief of The News of Pakistan thinks a fundamental change of course is unlikely.

"To correct American policy in the Middle East would require something like a political earthquake in both Washington and Israel - and there is no sign as yet of any such upheaval," he wrote. "In both countries, hard-liners are still very much in charge."

"The Iraq war has caused colossal damage in terms of human casualties, material destruction and the squandering of financial resources. It has spread political instability across the region as well as fomenting terrorist violence and sectarian strife. Perhaps the greatest casualty of all has been the loss of America's reputation and moral authority," Rahman wrote. "In spite of this disastrous balance sheet, there is still no consensus in the US that the invasion and occupation were a colossal mistake which can only be corrected by a full withdrawal."

Nicola Nasser, a veteran Arab journalist based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said both Democrats and Republicans "are expected to play politics more than they will plan policies."

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Posted at 09:00 AM ET, 11/14/2006

'Futile Ritual' Seen in U.S. Veto on Gaza Attack

The U.S. veto of a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the Israeli attack that killed 20 Palestinian civilians last week has incensed Middle East commentators, including some Israelis.

"This resolution does not display an evenhanded characterization of the recent events in Gaza," said U.N. Ambassador John Bolton on Saturday. A spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas replied that the veto "will encourage Israel to continue its escalation against the Palestinian people."

The Palestinian victims, including seven children and four women, died in an artillery barrage on the town of Beit Hanoun. They lived in an apartment building a few hundred yards away from an area where Palestinian militants had fired homemade rockets at Israel 12 hours earlier. Israel said the killings were unintentional results of a "technical failure" and expressed regrets.

Within hours of the veto, Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo said they would seek to send funds for the rebuilding of Beit Hanoun, despite a Western-led ban on financial aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government, according to the BBC.

The Beit Hanoun tragedy has become yet another chapter in what the Agence France Presse called Washington's "troubled Middle East policy."

While most countries condemned the attacks, "the American position is different," wrote the London-based Al Hayat (in Arabic). "Condoleezza Rice expressed, in a phone conversation, her 'regrets' to the Palestinian president, but this didn't prevent the US representative in the UN from opposing the veto in the Security Council...It's clear that there is a problem in the White House's political thought. How does the White House keep silent in front of the massacre of women and children by the Israeli forces and accuses Islam of being 'fascist'?"

Al Rai, the Jordanian daily, expressed similar disillusionment at the U.S. veto.

"The American veto against the resolution condemning the Israeli massacre in Beit Hanoun is disappointing. It is disappointing for all those who wished that the Bush administration, after its defeat in the recent elections, will readjust its policy," Al Rai's editors said (in Arabic).

"The American veto can be justified neither morally nor politically. It is all the more unjustified that the initiators of the resolution accepted all the remarks and amendments proposed by the member states. They even added an article condemning the launching of the Palestinian rockets on Israel. But all this didn't convince Washington nor its delegate in the UN, John Bolton."

'Futile Rituals'

For some commentators, the scenario was all too familiar.

"We have seen the same futile rituals repeat and reproduce themselves ad nauseam," wrote Khalid Amayreh in the pro-Hamas Palestine Information Center Web site.

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Posted at 12:21 PM ET, 11/10/2006

In Rumsfeld's Fall, Hope and Reckoning

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation is being welcomed the world over as a sure sign that U.S. policy on Iraq will change.

Iranians expressed hope for avoiding confrontation with the United States as a result of Rumsfeld's departure, according to an AP report from Tehran. The Guardian's reporter in Tehran sent back a similar dispatch: "Sources close to the Islamic republic's theocratic leadership said yesterday that the replacement as US defence secretary of the hawkish Mr Rumsfeld by the more emollient Robert Gates improved the chances of direct talks between Tehran and Washington."

In Europe, Spiegel Online reports that some German newspapers worry that a more multilateral America will expect more military support from Europe.

There are two different schools of thought in the international media about what Rumsfeld's departure says about America.

I. A New America?

More than a few commentators say the Democratic congressional victories that prompted Rumsfeld's resignation show that Americans have finally overcome the trauma of Sept. 11.

Rumsfeld's departure is "the biggest marker of policy change" since the 2001 terror attacks, writers Greg Sheridan in The Australian.

"The citizens of the USA have finally emerged from the stupor into which they descended after 11 September and have voted for a change of
direction in the Iraq war, but also in economic and social policy," said El Pais in Spain.

"For the Americans the new balance of power in Washington means the chance of finally moving on from 9/11. It has become abundantly clear that anger is not a good counsel and war not the best weapon against terror," wrote Evita Neefs in the center-right Belgian daily De Standaard.

But the Arab News in Saudi Arabia questioned whether American has changed: "When US arms seemed to be triumphant, Bush enjoyed his highest poll ratings. But Americans don't like losers. That is why they delivered their devastating verdict on the administration and the Republicans who once backed it so enthusiastically. There was however little reference in all the campaign rhetoric to the horrors Bush has brought to Iraqis, proving that even now, Americans can only see this disaster in their own insular terms," the editors wrote Thursday.

