Resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism posing threats and challenges to the Arab states
Beirut — In Amman, shops are closing more and more on Fridays, the Islamic holy day, rather than Sundays. In Jiddah, it is not uncommon now to see young Saudis with full beards or the short version of ''thobe'' robes, two signs of orthodox practice of Islam.
In Kuwait City, candidates for the student unions have campaigned on platforms of resegregating the cafeteria and classroom by sex.
These are the tell-tale signs of the resurgence of Islamic fundamentalism throughout the Arab world, the symbols of the single most consistent threat to both moderate and militant governments.
The revolution in Iran clearly had an impact on both Sunni and Shiite fundamentalist groups, serving as an example of their potential power.
But diplomats and political scientists in the region contend a more important factor, particularly among the young, is the perceived failure of pan-Arab nationalism personified by late Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
Nationalism did little to heal the deep divisions in the Arab world, and even less in the running conflict with Israel. Its main accomplishments were not political, but cultural, making an Arab proud to be an Arab and more aware of his roots.
Ironically, academics suggest that the cultural phenomenon has in turn helped the fundamentalist cause, by stressing the importance of religions.
Fundamentalists differ in size, form, and potential impact, but there is little doubt among most diplomats that the growth of religious fervor is the most important single trend to monitor in evaluating the future concern.
In Syria, diplomats say there are signs that the outlawed Moslem Brotherhood has resumed its violent campaign against the government of President Hafez Assad. There have been a series of reported attacks over the past two months by gunmen against military targets near Homs and Aleppo.
Envoys claim the Brotherhood has regrouped after the devastating conflict between the zealots, who oppose the style and policies of the secular government , and the Syrian Army early last year. Thousands of civilians and insurgents were killed.
Adnan Saadeddin, one of the underground leaders, was quoted in March as claiming the fundamentalists had formed an alliance with other anti-government groups in preparation for an escalation of guerrilla attacks.
In Iraq, the government has publicly rebuked members of the ruling Baath Party for putting their religious beliefs before secular ideology.
An official report singled out the party's youth and student groups for errors which ''pushed some young people to fall into the traps of fundamentalist and extremist religious political movements.'' The highly unusual move of publicizing the issue underlined the level of concern.
Iraq has fundamentalist groups among both Sunni and Shiite sects. While not a major threat to the government's immediate future, they do represent an additional thorn in the side of President Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi leader is already under political pressure due to the 32--month-old Gulf war.
Late last year, the secular government introduced new security measures aimed largely at the Shiite community, to prevent the possibility of an Islamic rebellion. But in a carrot-and-stick strategy, the government also began funding major renovations of Shiite holy sites to gain favor.
In Saudi Arabia, fundamentalism is beginning to catch fire among young Sunnis , surpassing the already orthodox practice in a country that is considered the ''guardian of Islam.''
The government's expulsion in May of five members of the International Christian Fellowship, including two Americans, is said by diplomats to be in part the result of pressure from the youth groups who felt authorities were too lax. Christian worship is outlawed in the kingdom.
Students have also made issues of government corruption, the political and military reliance on the US, recent advances for women, and priorities of development programs.
One ranking Western official commented recently: ''The challenge is now from the right. The government was used to the supposed challenge from the left. They had a vocabulary for it, a plan to deal with it. Then suddenly it was Islamic pressure they had to cope with.''
Elsewhere in the Gulf, Kuwait and Bahrain are feeling the muscle of fundamentalists. Diplomats claim both countries have expelled ''significant'' numbers of Shiite zealots of Iranian descent, fearing rebellions.
Kuwait has also experienced a rise of fanaticism among Sunni youths who now dominate student unions and wear conservative dress.
Although not a threat to the popular rule of Sheikh Jaber, fundamentalists have been able to block reforms, such as female suffrage. Kuwait is considered to be the most enlightened government in the Gulf.
In Lebanon, new fundamentalist movements have emerged among both Sunnis and Shiites. The ''Islamic'' group, which claimed responsibility for the bombing of the US embassy, is said by UN officials to be gaining support among the dominant sect of the population.
Some academics in Beirut predict the movements will grow as the traditional Muslim leaders fail to win reforms that would give Muslims power commensurate with their population strength.
In Egypt, Islamic fanatics are one of the main concerns of President Hosni Mubarak, whose predecessor was assassinated by fundamentalists. Last month, Mr. Mubarak appealed to spiritual leaders to instill ''real'' teachings of Islam among youth, and not to encourage extremism.
Some 300 members of the Al Jihad Al Islami fundamentalist group are being tried on charges of conspiracy and armed rebellion against the state. Last month , when the prosecutor general asked for the death sentence for 57 of them, the defendants turned their backs on him as he spoke and shouted verses of the Koran.
Elsewhere in north Africa, both Algeria and Morocco have had problems with fundamentalists. Since last December, the Algerian regime has launched a series of crackdowns on Moslem Brotherhood cells, arresting ringleaders who were attempting to fuel fanaticism. Diplomats contend it is the only significant opposition force in the one-party state. They say it is not sufficiently strong to seriously threaten the government.