The New York Times

September 11, 2002

Anger at U.S. Said to Be at New High


CAIRO, Sept. 10 - Anger at the United States, embedded in the belief that the Bush administration lends unstinting support to Israel at the expense of the Palestinians, is at an unparalleled high across the Arab world, according to analysts and diplomats in the region.

The resolve of President Bush to use force against Iraq, they say, compounds the antagonism, which is expressed with particularly unvarnished dismay in Egypt and neighboring Jordan, Washington's crucial Arab allies.

More than in previous bouts of anti-Americanism in the region, the anger permeates all strata of society, especially among the educated, and is tinged, people acknowledge, with disillusionment at their own long-entrenched American-backed leadership.

Frustration at the failure of the Arab governments to forge a common front against the administration and its close relationship with the government of Ariel Sharon in Israel seeps through many conversations.

"There is a sense by many ordinary people and politicians that the moves against Iraq are an effort to redraw the map for the strategic interests of the United States and Israel," said Rami G. Khouri, an American-educated Jordanian journalist and a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, a research group with offices in Washington.

Mr. Khouri, like many others, said the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, was deeply unpopular in the region.

"Everyone I know wants Saddam Hussein removed," he said. "Nobody I know wants the Americans to do it - because we believe they are the last people in the world who will work on the behalf of Arab interests."

But this deep antagonism toward the United States is mixed, Mr. Khouri and others said, with an affinity for the American way of life that feeds the disillusionment with the Bush administration.

"Arabs are much closer to Americans than to Europeans," Mr. Khouri said. "Arabs love American culture, the rocket to the moon, technology, fast cars. They love going to America. Now they feel like jilted lovers."

The authoritarian leadership in Egypt, the monarchy in Jordan and other governments across the region would probably survive the street protests that are likely to occur if there is a war against Iraq, most of those interviewed said.

The protests may be used to allow populations to vent their frustrations. Analysts said governments in the region were nervous about the unpredictable consequences of a war, and the almost certain heavy economic costs, particularly in Jordan, where cheap Iraqi oil keeps the country going.

Mustafa B. Hamarneh, the director of the Center for Strategic Studies at the University of Jordan, said it was likely that governments would ban lengthy demonstrations so as not to risk confrontations between their armies and the people - and also to avoid antagonizing the United States.

"The regimes will tighten the screws on political expression to keep their own skins," he said. "If the American flag is burnt every night on the Cairo streets, do you think Congress is going to give them money?" Egypt is one of the largest recipients of American foreign assistance.

Opinion makers, businessmen and officials voiced what they emphasized was their bewilderment at what they saw as the broken promise of the Bush administration. Instead of reaching out to the Arab world, as they had hoped, they said Mr. Bush had assumed an unquestioning tolerance of the actions of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel against the Palestinians.

They talked bitterly of the United States behaving like an 18th-century imperial power with policies based on racism and gunpowder. The main difference between the United States today and the marauding forces of Genghis Khan was that Washington was able to project its power all over the globe, said one person who was interviewed who insisted on anonymity.

There was little confidence in the Bush administration's promise to bring democracy to the Arab world in the wake of a defeat of Mr. Hussein. The administration's terminology "regime change" was revealing in itself, several people said. It meant, they said, that Washington could easily target other governments in the Arab world for similar treatment.

"All this talk of democracy in the Middle East is baloney," Mr. Hamarneh said. "The United States wants to do this against Iraq to spite Arabs and in spite of Arabs."

Most of those interviewed said that rather than ushering in democracy, an attack on Iraq would bring disintegration and chaos.

"There is a sense that the United States is going to make a mess of the region," said Abdel Monem Said Aly, the director of the prestigious Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

Mr. Aly listed what he called four major flaws in the Bush agenda: unequivocal support for Mr. Sharon, which he said was the driving force behind Washington's desire to topple Mr. Hussein; dealing with Iraq militarily "without preparation"; misguided policies on dealing with terrorists; and the negative "general rhetoric" from Washington about Muslims and Arabs.

By threatening to act unilaterally against Iraq, the United States would lose its remaining credibility among one billion Muslims and 300 million Arabs, Mr. Aly said.

"You need at least the support of those who are pro the United States," he said. "If you lose all those, there is no way you can guarantee the security of the United States."

There was widespread skepticism about the Bush administration's contention that the Iraqi leader was close to developing nuclear weapons.

From his office overlooking the Nile, Dr. Hossam Badrawi, an American-trained physician and the scion of one of Egypt's wealthiest families, said it was close to impossible to believe that Mr. Hussein possessed such devastating weapons. Dr. Hossam, whose two children attend college in the United States, called Mr. Hussein a "monster."

But, speaking in a suite decorated with American paraphernalia, including a photograph of himself with an American ambassador to Egypt, he said, "If the argument was so strong, the leadership of the rest of the world would agree."

Expressing a general mood of gloom about the outlook for the American-backed Arab governments, Sari Nasir, an American-trained professor of sociology at the University of Jordan, said: "They will become a targets of their own people."

"People have asked them to take a stand against the United States for its support of Israel and they haven't," he said. "People in the Arab world are much more educated than before and they resent their regimes." This resentment would strengthen the hand of such extremist organizations as Hezbollah and Hamas, he said.

Across all the conversations in the past several days, people were assiduous in differentiating between the Bush administration and the American people.

There was strong exception to the question posed in the United States in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks: "Why do they hate us?"

Several people said they objected to the anonymous and derogatory tone of "they." The word "hate" was inappropriate because the feelings were more of disappointment and disillusionment, emotions that could be eased with a change in policies, they said. And "us" was misleading. The disdain was reserved for Mr. Bush, not Americans, they said.

But Mr. Khouri said the feeling of being scorned ran so deep that it would be tough to reverse. "People have given up because they don't believe the United States will change its policy," he said.