|Anti-U.S. sentiment swells|
By PAUL ADAMS
From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Cairo — The respected Arabic-language newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat ran a cartoon this week that captured the prevailing sentiment among Arabs these days. It shows Uncle Sam shooting arrows at Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but missing — hitting an Iraqi mother holding a baby.
After a week of exposure to the searing images of the war in Iraq, the mixed feelings that many Arabs have long felt toward the United States — admiring its entertainment, wealth and education but suspicious of its motives and power — are turning into something more like undiluted anti-Americanism.
Sitting in a smoky Cairo coffee shop this week, Ahmed Saleh, a retired accountant neatly dressed in a suit and tie, put the matter simply: "After this war, the majority of the Arab people will not like the United States."
In Tahrir Square, outside the coffee shop, there was a huge protest last week against the war and against the United States. At the American University of Cairo, just a few blocks away, students are ditching their Marlboros and Pepsi-Colas in favour of local brands as a way of expressing their rage. Some Western diplomats living in Cairo say that for the first time, they feel uncomfortable just walking the streets.
"I think the war will have a lasting impact in terms of creating a generation that really looks at the United States as an enemy," said Abdel Moneim Said of the Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.
This growing Arab anger — in some quarters, hatred — toward the United States inevitably will complicate the ambitious agenda U.S. President George W. Bush has set for himself in the Middle East. "When the dictator has departed, [the Iraqi people] can set an example to all the Middle East of a vital and peaceful and self-governing nation."
Some of Mr. Bush's advisers have said they see Iraq as the first domino to fall in a series that will transform the governments of the Middle East into Western-style democracies. Yesterday, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that the official opposition of most Arab governments to the war may mean less than it appears.
"I think we will see, once the coalition action has been successful, a very significant shift, both by the leaders and by those on the street," he told Parliament.
However, it seems equally likely that the dominoes will fall in the opposite direction, poisoning Arab attitudes to the West for years to come. The rhetoric has become startlingly shrill. Lebanese Information Minister Ghazi Aridi was quoted this week as remarking that, "Apparently, the Al Capones have deserted Chicago to install themselves in the White House."
Again yesterday, there were demonstrations against the war across the Arab world, in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Libya. In Sudan, a crowd of 30,000 burned British and U.S. flags, as well as a coffin labelled "Democracy."
In a poll conducted in six Arab countries this month by Zogby International, nearly 95 per cent of respondents said they believed the United States is going to war for oil or to subjugate the Palestinians to the Israelis. Only 6 per cent said they believed the war is being waged to promote democracy.
That is not surprising, since the Arab regimes the United States has supported in the past, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and even at one time President Saddam Hussein's Iraq, have hardly been models of democracy.
But add that for the past week, Arab audiences have been exposed to far more graphic television coverage of the war than anything seen in the West.
On the one hand, there are recurrent images of gore, the most memorable being that of an Iraqi toddler with half his skull blown off. On the other, there are the images of U.S. prisoners of war, some shivering with fear — a sight that has elicited vengeful cheers in some coffee shops, according to Arab news-media reports.
Equally worrisome from a Western perspective, Dr. Said said, there is a surprising political trend in the recent upswing in anti-Americanism — the coming together of two formerly hostile movements in Arab society. "Now there is a lethal marriage between Islamist and nationalist movements."
At one point during Thursday's antiwar demonstration in Cairo, a long-haired, obviously secular student with a harmonica was joined in a singsong of Arab folk songs by a group of Islamists clutching copies of the Koran.
It was a sight many bystanders thought they would never see. Islamists and nationalists, the two most powerful political groups in Arab society, who once saw each other as the enemy, have found a common foe: the United States.