Arab governments fear further protests

ARABS have reacted strongly to the deaths of dozens of Syrians in Hama at the hands of the Syrian army, but most Arab governments kept silent, apparently fearing the power of protest movements that have spread throughout the region this year.

Writing in the Saudi pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, columnist Hussein Shobokshi said: "It's no longer possible to understand the silence of Arab and Islamic states and organisations before the massacres against Syrians."

Arab countries have said little about Syria, although in a rare comment, Egyptian foreign minister Mohamed Kamel Amr said his country was "very disturbed at the increase in the level of violence and the number of victims", the state news agency MENA reported.

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And Egyptian presidential candidate Mohamed ElBaradei said on Sunday: "The world is watching the slaughterhouse in Syria. Shame on us."

In the Gulf Arab region, where Saudi Arabia has led what analysts have called a "counter-revolution" to bolster allies against protests, media reflected popular revulsion of president Bashar al-Assad's attempt to crush opposition, but seemed to contrast that with the paternalistic rule of the Gulf ruling dynasties.

In Saudi newspapers, headlines about Syria ran next to picture of King Abdullah and reports of his Ramadan speech calling for Muslims to build "sympathetic, tolerant societies" in which "the wronged forgive those who have wronged them".

In the United Arab Emirates daily newspaper al-Ittihad, the Hama story came below headlines announcing huge housing loans. The UAE tried five people for attempting to push for democratic reforms, and has not allowed a repeat of protests in Dubai in March.