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Press Report

Lack of Arab Street Reaction Raises Many Eyebrows   

By Shadiah Abdullah
Gulf News, Dubai -  Monday, February 17, 2003.

With the anti-war movement gaining momentum around the world on Saturday, the conspicuous lack of a substantial widespread Arab street reaction has raised eyebrows.

While millions of people marched all over the globe to protest the possible U.S.-led attack against Iraq, the only major rallies in the Arab world were held in Syria and Lebanon.

In Jordan, only a few thousand took to the streets while only 1,000 Egyptians, overwhelmed by anti-riot police, demonstrated in Cairo.

In the Gulf, Bahrain was the only country that witnessed any sort of anti-war activity. Dozens of Bahrainis had staged a candle-lit vigil on Friday night. A previous demonstration attended by some 1000 people had been described as "luke warm." 

When compared to the large demonstrations that rocked the Arab World during the Israeli atrocities in Jenin last year, the question that arises is why was there no mass protests in Arab countries? 

This war is predicted to have a devastating impact on the Middle East and the whole world, so you would logically expect the Arabs to have mass demonstrations, said Dr Abdul Khaliq Abdullah, a prominent UAE political analyst. 

"However, Arabs are the most repressed people in the world, living under undemocratic regimes that do not allow freedom of expression," he pointed out. 

The paradox, Dr Abdul Khaliq added, is that the Arab governments are in principal against war so it would be in their favour if their own people had taken to the streets to support that stance. 
"The catch is that they are afraid that these demonstrations will turn against them and will be used as a platform for other issues", he said. 

"They sometimes allow spontaneous demonstrations to take place if they see them as a means of defusing a tense situation or appeasing anger - like in the Palestinian situation".

On the other hand, Mohammed Al Ali, an Arab writer and analyst, attributed the lack of demonstrations to a feeling of powerlessness prevalent in the Arab world.

His view was echoed by an Egyptian citizen who said: " What is the use of protesting? The Americans will still attack Iraq. Nobody cares about our views". 

Meanwhile, others did not share that feeling and expressed their willingness to express their rejection of the war. "I would have protested as would have many people I know, but demonstrations are banned in my country," said Ahmed, an Arab who did not wish to be identified. 

In another Arab citizen's opinion, the media is to be blamed for the passive role played by the Arab masses. "When you read the papers or watch the TV, you get the impression that America's mission is only to get rid of Saddam Hussain. 

"However, the reality that a lot of innocent people, many of them children, will be caught in the crossfire is never emphasised. It is as if Saddam alone lives in Iraq", he said. 

He claimed that some Arabs are "naive" enough to believe that America's smart bombs will not kill the civilians. 

Another Arab, Abu Abdullah, predicted that there will be an angry response when the U.S. launches attack. 

"While in the west people are protesting to stop the war, the Arab masses will be roused only after they see the footage of the damage that will happen in Iraq. Arabs only react after the milk is spilt," he lamented. 


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