US Intervention Spawns Arab Reaction
Public Protests on Heels Of Arab-Summit Support Signal Long-Term Dangers
BY lining up the support of most Arab states at the one-day Cairo summit last week, the United States has won a major round against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. But, according to Arab analysts, the very gains of the US are also serving as a catalyst for a strong revival of a wave of pan-Arab nationalism and boosting the Islamic fundamentalists in the region.
``Washington has triggered off all the red buttons, by challenging inherent religious and nationalist sensitivities as American heavy presence in Saudi Arabia is viewed here as tantamount to completing foreign control over the Islamic holy shrines [the other most revered Islamic holy site, Jerusalem is already under Israeli occupation] as well as over Arab natural resources,'' an Arab analyst said.
Demonstrations against American intervention and in support of President Hussein were reported in Jordan, the Israeli-occupied Arab territories, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and Mauritania and were expected to continue and spread to other Arab countries.
In Jordan, at press time, thousands were gathering for a ``confrontation rally'' near a cemetery where Iraqi soldiers who took part in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war are buried. Organizers say the purpose of the rally is to express solidarity with Iraq against the ``American intervention.''
The Muslim Brotherhood, the most influential Islamic organized group in many Arab countries, issued a statement opposing the American presence in Saudi Arabia and demanding that the Arab troops should not take part in any fighting backing the American forces.
The Jordanian leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood turned against its once-financial backer, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. At a mass rally, attended by thousands last Friday, the Brotherhood called for Islamic jihad against ``the new crusaders,'' in defense of Iraq and the Islamic world.
The Brotherhood, although it opposes the Iraqi invasion, also urged all Muslims in the Arab world to turn against all the Arab leaders who chose to line up with the US and declared Fahd ``a traitor ... for allowing the American control of Mecca and Medina,'' two of the most revered holy shrines in the Muslim world.
Arab analysts point out that the Brotherhood's explicit condemnation of the pro-American Arab rulers - after the movement's longstanding alliance with these very regimes against the Arab left - is bound to have a chain reaction in the Arab world especially if the military confrontation in the Gulf took place.
In Syria, where press restrictions are extremely tight, reports of demonstrations could not be confirmed. But an Arab journalist close to the Syrian government leaked a brief report to Jordanian journalists that a protest had taken place Sunday.
Jordanians and Syrians traveling from Damascus to Amman said that support for President Saddam Hussein was on the rise. ``I do not think that the same pattern will take place in Syria; if anything, the aggravation of the crisis or an American intervention could escalate an explosion similar to the Romanian revolt,'' a Syrian academic-in-exile said.
A member of the Syrian-based Iraqi opposition to Saddam, arriving in Amman yesterday, said that ``the Syrian street is pro-Saddam.'' A senior Arab diplomat returning from Damascus this weekend said that even some government officials privately expressed support for Saddam after the Cairo summit.
The wave of increasing popular discontent, however, does not negate, at least in the short term, the important gains achieved by Washington not only against President Hussein, but also in terms of its other interests in the region.
The Cairo Arab summit is the only Arab summit to produce a decisive and firm Arab action since the 1978 Baghdad summit, which ostracized Egypt for its US-brokered peace accord with Israel.
Many Arab politicians also believe that by sending Arab troops to Saudi Arabia, the summit has provided cover and legitimacy to any American attack or confrontation with Iraq.
``What we fear is that the Arab infantry will end up doing the fighting with Iraq, consequently providing legitimacy to the American intervention,'' said Dr. Jamal Shaer, chairman of a Jordanian centrist party, expressing the view that Arab troops should be a substitute and not a cover for American forces in Saudi Arabia.
Jordan's King Hussein, who supported the summit resolution with reservations, said that Jordan would not send troops to Saudi Arabia as long as the US forces remained there.
King Hussein's statement differed from the declared position of Cairo - which has already dispatched troops to Riyadh - that the Arab forces ``will provide an umbrella to guarantee the security of the territories of the [Gulf.]''
The Egyptian statement reflects yet another important goal achieved by Washington, for as Arab states started dispatching troops to Saudi Arabia, Baghdad and not Israel is emerging as the major threat to at least key Arab states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and rather unexpectedly, Syria.
Syria's support for the summit resolution, was seen by analysts as a major turning point, as Syrian President Hafez al-Assad opted for drowning his archenemy, President Saddam Hussein, rather than adhering to his longstanding strategy of confronting Israel and the US.
This resulting reshuffling of Arab alliances in favor of Washington has not only undermined the pre-summit regional blocs - such as the Arab Cooperation Council (ACC) - but more significantly reversed the confrontational Arab strategy endorsed at the Baghdad Arab summit three months ago.