While Iraqis are being killed by American and British bombs in Baghdad, Basra and other Iraqi towns, Arabs and Muslims across the world have stepped up their protests against the war. At the same time, they have become increasingly critical of their own governments for their inability or refusal to take any effective action to prevent the US/UK attack on Iraq, and—by extension—their general illegitimacy and subservience to the West.
It was a sign of the concern of Arab countries that a new initiative for ending the war, tabled by Saudi Arabia on March 25, received strong support from Jordan, Egypt, Bahrain and other Arab countries. Although Saudi sources refused to give any details of the proposal, they said that it was based on the understanding that it was in both sides’ interests to stop the fighting and find another solution to their differences. It was the latest of a series of Arab attempts to be seen to be doing something, despite the knowledge that the US and its allies have absolutely no interest in the opinions of any Arab regime that offers anything but total and abject support for its position.
The pressure on the Arab governments is coming from mass demonstrations on the streets of Arab capitals; the people’s anger is turning from the West to their own governments. Protestors in Amman, the capital of Jordan, braved snow on March 25 to shout their opposition to the US/UK war, and slogans were also raised against Jordan’s government, particularly the prime minister, Ali Abu al-Ragheb. Unlike previous occasions, the police refrained from attacking protestors.
The anger in Jordan is particularly strong because of suspicions that, despite the government’s official line, the US is secretly using the country as a base for operations against Iraq. The US claims to have captured two major Iraqi airfields in western Iraq, and US and British special forces are known to be in the area. Amman admits that there are some 6,000 US troops in Jordan, and that US aircraft are operating out of a Jordanian air base, but says that they are only training local troops and helping to defend Jordan. Few people believe this story.
There have also been major anti-war protests in Egypt, which have been met by brutal police repression. Thousands of Egyptians, many of them students, came onto the streets after the beginning of the US war, in response to calls by leaders of the Islamic movement. As well as chaniting against the US, they also attacked Hosni Mubarak. Hundreds were arrested and many more severely beaten when police broke up the protests. Human Rights Watch reported that those arrested were tortured while in police custody.
Similar protests have taken place in Syria, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya and other countries. In Beirut the police used tear-gas and other crowd-control measures to prevent thousands of angry demonstators from approaching the British embassy.