The Jordan Times said "Americans have realised that more and more people given the choice between being with or against the bully are choosing the latter.

"We can only hope that this is the beginning of a long overdue realisation among Americans that neither are they alone in this world nor do they have a monopoly on the right values or the use of force," declared the Amman daily.

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Posted at 11:38 AM ET, 11/ 9/2006

Chavez Influence Seen in Ortega Victory

The victory of Sandinista candidate Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua is likely boost to the so-called Bolivarian axis in Latin America, according to Central American media.

Hugo Chavez's dream of building an anti-U.S. bloc in the Americas had lost some of its luster in recent months and the defeat of leftist candidates in Peru and Mexico suggested to some that the populist crusade of the Venezuela's president was losing momentum.

But Ortega's victory has given Chavez new cause to celebrate -- and Central America's conservative media cause for consternation.

"The almost sure victory of the 'brother Sandinista' to whom Chavez has promised cheap petroleum, will be a relief for the Venezuelan president who had just suffered a reverse in United Nations, where he failed to win a permanent chair in the [U.N.] Security Council," reported the Agence France-Presse in Managua's leftist Nueva Diario.

Fidel Castro, Chavez's ailing ideological patron, congratulated Ortega on his "magnificent victory."

The "Chavez Factor" loomed large in the campaign, according to El Universal in Caracas. Neither Chavez nor the United States made any pretense of neutrality or non-interference. Chavez said of Ortega, "I want him to win." U.S. officials made clear they supported Montealeagre.

La Prensa Grafica (in Spanish) in El Salvador did not have to mention Chavez to see his shadow in the Nicaraguan results.

"Populism is a regional threat," said the San Salvador daily.

"The Sandinista victory in Nicaragua and diverse developments in the region in recent times are a without a doubt a response to the fragility of our democracies and the necessity to search for alternatives without going beyond democratic norms," the newspaper said. "Along this road, the temptations of the past are resurgent, chief among them populism."

La Prensa defined populism as "using the needs of the people as lockpick to force social and institutional structures in provide for those that practice it." Ortega campaigned on a promise to tame "wild capitalism" and boost the country's poor majority.

Chavez predicted Ortega's government will "join the Bolivarian project for regional unity," according to La Tribuna in Honduras,

But the Tegucigalpa daily also asserted that the Sandinista party's agenda today is "more 'Daniel-ism' than revolution."

Ortega made a point to show voters the new politician he has become since rising to fame as the Sandanista who toppled a pro-U.S. dictatorship and then battled U.S.-backed rebels in the 1980s. The Toronto Globe and Mail called Ortega "an old rebel with a new cause."

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Posted at 09:00 AM ET, 11/ 8/2006

In Arab World, Bitterness Over Hussein Verdict

News of Saddam Hussein's death sentence has drawn mixed reaction from throughout the world. But in the so-called "Arab Street," the reaction has been a unified bitterness.

Azzaman and Al-Sabah, two of the biggest circulation papers in Baghdad, published news stories about the death penalty for the former president -- but no commentary. Inside the Green Zone, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilizad hailed "an important milestone." Outside, it is too dangerous to express a viewpoint one way or the other.

Elsewhere in the Arab online media, the sentencing of Hussein was seen less as a victory for the rule of law than a defeat for the United States. In neighboring Jordan, a commentator for Al-Rai (in Arabic), the country's largest circulation newspaper, called Hussein's sentence, a "comedy in the death's quagmire."

"The problem is not the death sentence. The US soldiers could have shot him in the first minutes of his arrest. But the American political theater, with its artists, designers and directors, decided to put on trial the Baath party, Saddam and the Arab political system since Faisal I. ... Now the entire scenario has collapsed and the author, the director, the artists find themselves caught up in the Iraqi quagmire.... If the sentence is not a comedy, what is the definition of this word?"

In Syria, where the government controls the media and the democracy movement has been silenced by the chaos in Iraq, the news agency Sana reiterated European criticism of the proceedings.

In Egypt, editors of the state-controlled Egypt Gazette said, "Though very few are ready to shed tears for the condemned ex-strongman, the death verdict against Saddam is unlikely to improve either the situation in Iraq or the US predicament there. The opposite is true. Saddam's supporters may exploit the perceived blunders of the US-sponsored court to add to Americans' woes."

"Once again, a false victory in Iraq is exploited by the American establishment for the internal use," a commentator said in La Presse (in French), a pro-government daily in Tunisia. "Surprisingly, the condemnation of Saddam Hussein intervened just 48 hours prior to the November 7 mid-term elections. As expected, the White House congratulated itself, calling it a "historic day for the Iraqi people.'Spokesman Tony Snow said the sentence was 'absolute proof that there is an independent judiciary system in Iraq.'"

