Iraq invasion triggers anger from Bahrain to Barcelona
Protests against the US-led war erupted around the world over the weekend.
| AMMAN, JORDAN
The insistent beat of a new hit single is blaring into the streets of Arab capitals these days, voicing the anger felt by most ordinary people in the Middle East against the war in Iraq.
"Enough, enough, enough," the chorus rings out from music stores in Amman and taxis in Cairo, as the popular Egyptian singer Shaban Abdel Rahim lists the sorrows of the Muslim world: "Chechnya, Afghanistan, Palestine, Golan Heights, and now Iraq as well. Enough."
The song, called "Attacking Iraq," sums up the popular mood in the Arab world. "He is talking like us and to us. He knows what we care about," says Cairo taxi driver Mohammed Sharkawi.
That mood spilled over into demonstrations across the Middle East over the weekend, with protests erupting from Bahrain to Jordan that nervous governments tried hard to contain. Two demonstrators and a policeman were killed in Yemen, and another demonstrator died in Sudan, while police in Jordan and Egypt used water cannon, tear gas, and clubs to disperse protesters.
Rallies gathered opponents of the war farther afield too, as hundreds of thousands of people from Sydney to London vented their feelings on placards such as one that a demonstrator in Paris carried, declaring "Bush - Murderer." Protests were held in most European capitals, with at least 200,000 demonstrators in London alone.
Still, in Britain, as in America, a "rally round the troops" effect has boosted support for the war. Opinion surveys published yesterday showed a majority of Britons now back Prime Minister Tony Blair, the US's chief ally in the Iraq campaign. In the Sunday Times newspaper, a YouGov poll showed 56 percent now thought the US and Britain were right to take military action, with 36 percent opposed. In the previous YouGov poll before the war, the numbers were almost exactly the reverse, with 36 percent for the US-British action and 57 percent against.
The antiwar protests Saturday were smaller than they had been a month ago, when some of the largest demonstrations in history pulled millions worldwide. "There is a certain resignation or fatalism" now that the war has actually begun, says Andrew Burgin, an organizer of the Stop the War Coalition in London. "But if the war continues, we will demonstrate again."
In most countries, protesters targeted obvious US symbols such as American embassies and consulates. Several official US buildings were closed around the Gulf region while they considered the security situation, and in Jakarta, the US State Department warned Americans again to consider leaving Indonesia. McDonald's restaurants also came under attack, with smashed windows and invasions in Oslo; Strasbourg and Lyon, France; and London, while demonstrators in Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city, managed to shut one McDonald's outlet.
"America wants to control the whole world, and that's not right," said law student Mohammed Ahmed after a demonstration in Cairo. "We don't like the American government, but do we go try to topple it?"
In Europe, protest organizers said they were trying to raise a larger issue. "This is a crisis of representative democracy," says Mr. Burgin. "How is it possible that when a majority of people are consistently opposed to a course of action, that course of action goes ahead anyway?"
In the Islamic world, many people see the crisis in more immediate terms.
"This is not a war against Iraq - it's against Islam," read one placard at a Cairo protest.
"When you threaten one Muslim, you threaten all of us," says Aziz Prihartono, an accounting student in a group of protesters shouting "America-terrorist" outside the US Embassy in Jakarta.
"The bombing and violence we are seeing on satellite TV should stir the ire of every Arab who sees it," said Amr Moussa, secretary- general of the Arab League.
A number of governments in Muslim countries, especially those friendly to the US, tried over the weekend to defuse the tension in their societies by expressing their understanding of popular sentiments.
In Indonesia, where the government of secular President Megawati Sukarnoputri has roundly condemned the US-led invasion of Iraq, top ministers have attended some of the daily demonstrations in Jakarta.
"I know the pain and anger you are feeling because of the suffering and ordeal that the Iraqi people are facing," Jordanian King Abdullah said in a televised address to the nation on Friday night. "I share the feelings of every one of you.... As for the demonstration of our feelings ... it has to be expressed in a civilized manner," he added.
So far, this approach has kept most protests focused on the US, rather than on local governments' ties to Washington: Several thousand US troops are stationed in Jordan, and Egypt has allowed overflight rights to US warplanes. But at one demonstration in Cairo, protesters tore down a poster of President Hosni Mubarak in a rare public show of anger at the authorities.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told reporters he hoped Arab anger could be calmed so long as "you prove that this is not an occupation [of Iraq], that this is not in search of exploitation of the resources of the region, it is not a hegemonistic effort to redesign the region in the image of the West." Prince Faisal called for an immediate suspension of hostilities, a call echoed by several governments in the region as Arab foreign ministers prepared for an emergency session in Cairo.
King Abdullah of Jordan told his cabinet Saturday, "We must look for any solution to stop the war," the government news agency reported; and Egyptian Information Minister Safwat Sharif said on television that Mr. Mubarak had called for a cease-fire in a phone conversation with President Bush.
• Danna Harman in Cairo, Dan Murphy in Jakarta, and wire services contributed to this report.