CAIRO — RELIEF spread across the Middle East with news of a Gulf cease-fire yesterday. But the deep divisions within the Arab world wrought by Iraq's annexation of Kuwait and the war are likely to persist for some time. For months, Arab and Western coalition rhetoric has centered on postwar creation of a new regional security plan. Western governments have promised to press for resolution of the Arab-Israeli dispute. But, Arab analysts point out, before the Middle East can define its postwar needs, it must first reconcile itself.
``We don't know what will happen to Gulf-Arab relations,'' says an Egyptian academic. ``What of Egypt's relations with Jordan, Sudan, and Tunisia - and the Palestinians as well? This is a very difficult period.''
The 22-member Arab League, which last met in full session in August, has been riven by the crisis. Its function as a regional mediating body is virtually defunct.
Cairo, where the League has its headquarters, was at the forefront of the campaign against Iraq. States that opposed the use of Western troops to end the occupation of Kuwait or sympathized with Iraq have refused to send representatives to the League. They charge that Egypt and the Gulf states have taken over the organization to advance their own foreign policy aims.
Whether because of logistical reasons or Western intent, the role of Arab soldiers in the liberation of Kuwait City has been prominent in global news coverage.
The high profile of the allied Arab forces has undoubtedly helped to promote the war against Iraq as more than a ``crusade'' by non-Muslim infidels. But it also runs contrary to Arab government efforts to contain criticism at home.
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Syria had earlier played down the role that their troops would take in the event of a war against Iraqi forces. But, as 24-hour television coverage repeatedly stressed, those same troops led the recapture of Kuwait City.
The Arab coalition members - Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states - are unlikely to abandon the coalition at this point in the liberation of Kuwait. Morocco, which sent about 1,300 troops to Saudi Arabia, drew away from its previous support after pro-Iraq opinion mounted at home.
The remaining Arab allies, while holding the course, are expected to press for the soonest possible departure of US, French, and British troops from the region. Otherwise, domestic opposition is certain to increase and prospects for reconciliation with pro-Iraq states to be more remote.
Cairo was the scene of violent clashes last week between antiwar demonstrators and police. In the demonstrations, marked by slogans attacking Egypt's alliance with the US, thousands of students called for an end to the ground war.
Until the Feb. 24 start of the land battle, dissent over the Gulf crisis in Egypt had been low-key. But the start of fighting appeared to unleash simmering antiregime and anti-American feeling in the Arab world's most-populous nation. Students chanted slogans calling Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ``a coward'' and an ``American agent.'' For the first time in recent memory, Westerners were jeered and even roughed up by angry students.
``The feeling here today is shock,'' said Fahmy Howeidy, a writer for the Cairo daily Al Ahram. ``The people here have the feeling that the Americans deliberately set out to humiliate the Iraqis. If the numbers which were announced about casualties are true, it means that tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed.''
He continued, ``If the Americans keep any military presence in the area, the situation here will explode. All the anger between the Arab people will turn against the Americans who are occupying Arab land.''
At a recent Gulf crisis seminar in Cairo, many participants vented their concerns over the long-term aims of the US. Said one: ``The Takriti occupation has ended, but America's has just begun.'' Takrit is the village where Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's was born.