Arabs Express Hopes For New Mideast Order

Iraq's invasion of Kuwait shattered Arab unity and has spurred calls for democratization

`WRITE down I am an Arab, I was born on Aug. 2'' is the slogan on a T-shirt that is highly popular now among young people in Jordan. Aug. 2, the date of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, is viewed as a turning point for the Arab world, both by Arabs who oppose Iraq and by those who sympathize.

For the first group, the invasion threatened and still threatens to disrupt the existing Arab order. For the latter group, it represents hope that a new Arab order will be born out of the ashes of the old.

``Regardless of the scenario that will take place, there is no return to the pre-Aug. 2 situation in the Arab world,'' says a senior Arab diplomat.

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait thrust the region into a new sense of realism, Arab analysts say, in which the concept of Arab unity has been shattered and pressures are growing for instituting democracy in the region.

Recent events demonstrate, analysts from both camps say, that the Arab unity displayed before Aug. 2 was extremely fragile, if not simply a fa,cade that concealed deep differences and tensions.

The emergence of two distinct camps in the Arab world was already visible during the Arab summit held in Baghdad two months before the Iraqi invasion.

While Iraq - backed by Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization - led a campaign to counterbalance American and Israeli influence in the area and pushed for a redistribution of oil-generated Arab wealth, Egypt and the Gulf states defended their alliances with the United States mostly in private. Syrian President Hafez al-Assad stayed away, but failed to give justification for shunning a conference that would endorse slogans he had long promoted.

``Before August 1990, expressing your real views was not part of the tradition of Arab leaders,'' the Arab diplomat says.

At an emergency Arab summit in Cairo less than six days after the Iraqi invasion, however, the differences came into open. Official consensus collapsed, to be replaced by a formalization of the two camps in the Arab world.

Many in the Arab world initially lamented lost Arab unity, but now the realization seems to be growing that the loss of the fa,cade should give way to a more realistic and solid basis for future Arab relations.

``At least there is no more space for pretending. Everything has come out into the open. The masks were dropped and our leaders have to face each other and us with their real faces,'' says a former Arab League official.

Whether or not Iraq withdraws from Kuwait, Arab analysts say, Saddam has already achieved two objectives - though it is doubtful he had them on his list when his troops entered Kuwait:

He has succeeded in forging some sort of link between the Gulf crisis and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Even if Kuwait is restored, the time has past when oil income can be squandered and used in the old way, according to many analysts. ``The harsh criticism leveled at Kuwaitis, even by some of their Arab allies, might teach all Gulf leaders a lesson about their attitude to Arab states and causes,'' the Arab diplomat says.

Although it is widely believed that Saddam has drawn a linkage with the Arab-Israeli conflict with the aim of legitimizing his military adventure, analysts argue that Saddam has also realized a long-sought dream of many Arabs to link Western interests in the region (particularly oil) to resolution of the Palestinian problem.

The most ironic aspect of the changes that Saddam has unwittingly brought about is the apparent unleashing of popular pressures for democracy in the Arab world.

Egyptian intellectuals argue that Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was an example of dictatorial decisions. At the same time, Jordanian intellectuals say that it was the absence of truly democratic institutions in most Arab countries that allowed leaders to invite foreign troops onto Arab land.

Both arguments reflect the fact that popular demands for democracy and political freedoms have intensified as a result of the shock the Arab world has suffered from the Gulf crisis.

``By dealing a blow to the existing Arab order, Saddam has unleashed demands for democracy that challenge all the Arab rulers, himself included,'' says Jamal Shaer, a former Jordanian minister.

At a meeting last weekend in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, members of the Kuwaiti ruling family conceded to pressures from opposition leaders and promised to restore the parliament if Kuwaitis were successful in returning home. The promises were made in an attempt to unify Kuwaitis ``to liberate their country.'' In 1986, the Kuwaiti rulers dissolved the parliament, reportedly under pressure from the other Gulf states.

The Kuwaiti meeting is a clear example that democratization is, for the first time, being recognized as a major source of legitimacy for any Arab regime.

Kuwaitis admit that their pledges for a future democratic Kuwait are putting pressure on their conservative authoritarian neighbors.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Arabs Express Hopes For New Mideast Order
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today