16 February 2003
While huge anti-war demonstrations have been taking place around the world, the streets of the Middle East have been relatively quiet. Political analysts say one reason is because governments in the region have don't want large demonstrations, fearing they could turn into anti-Arab government rallies.
Small demonstrations have occurred in Cairo, Beirut and Damascus, but in a region that is generally infuriated by the prospects of war, the lack of massive demonstrations is noticeable. No Arab government has publicly supported a possible U.S.-led attack against Iraq.
Sami Baroudi is the head of the political science department at Lebanese-American University in Beirut. He said states throughout the region don't want large demonstrations because, he said, they are afraid the protesters could turn against their own governments.
"Well, it's certainly not because people in the Middle East are in favor of war. It's more of the restrictions on demonstrations that states impose. They impose these restrictions, not because they don't want the people to show that they're against the strike, but that they don't want people to be on the street because we've already seen in Egypt one of the demonstrators talking about democracy and domestic issues. So there is always this fear, which may be legitimate, that something may start as demonstrations against Iraq and ends demonstrating against the particular regime," Mr. Baroudi said.
Demonstrations generally do not take place anywhere in the region without the approval of the state.
Abdullah al-Ashaal is an expert on Arab affairs who lectures at universities in Cairo. He says police fear large crowds of demonstrators could turn violent against American and British interests throughout the region. He also said there are elements that might encourage large crowds to turn against their own governments.
However, Mr. al-Ashaal said that if there is a U.S.-led strike against Baghdad all bets are off regarding the safety of the streets throughout the region. "If there is an attack by the United States against Iraq I think the streets wouldn't be controlled. This is a different story. Now they are protesting against the move to any attack. But if Iraq is attacked, despite the fact that Iraq is cooperating with the inspectors, I think the police forces wouldn't be able to control the demonstrations. This will be very difficult for them," Mr. al-Ashaal said.
Mr. al-Ashaal said the fact that anti-war demonstrations throughout the Arab world have, so far, been small and controlled suggests the governments are taking careful steps to keep, what he called the lid on Arab anger.