A Year After War, Unity Eludes Arabs
CAIRO AND AMMAN, JORDAN
ONE year after bombs began falling on Baghdad, the Gulf war has left Arab nations humiliated by that crushing display of Western military might, profoundly divided among themselves, and searching vainly for a new regional order to restore their voice in world affairs.Skip to next paragraph
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That is the view of Arab and Western diplomats, officials, and intellectuals on both sides of the Gulf crisis that destroyed the old Arab system without sowing the seeds of its replacement.
Even with Saddam Hussein still in power in Iraq, Iranian leaders increasingly active in their search for influence in the Middle East, and governments from Algeria to Jordan under pressure from Islamic fundamentalists, there are no signs of a concerted effort by Arab leaders to ponder how their region should seek stability and security in the emerging new world.
Still reeling from the Gulf war, they have been unable even to convene an Arab summit to discuss issues.
"There is a sense of defeat among all major trends in Arab politics," says Mohammed el-Sayed Said, an analyst at the prestigious Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. "It looks like we are in for a period of extreme futility with a high level of disillusion and disorientation."
From the Arab perspective the only positive outcome of the war, besides Iraq's expulsion from Kuwait, has been the launching of a peace process involving Israel and her neighbors. The US diplomatic drive to stage these talks was widely seen as the inducement Washington offered Arab countries to join the anti-Iraq coalition.
Now "the US is morally committed to give some concessions to its Arab allies," says Assad Abdul Rahman, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Central Council. "Nothing short of territorial compromise on the question of Palestine will justify the US Arab allies' claim that their position in the Gulf war was worthwhile."
For Tahseen Bashir, a former Egyptian ambassador to the United Nations, the peace talks "offer the Arab world a psychological safety net. By containing the conflict [with Israel] in some form of negotiation, [US Secretary of State James Baker III] helped the Arab system not to break up even further."
But the price has been high, with the negotiations framed almost exactly as Israel had wanted, and disunity is widely blamed for Arab failure to secure an international conference with United Nations participation.
After the Gulf crisis blew away any semblance of the old Arab order, the new alignments that developed around and against Iraq were expected to take its place. "But there was a tendency to overestimate the permanency of some changes that were only battlefield conversions," a Western diplomat says.
On the one hand, Jordan and the Palestinians, sympathetic to Iraq during the war, have scrambled onto the US-led peace train; while on the other, the planned grouping of the Gulf states with Egypt and Syria has faltered.
"The rapidity with which the Gulf countries returned to their idea of comfortable isolation was surprising," the Western diplomat says, and their refusal to invite Egypt and Syrian troops to ensure Gulf security in return for financial aid - a deal enshrined in the Damascus Declaration they all signed last March - has angered Cairo and Damascus.
"The Gulf rulers are still nursing their vendetta against Iraq, not knowing what to do but relying heavily on the West, which makes the Arab system a shambles," Mr. Bashir says.