EGYPT, one of the United States' strongest allies in the Arab coalition arrayed against Iraq, has cautioned Washington that the Gulf war should be over by mid-March, the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. It has also warned the US against the total destruction of Iraq, according to Egyptian diplomats. Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid handed this message from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to President Bush in a meeting earlier this week, according to the sources.
Their briefings contain the first admission by an Arab government allied with the US that the intensive bombing and news of Iraqi civilian casualties are causing internal problems for regimes close to the US.
During the past week, intellectuals in the Arab world predicted that, as the war dragged on and the suffering of Iraqis became known, populations in even such anti-Iraq capitals as Cairo would express an outpouring of sympathy for Iraq. They explained that although the concept of Arab unity is an illusion, Arabs all over the region still aspire to it. There is a strong sense of Arab brotherhood on the grass-roots level, especially when an outsider is attacking an Arab country.
In addition, the battle has increasingly taken on the appearance of a conflict between a Western imperial state trying to impose its will on the region and a strong unbowing Arab leader. Resentful of centuries of foreign domination, Arabs instinctively identify with local leaders who try to repel such domination.
An Egyptian diplomat here says that increasingly, pro-Iraq popular sentiment is setting the tone in Algeria and Morocco and that it is a significant factor in Egypt as well, where left-wing politicians and Islamic fundamentalists are reaping the fruits.
``There's a certain sympathy with Iraq, especially after what we've seen on TV,'' the diplomat says. ``There's a widespread feeling against air raids hitting civilians.''