Arabs flay Soviet move but warn West not to overreact
Beirut, Lebanon — Most Arab states have denounced the recent Soviet intervention in Afghanistan -- but some Arab voices also are warning against a possible overreaction by the West.
One prospect that has aroused particular concern in the Arab world is the possibility that the United States might seek to build or use military bases in Egypt and Israel. The concern is that this would result in a degree of polarization unacceptable in this ultrasensitive region.
Friday sermons in mosques all over the Arab world on Jan. 4 were devoted to a denunciation of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Sunni Muslim sheikhs in Lebanon were instructed by their muftis (interpreters of religious law) to deplore "the atheistic intervention in Afghanistan" and to stress "the right of the Muslim people of Afghanistan to independence and self-determination."
Must of the Arab opposition to the Soviet action adopted a similar religious tone. The (government-controlled) Saudi daily Okaz wrote that "communism is out to destroy the Muslims, their creed and civilization."
The Saudi ruling family is reported to be reacting more strongly to the Soviet intervention than to any other event since the 1969 burning of the A1 -Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. On that occasion, the Saudi monarch, King Faisal, convened a summit conference of all Muslim heads of state to decry the incident.
The present Saudi ruler, King Khalid, may be considering a similar response -- though his stature in the Muslim world is far less than King Faisal's, and his family is still busy dealing with the aftermath of the November occupation of Grand Mosque in Mecca.
Saudi Arabia also has become the first country to withdraw from the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow as a protest over the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan , according to reports from Riyadh.
One particularly significant criticism of Soviet actions not based on religious considerations was that voiced in a series of articles in the Iraqi government daily AlThawra.
The series was entitled, "What results do the Soviet Union and the world expect, after the intervention in Afghanistan?" In the first article, there was an even-handed denunciation of all big-power foreign policy, which the paper said inevitably led to "hegemony and domination" whenever circumstances allow.
But the series offered particularly harsh criticism of Soviet policy in the Mideast, which it said had failed because of the Soviets' secularism, because of "deviated and wrong attitudes" on the behalf of local communist parties, and because of the Soviets' inability to help the states of the region with their economic development.
This, the second article in the series explained, meant that the Soviets lost what influence they had gained in the Arab world through their alliance with Egypt's former President Nasser, and led them instead to seek influence in states peripheral to the area, such as Ethiopia and Afghanistan.
This article described the recent Soviet intervention as "the outright occupation of Afghanistan" -- an extremely significant formulation for the Iraqis, who are still, formally at least, linked to the Soviets through a treaty of friendship and cooperation signed in 1972.
Almost the only Arab states that have not come out against the Soviet invasion are Syria, whose government leaders are described as "too busy" with their current Baath Party congress to formulate any reaction, and tiny, pro-Soviet South Yemen.
But the Syrians have found time to voice their deep concern over the consequences of possible American reactions. The semiofficial daily, Tishrin, slammed the idea of the US having military bases in Egypt and Israel, though one government official added the private opinion that this course would prove disastrous for the Sadat regime in Egypt.
Fears about the establishment of US bases in the area are not, however, limited to the generally pro-Soviet Syrians. In pro-Western Kuwait, the government-controlled press also has warned against American overreaction.
The Kuwait daily, A1-Qabas, compares the presence of 30,000 Soviet troops in Afghanistan to the 30,000 Syrian troops "who are in Lebanon with Aryan and Islamist approval.
"All these facts," AL-Qabas adds, "give no legal justification for the colonialist Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, but by the same token they give no right to America to provoke the world with demands for military bases in Egypt, Israel, Oman, Kenya, and Somalia."
AL-Qabas, like other papers warning against American overreaction, criticizes the US for wanting the Arabs to wage the Americans' war against the Soviets for them. America, AL-Qabas says bitterly, "wants Islamic and Arab peoples and homelands to burn, defending the life of the precious American citizen."
With all this skepticism over American plans to react to events in Afghanistan, there are serious doubts over the extent to which even pro-Western Islamic nations, such as Egypt, Oman, or Turkey, could swim against the tide.