The Arab street awakens
[Ha'aretz - 16 Feb}
When Samuel Huntington wrote his paper "Clash of Civilizations" in 1993, he could not have expected the collapse of his theory a decade later, when millions of "Western" demonstrators in New York, London, Paris and Berlin would come out carrying banners opposing war against an "Eastern" Islamic country.
Also collapsed is the theory of Islamists who say the war on Iraq is part of an evil crusade against Islam. Even they will now have to explain to their followers why the wine-drinking infidels are marching to prevent an attack against the cradle of Arab civilization.
The scenario of an international day of protests against war on Iraq - the "voice of the street" - was not on the list of Washington's war plans nor in the defense schemes of the Arab states. But even before the demonstrations began, the Blix report allowed the Arab leadership to take up a clear position in which they could side with Europe without fearing a clash with the United States.
Yesterday, as Arab Foreign Ministers gathered in Cairo to prepare a summit that will in all likelihood meet on February 22, it will be safe for all of them to adopt the European stance, which calls for more time for the inspectors and no unilateral action against Iraq outside the framework of the Security Council. This will allow public Arab support for the European stance on the war, something that has been sorely lacking in recent weeks.
"It is impossible that France, Russia, China and Germany are fighting for Iraq and the Arab states are sitting on the sideline, frightened and not knowing who to support," said the editorial in Al Quds Al Arabi, the daily published in London.
The Arab summit marks a significant change in the stance of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the Arab leadership in general. Just 10 days ago Mubarak was against the idea of an emergency summit, arguing that there was little use for it so long as the Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was not cooperating with the UN inspectors. Last week Mubarak announced that the Arab states could not prevent war and rejected the idea of bringing forward an Arab summit scheduled for the end of March.
Yesterday, after Arab newspapers headlined of the failure of the Unites States to win over the UN and described it as "an American catastrophe," the fundamental principles of the summit were quickly set up over the telephone. Saddam Hussein is expecting a great deal of support when these principles are confirmed at the summit next week.
For Mubarak this is an opportunity to once more get a grip on managing the Iraq crisis, having surrendered the reins to Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The element still missing is Arab public opinion. As late as yesterday there have been very few demonstrations in Arab cities, with the exception of a mass demonstration in Yemen. Yesterday, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus and Ramallah joined the demonstrators in Thailand, Australia, France, London and New York.
"The war in Iraq has turned us into part of the world. The streets of London and Paris have freed the streets of Cairo and Damascus," commented an Egyptian journalist over the telephone. "But it is still not clear to us if we are demonstrating against America, for Iraq, or with Europe. We will have to wait a few more days to see where we are, where the people truly stand."
The Blix report divided the Security Council but appears to become a catalyst in reuniting Arab public opinion and raised once again concerns about the power of the "Arab street." The street may now have actual meaning. At a Damascus rally, televised live, the expressions "international oil mafia," "evil empire," "American-Zionist coalition," were heard and these will certainly be manifested in the Syrian position at the Cairo summit.
A newspaper editor in Jordan thinks that while the war was an accepted fact so far, the street may now demand a different direction. "I do not know if tomorrow or the day after we will not see more demonstrations in the streets, or at least criticism of the cooperation with the U.S. Will Saudi Arabia be able to continue allowing the U.S. army to operate from its territory? Will Jordan allow the U.S. army to operate from its area into west Iraq? And most importantly, what will Turkey's decision be."
The Turkish parliament is expected to meet on February 18 after the Muslim holiday break to decide on whether to allow 38,000 American troops to operate from its territory. Yesterday brought out very violent demonstrations in Turkey against the war.
"The problem is the Blix report and the continued Iraqi cooperation with UN inspectors may strengthen trust in Saddam Hussein in a way will make it difficult to differentiate between support for the Iraqi people and opposition to Saddam," said the Jordanian newspaper editor.
"Until now, we could write against Saddam and support the Iraqi people and thus build the rhetoric against war. It may be that now we will have to support Saddam personally. If you start seeing such articles in our press you will know that the regime has also changed its mind." This would be bad news for President George Bush.
By Zvi Bar'el