DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — France’s riots have set off a round of troubled debate across the Arab world: Most here blame a failure to offer opportunity to immigrants, but others see a more ominous clash of cultures over Islam.
Across the Middle East, the images of burning cars and stone-throwing young people have dominated newspapers and television. Analysts have hotly debated the riots’ meaning, their cause and whether they might spread.
“The anger displayed, and the intensity with which it has spread, is alarming,” said one Persian Gulf political analyst, Abdul Khaleq Abdulla.
Most attribute the flare-ups to social injustice and high unemployment, rather than anti-Islamic discrimination or a wider culture clash. They have urged the French government — and the Western world at large — to take concrete steps to rectify the problem.
“There are no puzzles here. The core problem is mass degradation and alienation manifesting themselves in … belts of educated, usually unemployed, young men throughout Arab and Asian urban areas; and in parallel urban zones of mass disenfranchisement and marginalization,” said Rami Khouri, writing Wednesday in the Lebanon Daily Star.
Added Al-Arabiya director Abdel Rahman al-Rashed: “These are the voices of a community that has no voice on the political scene.”
But Iran has taken a more provocative slant, blaming anti-Islamic sentiment that it contends is widespread across Europe.
“Restrictions imposed on the Islamic dress code in France are an official policy there and the government has suppressed minorities’ beliefs and humiliated them openly,” the hard-line Jomhuri Eslami daily said in a commentary.
Immigrants tend to blend in more in the United States, while in Europe the barriers of culture, language and class are high, noted Shafiq al-Ghabra, the president of the American University in Kuwait, in his column in Al-Rai Al-Aam daily.
The worry is that right-wing groups will gain power in France because of the uprisings, he said.
“Will Europe enter into a confrontation phase with Muslims on its territories?” he asked.
Many of those rioting are French-born children of immigrants from France’s former Arab and north African territories like Algeria. Community leaders in France’s slums have long complained of a lack of jobs and widespread discrimination.
Among government leaders in the Arab world, the images of streets on fire raised many alarms.
In Saudi Arabia, the official Saudi Press Agency reported Wednesday that King Abdullah, in a telephone conversation with French President Jacques Chirac, expressed “the kingdom’s hope that the French government would be able to put an end to the acts of sabotage.”
The Jordan Times, an English-language daily, compared the French riots to those three years ago in Maan, a poor city in southern Jordan that is an Islamist stronghold and frequently prone to rioting.
“Many blamed the riots on Islamic fundamentalism, exactly like many today are speaking of religious violence in the Parisian banlieues (suburbs),” said the Jordan Times in an editorial. “But deep down, they are two stories of denied opportunities, forgotten reform.”