Rising anger grips the Middle East
Brian Whitaker and agencies
Friday, March 21, 2003
Amid growing anger in the Arab world, anti-war protesters clashed with
riot police in Cairo yesterday, hurling stones and metal barricades and
shouting slogans against Arab leaders as well as the US.
Egyptian police lashed out with batons and used water cannons in a futile
effort to keep 500 demonstrators, mainly students from the American
University, from linking up with several hundred Islamists and
As the crowd swelled to around 2,000, protesters held a banner reading
"Shame on USA". Some shouted "Down with Arab leaders!" and "Leave, leave
Mubarak!" - a reference to the Egyptian president.
Many Arabs are critical of their own governments, accusing them of doing
too little to prevent the war.
Demonstrations are technically illegal in Egypt under the country's 22
year- long state of emergency. Scenes of the beatings were shown at
length by the Arab satellite channel al-Jazeera.
Fadlallah abu Wafia, 22, head of the American University students' union,
had a gash through his left eyebrow that he said came from a police
baton. Blood stained his T-shirt. "We were not planning any violence," he
said. "We just wanted to tell the Americans that they are no longer
welcome here ... [The police] started hitting us."
Amira Howidi, an Egyptian journalist, said many students appeared to have
been injured and predicted larger demonstrations today, after Friday
"I expect a high turnout," she said. "But I also expect the police to be
even more nervous and strict."
Other protests were held throughout Egypt. Elsewhere, Palestinians in the
Gaza town of Beit Hanoun shouted "Death to America, death to Bush," and
"We will sacrifice our soul and our blood for Saddam".
In a statement faxed to the Associated Press, the Palestinian Hamas
movement condemned the attack as "the beginning of a new American
colonisation in the region which won't be limited to Iraq".
Official reactions in the Arab world focused on concern for civilians and
regret that diplomatic efforts had failed, but avoided direct criticism
of the US.
Amr Moussa, secretary-general of the Arab League, called it a "sad day
for all Arabs, with one of our nations under a military attack that
doesn't consider [the safety of] civilians."
But in Kuwait many ordinary citizens were relieved to see what they hoped
was the beginning of the end of President Saddam. "Bush is a real man,"
Ahmad Hussein Ahmad said. "His dad liberated Kuwait and now the son will
It is a view that few elsewhere in the region share. A Lebanese Daily
Star editorial said the outbreak of war was a moment of truth for the
"The sustained American campaign marks the beginning of the new phase in
global power relationships," it said.
"We cannot afford another catastrophic half-century or even decade of
Arab impotence at the global level, disunity and tensions at the regional
level, and vulnerability and autocracy at the domestic level."