- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 16, 2002

NICOSIA, Cyprus While awaiting U.S. military action against Iraq, the Arab world feels increasingly vulnerable, frustrated and powerless, and criticism in the press and television is becoming more strident across the Middle East and North Africa, frequently bordering on hysteria.
Diplomats who analyze trends in the area report steadily growing anti-Americanism, even in countries at least theoretically supporting U.S. plans to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and his regime.
There have been suggestions in the media to boycott U.S. products and punish American firms operating in Arab countries.
Above all, the Arabs are wondering whether the United States and other Western powers have more far-reaching plans for the region than just regime change in Iraq.
"If the United States and Britain establish the precedent in this region by overturning a government by the force of arms, who will be next?" asked an editorial in Egypt's Al-Ahram daily.
Arab sentiments were perhaps best summed up by Hasan Abu Nimah, Jordan's former representative at the United Nations, who wrote in the Jordan Times: "We read about partitioning Iraq, about redrawing the borders and changing regimes We also read about controlling the oil and other natural assets. But we do all that as if we were outsiders, indifferent observers and not the people and the states that exist in this part of the world, sitting right here where the blow will hit."
Majdi Ahmad Husayn, secretary-general of Egypt's opposition Labor Party, was more blunt in Cairo's Al Shab newspaper.
"The United States continues to reveal its ugly face," he wrote. "It is determined to continue its preparations for aggression with total disregard of the international community A decisive blow to U.S. influence is sufficient to kick it out of the region. If Egypt adopts an honorable and dignified stand, it would awaken the entire region."
Diplomats say that more alarming than such an appeal was a recent opinion poll conducted by Cairo's Al-Ahram Weekly. The paper said half of the respondents in the survey felt that United States "deserved" the terrorist attacks of September 11, and that the U.S. war on terrorism was "a war against Arabs and Muslims."
Egypt is one of the countries that Washington has promised to remunerate to the tune of $1.5 billion in "parallel aid" for losses it is likely to suffer as a result of war against Iraq.
A report by a Western envoy to Jordan, available here, said that the Arabs feel that "they have become so insignificant as a nation that no longer does anyone take into consideration any response from them to what they perceive as injury, insult or harm."
Other diplomatic reports stress Arab doubt about the effectiveness of U.S. plans or of Washington's ability to impose a new regime on Iraq, even after a successful military intervention. This was reflected in an editorial by the Beirut Daily Star, an independent English-language daily.
"George W. Bush's promise to sow freedom and democracy rings hollow when one considers how little effort his administration has made toward nation-building in Afghanistan," the editorial remarked. "This bodes especially ill for Iraq, which finds itself next in line for Bush's adventurism."
Most Arabs regard Afghan President Hamid Karzai as a leader without power beyond Kabul, the capital, who relies mainly on a network of ruthless regional warlords.
The U.S. decision to subject Arab and other Muslim visitors to increased scrutiny, including blanket fingerprinting, caused an avalanche of editorial protest across the Middle East.
Bahrain's Akhbar Al-Khalij newspaper said:
"The United States is beginning to treat Arab and Muslim visitors in a way that could be described as provocative and humiliating If the United States is treating Arabs and Muslims this way, U.S. citizens should not get a better treatment. Why should the U.S. financial institutions and investments in the Arab world stay out of this picture?"
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud Al-Faisal, said last week that his government has informed the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh that Americans also may be subject to fingerprinting as part of their visa or entry process, as the United States is doing to some foreign visitors, including Saudis. The American practice, which took effect this month, involves fingerprinting, photographing and interviews by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service of selected visitors arriving in the United States.
A grim view of the unfolding situation was presented by Al-Riyadh newspaper in Saudi Arabia, a country that many consider a potential springboard for a U.S. strike against Iraq.
The United States and Britain, the newspaper opined, "[h]ave decided to strike at Iraq without asking for a vote of the people and parliaments of democratic states in the entire world. We were in the forefront of those people who supported the eviction of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. However, we are against increasing the tragedy of the Iraqi people by launching a war on them.
"To what will this big world resort if it gets disgusted with the foolishness of U.S. aggression, bias and war? It will resort to terrorism The United States will be the loser in the long run."
The changing Arab mood, including a more radical attitude toward the United States and its allies, was signaled earlier this year to the French government by Tunisian Foreign Minister Habib Ben Yahia, who said his government was concerned by the "growing effervescence of the Arab street, which we witness every day."
Bechir Ben Yahmed, the Tunisian publisher of the influential French-language weekly Jeune Afrique, said that President Bush "has started a new war before finishing the previous one, accompanied in his 'sacred mission' by two European prime ministers, Tony Blair and Silvio Berlusconi."
"While the entire world is trying to preserve peace, the crusaders want their war [against Iraq]. In fact they have already started it," he said.
Some of the more strident attacks on U.S. policy have been made by Arab-language newspapers published in Britain or France, which are free of governmental pressures. London's Al-Hayah said: "The U.S. doctrine is based on the principle of forbidding any other country to compete for greatness and supremacy with the United States, and preventing the emergence of any rival military power."
In Qatar, the increasingly influential Al-Jazeera satellite television channel, watched throughout the Arab world, reported that "the United States continues to live in a state of fear and panic" after the September 11 attacks.
"The crusaders are bogged down in a whirlpool that will annihilate them soon, God willing," said Ahmad al-Nafisi, a Kuwaiti political writer, appearing on Al-Jazeera.
An oft-repeated theme in the Arab media is that while an attack on Iraq is virtually certain, its outcome might favor Saddam Hussein, regardless of U.S. military superiority.
Al-Watan Al-Arabi, published in Paris, wrote of a "confrontation strategy" drafted by Saddam that would "turn Iraq into a second Vietnam or Afghanistan for the American forces and their allies."
The "confrontation strategy," wrote the newspaper, citing "confidential sources," centers on the survival of Saddam and his clan and apparently assumes the inevitability of "a quick military defeat of the regular Iraqi forces."
Special units of the Republican Guards and of the ruling Ba'ath party have been prepared for resistance, the newspaper said, and tunnels, some up to six miles long, have been equipped with food, water and ammunition.
The hard core of this "underground army" has been recruited from among the Tikrit and Abu Nasir tribes loyal to Saddam, Al-Watan Al-Arabi said, and is prepared to fight for up to three years.
In Jordan's capital, Amman, Rami G. Khouri, a well-known commentator, concluded that because of "rhetorical overkill, diplomatic embellishment and irresistible Texas bravado the regrettable result is a drop in respect for American policy goals and a slow decline of the United States credibility as a world leader."


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