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MER - Mid-East Realities - MiddleEast.Org - Washington - 14 Sept: With Iraq exploding, the Americans attacking street crowds in Baghdad with bombs and missiles, and the U.S. military already stretched to the breaking point both in terms of manpower and credibility, Washington's propaganda machine is in overdrive both at home and abroad. Even so, even in long-time American ally Egypt, Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda are considerably more popular than George W. Bush and the U.S.

Analysis: Bin Laden more popular than Bush

By Claude Salhani
UPI International Editor

CAIRO, Sept. 11 (UPI - 12 Sept) -- On the third anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a new poll shows that mastermind terrorist Osama bin Laden is more popular that President George W. Bush in Egypt, a staunch U.S. ally and recipient of billions of U.S. dollars in financial aid.

Despite being mostly ruled by autocracies and theocracies, the same anti-American feelings are widely reflected around much of the Arab and Islamic world. In many instances, as in Egypt, this sentiment is encouraged by the government in order to avoid having the people focus on internal issues.

Three years after 19 Islamist terrorists slammed passenger jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, shocking America and the world, the war to eradicate terrorism is far from being won.

After the initial shock passed, the Bush administration reacted to 09/11 by invading Afghanistan and then Iraq. Both wars are far from being contained and bin Laden remains at large, while President George W. Bush says the world is now a safer place.

It's true that there has not been a terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11, although intelligence sources say we came close to it. Thanks to the vigilance of British intelligence, a group of terrorists planning to detonate a 'dirty bomb' and other explosives in New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., were apprehended before their deeds could be put into motion.

A good number of Americans agree with the president, but the rest of the world differs greatly with his belief that the world is now safer. While the Taliban was removed and a bloodthirsty tyrant in Iraq deposed, there is hardly ever a mention of the 11,000 to 13,800 Iraqi civilians who according to IraqBodyCount.org were killed since the U.S. invasion.

In fact, since the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, there have been a slew of horrendous attacks against a number of countries, including those supporting the U.S. war on terrorism. In a slip of the tongue the president admitted in a television interview that the war on terrorism could not be won. However, he later retracted his statement.

Despite setbacks and a number of key operatives killed and jailed in the three years since 9/11, al-Qaida and its affiliates are still operational, carrying out attacks across large swaths of the globe.

Only this week Jemaah Islamiah, a group believed to have close ties to al-Qaida, struck in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital. A massive bomb, possibly carried out by a suicide bomber, exploded outside the Australian Embassy, killing 9 people and injuring more than 100.

A week earlier terrorists took over a school in the southern Russian town of Beslan, killing more than 330 people, half of them children. A few days earlier, two Russian passenger jets were simultaneously blown out of the sky, it is presumed by Chechen terrorists, killing all aboard.

Shortly after, another bomb exploded outside a Moscow subway station. In March bombs on board packed morning commuter trains exploded as they entered crowded Madrid stations, killing close to 200 people. Before that, bombs exploded in Istanbul, causing multiple casualties. The list goes on.

And while the hunt for bin Laden continues, his deputy, Egyptian Ayman Al-Zawahri, appearing on a videotape delivered to the Qatar-based al-Jazeera satellite channel, boasted that the United States was on the brink of defeat in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

'The defeat of America in Iraq and Afghanistan has become a matter of time, with God's help. The Americans in both countries are between two fires. If they continue they bleed to death, and if they withdraw they lose everything.'

In Iraq, the number of American military casualties passed the symbolic count of 1,000 dead.

In Saudi Arabia, supposedly another staunch U.S. ally which President Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush protected from Saddam Hussein during the 1990-91 Gulf War, it is hard to find anyone -- in any level of society --speak positively of the current President Bush.

In a country where Americans were once viewed as the best of friends, U.S. citizens have become targets of a pro-Islamist insurgency and are warned to keep a low profile and remain vigilant.

At a dinner with about 25 prominent Saudi businessmen in Riyadh earlier this week -- most of whom have earned their degrees in American universities -- criticism of Bush was widespread.

'Everything is good about America, except its politics,' said one of the men during a traditional get-together as guests sat on the floor sipping tea, eating dates, rice and mutton. 'I have not met a single person who has been to the United States and not like it,' he said. 'But America's foreign policy is terrible; it's a disaster,' chimed in another of the guests.

Others offered their opinions: 'Bush has caused more harm to America's image than can be imagined,' one said. 'We all obtained our degrees in the United States, we felt at home there. But now, the way they are treating Arabs in general and Saudis in particular, we are sending our children to British, Canadian and other colleges. In the long run it is America that will suffer,' he said.

His thoughts were echoed by other guests, most of whom said they loved America, but had negatives things to say about the American president. And these are moderate, educated Saudis; millionaires, doctors, presidents of technology companies and leaders in their society. They are far from being fundamentalist fanatics.

In the last three years the image of the United States in the rest of the world has greatly suffered. Even as the Bush administration tries to win hearts and minds, it faces severe setbacks.

A survey conducted by the Arab Advisory Group and published in the Arab News shows that the Qatari-based satellite television channel al-Jazeera has a much larger following that the U.S.-funded al-Hurra (the free one). The survey puts al-Hurra's credibility 'far lower than al-Jazeera or the Dubai-based al-Arabiya.'

The poll surveyed all channels viewed in Saudi Arabia, where an astounding 90 percent of households have satellite television. The sample included 134 households and has a margin of error of about 9 percent.

Saudis favored al-Jazeera by 82 percent followed closely by al-Arabiya with 75 percent. Al-Hurra trailed far behind with 12 percent.

Seventy percent found al-Arabiya very trustworthy, while 69 percent said al-Jazeera was very trustworthy. Only 17 percent said the U.S.-funded al-Hurra was very trustworthy. Twenty percent of respondents found al-Hurra was untrustworthy.

The Arab Advisory Group poll placing al-Jazeera ahead of al-Hurra is somewhat a mirror of the way the Arab and Islamic world favors bin Laden over George Bush. And that is the dilemma facing a number of Arab countries today. Pressured by the United States to move towards greater democracy, they fear that free elections would greatly benefit pro-al-Qaida factions. Many analysts believe that if Syria or Saudi Arabia, for example, were to hold elections today, the Muslim Brotherhood would come out ahead. It is not an envious position to be in.

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