Arab news media reacted cautiously Wednesday to the videotaped beheading of an American civilian, with some newspapers conspicuously playing it down.
Some commentators condemned the slaying and lamented that it would draw attention away from US soldiers' abuse of Iraqi prisoners. But others said their opinions of the US government had fallen so low that they have a hard time speaking out against the beheading.
"In normal circumstances, I could condemn the slaughtering of the American, but we are living in an abnormal circumstances. I cannot condemn it now," said Egyptian columnist Nour al-Huda Zaki. "The country that advocates human rights principals is now violating them and taking us back to the dark ages." Zaki is a senior journalist and columnist for the Cairo newspaper Al-Arabi. Her newspaper is published on Sundays, but she expected few Arab newspapers to cover the beheading extensively, because she said reporting on it could be read as condemning it. Indeed, across the Arab world there were few banner headlines or televised special reports about the killing of Nick Berg, a US civilian shown beheaded in a videotape posted Tuesday night on a militant Web site. The video claimed responsibility in the name of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who is affiliated with al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.
The biggest pan-Arab television stations - Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya - broadcast brief snippets of the video Tuesday night, and only Wednesday did they air longer excerpts. Neither showed the beheading itself.
"The news story itself is strong enough," said Jihad Ballout, spokesman for Qatar-based Al-Jazeera. "To show the actual beheading is out of the realm of decency."
Arab television stations are less reluctant to show bloody images from wars than some stations in the West, but said they drew the line at airing a beheading.
The presenter on Lebanon's private Al Hayat-LBC station, which led its bulletins Wednesday with the video, said: "We apologize to our viewers for not showing the entire tape because of the ugliness of the scene."
Kuwait's state television broadcast the news of the execution late Tuesday but not the video. In Jordan, state television aired its report over a still photo from the video.
The beheading was conspicuous in Wednesday's newspapers in most Arab countries for the lack of attention it got.
Egypt's leading daily, Al-Ahram, ignored the beheading Wednesday. Two other major pro-government newspapers, Al-Akhbar and Al-Gomhuria, ran news agency reports on inside pages without photographs.
An Al-Ahram editor, Ahmed Reda, said Tuesday night that the news came too late for the newspaper to confirm the video's authenticity with the US government. Reda said Berg's killing would receive "the coverage it deserves" in Thursday's Al-Ahram. The Thursday edition, which hit the streets Wednesday night, carried a page-four story, with no photograph.
Newspapers in Syria, where the government controls the press tightly, did not report the execution at all. Nor did any newspapers in Iraq, although that may have been because the news broke late. Jordan's mass circulation Al Rai published a report of the execution Wednesday - on an inside page without a photograph. The two English-language newspapers in the United Arab Emirates ran news agency reports without photographs - one on the front page and the other on page 14. Two of the Arabic newspapers carried brief items inside without photographs, and a third didn't mention it. Most Lebanese newspapers did report on the killing and ran a photograph of Berg sitting in front of the militants. Five of Kuwait's seven dailies published the report with photographs on their front pages. The other two published brief reports.
The video was released too late Tuesday evening for Middle East newspaper columnists. But many Arabs said Wednesday that the grisly execution drew attention from the US military's abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison, which has been the top story for the past 10 days in the region.
"We were winning international sympathy because of what happened at Abu Ghraib, but they come and waste it all," Abdullah Sahar, a Kuwait University political scientist, said of the militants who carried out the slaughter. "This shows how base and vile those who wear the robe of Islam have become."
In the video, the masked militants said they were taking revenge on Berg, 26, of West Chester, Pennsylvania, because of the abuses at the Baghdad prison.
Mustafa Bakri, editor of Al-Osboa weekly newspaper in Egypt, said Berg's execution will only harm efforts to expose American offenses against Iraqis.
"Such revenge is rejected," Bakri said of the execution. "The American administration will make use of such crimes just to cover their real crimes against Iraqis."
Zaki, the columnist for Al-Arabi, said the two issues were directly linked. In the video, the militants said the killing was revenge for the abuses by US soldiers at the prison. "What happened (to Berg), I believe, will make the American people wake up and realize that it is an end result of the raping of the Iraqis in the prison," Zaki said.