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Facing up to terror in the Middle East

By CNN's Hala Gorani


CAIRO, Egypt (CNN) -- On the day suicide bombers blew themselves up in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Dahab, I switched the TV in the Atlanta anchor office to Egyptian television. I wanted to see how local media were covering the news of the triple bombing that killed at least 18 people and wounded dozens more on April 24th.

The news anchor was conducting a telephone interview with a Dahab tourism industry worker who'd run out of his hotel in panic after hearing one of the three explosions.

"I can't tell you what I saw. It was too awful. Do you really want to hear it?" he asked on live television.

"Yes, tell us what you saw. " the anchor insisted.

"Blood everywhere. Arms, legs..."

And his voice cracked.

"I've been working in Dahab 14 years," he added in a controlled sob. The implication was clear: he'd worked 14 years in this resort town and this would be the day that would forever alter his life and, most likely, his livelihood and that of his family.

Tourism is by far the biggest source of revenue for Dahab and other Red Sea resorts, like Sharm el-Sheikh and Taba. Those towns too, were recently hit by suicide attacks. Dozens were killed, hundreds wounded.

Authorities blame homegrown Al Qaeda-inspired groups from Bedouin tribes.

Whoever they are, many Middle Eastern countries are now facing internal Islamist violence. These are groups whose aim is to destabilize governments viewed as secular, corrupt and "in bed" with the West.

In Saudi Arabia, for instance, the government is sparing no expense in building state of the art surveillance systems. It is also spending millions training elite squadrons of special forces to catch terrorists.

In Jordan, there was a triple suicide bombing last November. I was sitting in one hotel lobby in Amman that day, when three other hotel lobbies blew up, killing dozens, including Syrian-American filmmaker Mustafa Akkad. Ironically - and tragically - Akkad was best known for directing a movie about the peaceful messages within Islam.

After decades of regimes that have stifled true dissent, the most organized form of political opposition in many countries in the region is violent Islamic militancy.

And some say it is the responsibility of religious leaders to stop the bloodshed. Islamic scholar and author Reza Aslan wrote after the Amman bombings last November that moderate Muslim clerics must reclaim a faith hijacked by extremists. He noted that Clerics must realize Muslims "are far more threatened by the rise of Islamic terrorism than is the West."

But there are timid, fledging attempts at creating secular opposition groups to Middle East governments that are not known for tolerating dissent. And many of them live and try to prosper as much in the virtual as in the physical world, testing the limits of what authorities will tolerate.

In this month's Inside the Middle East, Brent Sadler introduces us to Syrian reformist Ayman Abdel Nour. In a candid interview, he talks about his Web site in which he openly criticizes Syrian authorities, and the trouble he's faced - and is still facing - in doing so. Sadler also speaks to the new Syrian Telecommunication minister.

Will the Syrian authorities truly open the web when doing so will create platforms for its own citizens speak out more freely? There is not shortage of skeptics on that matter.

We'll also be featuring a story on "robot camel jockeys" in the Gulf. After years of criticism from human rights groups, countries like the UAE and Qatar have banned using small children as camel jockeys and are testing out interesting mechanized devices. Also, Becky Anderson will be visiting England's first Middle East cooking school.

Hope you can join us for this month's show.

Next month, we will feature an exclusive story on an important, controversial topic never before covered on television.

Watch this space!

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