La Presse expressed its doubt, quoting criticism of Hussein's trial from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and observing that "neither group can be accused of sympathy toward Saddam."

In other coverage:

European leaders are calling for the commutation of Hussein's death sentence to life imprisonment. Even Tony Blair, advocate of the U.S.-led overthrow, broke with the White House in opposing the ex-dictator's execution.

Spiegel Online reported that Europe's position is both principled and pragmatic: "It is clear that the verdict and its possible application will contribute to and deepen the armed violence and the political and religious polarization in Iraq, bringing with it the almost certain risk that the crisis will spread to the entire region."

Islam Online, the news site of Egyptian scholar Yusuf Qaradawi, sees the verdict feeding sectarian violence.

"The timing while perhaps designed to serve a domestic agenda in the United States, could not be worse for Iraq," wrote Firas Al-Atraqchi, a Iraqi-Canadian correspondent. "It comes on the heels of the ever-growing civil war, the humiliation many Iraqis feel over the issue of the Iraqi flag being lowered from official buildings, the fracas over federalism, and the growing understanding that the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nur Al-Maliki has done little other than hand over the reins of security to the death squads."

***

Tunisian journalist Hmida Ben Romdhane contributed to this post. Romdhane is the editor-in-chief of the international desk of the Tunisian daily newspaper "La Presse." He is with washingtonpost.com for several weeks as part of a two-month fellowship sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the International Research and Exchanges Board.

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Posted at 11:28 AM ET, 11/ 6/2006

Saddam's Trial: Farce or Justice?

The death sentence handed down Sunday for Saddam Hussein's role in the execution of 148 Shiite villagers in 1982 provoked strong media reaction the world over.

The strongest expressions of approval came from two groups who don't often agree: Iranian online commentators and supporters of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 that lead to Hussein's capture. The sharpest criticism came from Arab observers who saw the trial and verdict as tailored to U.S. interests and from European pundits opposed to the death penalty under all circumstances.

Few commentators derive much comfort from the decision because of the ongoing chaos in Iraq, according to a BBC media survey. "There is widespread concern that the violence will continue, or even increase, with one Arab commentator arguing that the world is witnessing the 'crumbling of Iraq,'" said the British news site.

Was Justice Served?

Yes, says the government-dominated media in neighboring Iran which fought an eight-year war with Iraq in the 1980s.

Describing the former Iraqi president as "a criminal of monumental and historic proportions," the Iran News said, "Good riddance Saddam."

"The brave verdict that the judge issued soothed the pains and agonies of the Iranians and Iraqis and will have positive effects for these two countries," said Iran's judiciary chief Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, according to the Fars New Agency.

In Saudi Arabia, the Arab News also approved, saying, "To have been sentenced to anything less severe would have been not only a travesty -- which much of the trial has been -- but also completely unjust to the thousands whose lives were either cut short or ruined because of the merciless dictator and his dictatorship."

The Gulf News in Qatar welcomed the verdict as "a strong message for other dictators in the region and around the world."

"What the world has witnessed is the end of a trial, conducted in a war zone on behalf of a struggling democracy, in which the defendant was as guilty as sin," said the Daily Telegraph in London. "The death of Saddam is not a sufficient condition for the establishment of democracy in Iraq, but it is certainly a necessary one."

The German financial daily Handelsblatt recalled that at one time Hussein's trial was expected to act "as a catharsis," according to Spiegel Online's translation. "Now, in the face of the increasing violence, the trail "has seemed an unimportant sideshow ... The original aim of self purification has been overtaken by the daily chaos."

Still, the trial was worthwhile, said the financial daily. "Saddam, who had made himself godlike with his ludicrous personality cult, was shrunk back to normal size in court."

"This alone made the trial worthwhile. The Kurds should now be given the chance to bring him to justice for crimes against them. The paper counsels that there should be 'no rush to send Saddam to his death ... if at all.'"

The conservative daily Die Welt praised Iraq for being the first Arab country to attempt to "use the law to deal with a terrible dictator and to embark on a new path towards a different future."

But for many in the Middle East and Europe, the verdict served neither justice nor the people of Iraq.
"The sentence was illegal and the court unfair. How could it be otherwise since it was created by the occupier's decision, its judges fleeing or dismissed and the lawyers attacked by the government's death squads?" asked Al Quds Al Arabi, a hardline daily that is critical of the United States and Israel.

A Court of Chaos

"The sentence was not lawful. The trial was politicized and the outcome known," Khaled Al-Habbas, a Saudi political analyst, told the Saudi Gazette.

The Khaleej Times said the decision was "victors' justice at its worst."

"Saddam is the first leader from an Arab and Middle Eastern country to be deposed and put in the dock like an ordinary criminal, " said the Persian Gulf daily. "Which is why it was absolutely critical to make the whole process of trying the former Iraqi leader and his men transparent and completely fair. Which hasn't been the case in this trial."

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