Anger Builds and Seethes as Arabs Await American Invader
By DANIEL J. WAKIN
NYTimes, 25 October - CAIRO, Oct. 24 — After last Friday's Prayers at Al Azhar Mosque, anger against the United States spilled out into the courtyard in what was a relatively meager demonstration. Separate groups of men and women chanted in favor of Iraq, a boy on a man's shoulders carried a sign saying "I love 11 September" in English and the rally was over within an hour.
But on the edge of the crowd, Hassan Hossam reflected on a deeper fear in this part of the world that if the United States attacks Iraq, it would go on to impose long-term military control.
"This is totally rejected because Arabs are the only people who should rule their country," Mr. Hossam, a 32-year-old sales clerk, said. "President Bush is trying to take us backward, to many years ago," he said. "If America occupies an Arab country, it would mean the whole Arab world on fire."
Confronted by American plans for Iraq, people in the Middle East are facing more than just the prospect of war. They now must consider the possibility that the American government, backed by its military, may exert daily administrative control over a swath of Arab soil for a long period.
The idea summons up angry emotions in a region where sensitivities about the colonial past run deep. When asked about American plans for Iraq, people here evoke the Sykes-Picot agreement, a secret pact in 1916 between France and Britain to carve up Arab lands and Turkey from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. It led to British and French control of what is now Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, and the death of early Arab nationalist dreams; Britain had already occupied Egypt in 1882.
United States officials at one point said the Bush Administration was considering a plan for Iraq modeled after the occupation of Japan after World War II. An American military commander would assume control of the country for a year or more while the United States and allied forces would search for weapons of mass destruction and keep up oil production. But administration officials have also taken pains to say Iraqis would be treated as a liberated, not a conquered, people. President Bush has said the United States would not try to impose its culture or form of government on another nation.
Nevertheless, even the hint of American domination of Iraq touches a raw nerve here.
An American occupation of Iraq would feed into a sense of humiliation felt by many Arabs, said Rami Khouri, a political analyst and syndicated newspaper columnist who is Palestinian Jordanian.
"People are worried about the continued sense of degradation and humiliation that they are subjected to," he said in an interview from Amman, "just sitting around watching Americans and Israelis do whatever they want in the region."
Such sentiments give rise to talk that the United States and Israel are seeking to redraw the map of the Middle East, perhaps dividing up Saudi Arabia, or sending the Palestinians from the occupied territories to Jordan. "It's a hallucinatory perspective," Mr. Khouri said.
As a sign of such sensitivities, King Abdullah of Jordan felt it necessary in a television interview last week to deny claims that the ruling Hashemite family had plans to take control of Iraq if President Saddam Hussein were ousted.
News reports said rumors about Jordan's intentions took hold after an uncle of the king participated in an Iraqi opposition conference.
Commentators have also linked the Israeli Army's return to the West Bank as part of a grander United States strategy to redraw the map of the Middle East.
There is a widespread belief among Arabs that a United States occupation of Iraq would be aimed at securing Iraqi oil supplies, echoing the imperial powers hunger for raw resources in decades past. American military occupiers would effectively control the world's second largest proven oil reserves.
"All they want is the oil!" exclaimed Zeinab Said, a businesswoman, amid table talk of Lady Di and cellphones at a luncheon in Cairo last week, where the hostess tinkled a bell to summon her white-gloved servant.
Ms. Said later allowed that some good could come from Saddam Hussein's removal. "It can be for development and a certain kind of democracy. It's a double edged sword you see," she said. "I am always an optimist."
One political thinker, Abdel Moneim Said, director of the Al Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies, said United States military control of Iraq would indeed be seen as a recolonization. But he suggested that something along the lines of a "trusteeship," with strong participation by other countries, would be acceptable in the region.
An Iraqi opposition leader who is a member of the former royal family and who hopes to restore the monarchy, al-Sharif Ali bin al-Hussein, said Sunday that American troops should come as liberators, not colonizers. "They will be in Iraq for cooperation and consultation, but they should leave quickly," Agence France-Presse quoted him as saying.
Many people worry about an increase in local violence as anger against the American presence grows.
Mohammed Salah, an expert on Egypt's Islamic movement for Al Hayat, a Saudi-owned Arabic-language newspaper in London, said anger over a United States presence in Iraq will only help groups seeking to attack American interests in the name of Islam.
"This atmosphere makes it very easy for Al Qaeda to operate," Mr. Salah said. "It makes the soil very fertile to launch attacks and to recruit people."