- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2006

CAIRO — As their anger against Israel and America swells, protesters across the Middle East are increasingly venting their frustration at their Arab rulers — especially in moderate countries, where governments have been reliable U.S. allies.

Nearly four weeks of fighting between Hezbollah and Israel have added to a difficult summer of price increases, discontent over the bloodshed in Iraq and stalled democratic reforms. Angry at their governments, demonstrators are praising a new hero: Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah.

“The whole region has been engulfed in anger since the war on Iraq more than three years ago,” said Diaa Rashwan, an Egyptian analyst with the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “The frustration is just huge.”

The rising resentment is weighing heavily on Arab leaders as their foreign ministers gathered in Beirut yesterday for an emergency meeting. Moderates such as Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia may want a halt to the fighting, but they can’t be seen as backing a U.S.-promoted cease-fire that Hezbollah has depicted as a surrender.

Even more worrisome for Arab leaders is that violence could turn on them. On Saturday, al Qaeda announced that an Egyptian militant group had joined the terror network. Although the group denied it, many fear that public anger could benefit militants across the region.

Demonstrators have denounced leaders of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia for blaming Hezbollah — sometimes implicitly, sometimes overtly — for starting the fighting by abducting two Israeli soldiers in a July 12 cross-border raid.

Three days of protests broke out last week among the normally quiet Shi’ite minority in Saudi Arabia, where demonstrations are rare. Although protesters were cautious not to criticize the ruling family, hundreds of Shi’ites waved posters of Sheik Nasrallah, chanting, “Oh Nasrallah, oh beloved one, destroy, destroy Tel Aviv.”

Cairo has seen nearly daily demonstrations against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for what protesters see as his failure to support Hezbollah. On Sunday, demonstrators held up a poster of Mr. Mubarak with a Star of David on his forehead, labeling him “the enemy of the Egyptian people.”

Last week, more than 1,000 protesters rallied in downtown Cairo, burning Israeli and American flags.

“Arab majesties, excellencies and highnesses, we spit on you,” one banner read.

Similar protests have erupted in Jordan and Kuwait, where anti-U.S. demonstrations are rare.

Lebanon may be the spark, but there’s plenty of tinder for the discontent, particularly the growing sectarian violence in Iraq and domestic economic strains.

Late last month, the Egyptian government reduced subsidies on gas, resulting in a 30 percent jump from 65 to 84 cents a gallon. Subway fares went up from 13 cents to 17. The increases angered many in a country where the average income is less than $1,400 a year.

Cash-strapped Jordan is wrestling with rising commodity prices after three consecutive fuel price increases in the past year.

Sheik Nasrallah, a Shi’ite, has emerged as a hero, even among some secular Sunnis in Egypt and Jordan. In Egypt, protesters and opposition newspapers compare him to the late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Arab nationalist champion against Israel.

Some find the lionizing of the guerrillas alarming.

“Hezbollah took Lebanon hostage, and then came the tragedy we all know,” wrote Lebanese columnist Dalal al-Bizri in the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat on Sunday. “Ironically, as the number of victims increases, the party becomes more popular.”

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