Arab Resentment Builds Over the UN's Sanctions
Arabs see a `double standard' in the application of UN policy, one that is tough on Arab countries and easy on Israel
UNITED NATIONS, N.Y. — WHEREVER the United Nations Security Council projects its power these days, Arab nations tend to be at the other end of the stick.
That is the growing perception among many Arabs who cite continuing punitive UN sanctions against Iraq and week-old sanctions against Libya. The resulting Arab frustration, say some analysts and diplomats, could lead to a dangerous backlash.
"There's a feeling of disillusionment that we are somehow at the receiving end of this so-called 'new world order,' " says an Arab diplomat.
And Clovis Maksoud, former Arab League ambassador to the UN and the United States, now director of the American University's Center for the Study of the Global South, says: "This resentment ... is leading to an unnecessary polarity between the Arabs and the West." Many Arabs, he says, feel the UN is being utilized ("I wouldn't say used") by the US and the British.
"Many Arabs are critical of what they call the arrogance and the high-handedness of the West in using the UN ... to humiliate the Arab nation," says Michael Hudson, a professor of Arab studies at Georgetown University.
Yet most countries - Iraq and Sudan are exceptions - are abiding by the letter of the new UN sanctions against Libya. Aimed at pressuring Col. Muammar Qaddafi to turn over two Libyans suspected in the 1988 bombing of a US airliner over Scotland, the sanctions include a ban on all commercial flights to and from Libya, an arms embargo, and Libyan embassy staff cuts abroad.
Grass-roots Arab sympathy for Libya remains strong, however. Many Arab officials say the West did not allow enough time or try hard enough to avoid UN sanctions. And several Arab leaders still are trying to help Libya find a way out. This week Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak met with Colonel Qaddafi near the Egyptian-Libyan border and reported "a glimmer of hope" that a solution could be found.
Signs of growing Arab solidarity are unmistakable. Syria, long a rival to Iraq, was the only Arab nation to support Iran in the Iran-Iraq war and served in the coalition against Iraq during the Gulf war. Despite this, Syria joined Egypt in denouncing the idea of further military attacks on Iraq.
Syria and Egypt, which have hundreds of thousands of workers in Libya who send home valuable paychecks, opposed UN sanctions against Libya. Syria's national airline tried April 20 to defy the air embargo, but failed to get permission to use airspace from other nearby nations.
Both Syrian President Hafez al-Assad and Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Mussa are on separate tours of the Gulf region this week, stressing the need for Arab solidarity. Many Arabs are critical of both Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein for invading another Arab country, and of Qaddafi. Yet Qaddafi, who once openly embraced terrorism, is widely seen by Arabs as having moderated. Egypt, as a leader in the solidarity drive, chose to renew diplomatic ties with Libya in 1989.
The UN move to implement sanctions suggests to some Arabs that the world body exercises a double standard, one tough on Arabs and easy on Israel.
Neither the US nor Britain has ruled out the use of further sanctions against Libya, such as an oil embargo or the possible use of force. But even the first set of sanctions drew five abstentions instead of the usual unanimous Council vote. Further sanctions would be tough to get. Many European nations and Japan, for instance, rely heavily on Libyan oil.
Mr. Maksoud says the feeling that the US and Britain are dictating the UN agenda "and getting away with it" is contributing to growing Arab alienation from the "new world order" that could show up in radicalism or in the growth of Islamic fundamentalism. Moderation is increasingly viewed not as rational, he says, but as a willingness to be co-opted by the Western agenda.
The irony, adds Professor Hudson, is that many Arab governments see the Bush administration as perhaps the most evenhanded in a long time on the Middle East peace process.
"That's brought the US political credit at the same as it has been dissipating it on the other [UN] front," he says.