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In Arab View, It's Not Just Kuwait but Bush's Enmity Toward Hussein : Gulf Crisis: Kuwait produces some unusual Arab World alliances, amid indications that the Arab-West split will become even more antagonistic.

August 19, 1990|G.H. Jansen | G. H. Jansen, the author of "Militant Islam," has covered the Middle East for many years

NICOSIA, CYPRUS — It will be many days yet before anyone can project the consequences of the U.S.-Iraq crisis. But the event has had such a shock effect that even now we may hazard guesses about the post-Kuwait Arab World.

That world, more than ever fragmented by the pressures of the current crisis, is rightly or wrongly united on one point--that the cause of the crisis is not just Kuwait but the passion of George Bush to be rid of Saddam Hussein. There is today more pure, unalloyed hatred of the United States among Arabs than at any time in the 30 years that this correspondent has been reporting on the area.

Even in the past fortnight it has become a cliche to say that "things are never going to be the same again" in the Middle East, for it was already recognized, before any bullets started flying, that this crisis would have consequences wider and deeper than those of Suez. In the next few years the division between the Arabs and the West is going to be still more angry and antagonistic, perhaps partly because in many countries there is an internal split between the rulers and the ruled. The pro-Western rulers uphold international law but the ruled say that if Iraq committed aggression it was doing the "right" thing in getting rid of a non-representative monarchical regime, but in the wrong way--that the ruling Al Sabah family should have been thrown out by the Kuwaiti people.

This unfeeling indifference to the fall of the house of Al Sabah is an expression of a surprising degree of hostility, now openly expressed, between the "Gulfis" and the other Arabs: In sartorial terms, between the men of the safari jacket and the men of the nightshirts. In the view of the former, the gulf system of monarchical states is one of the principal things that is never going to be the same again. If one of these states--the most "advanced" and decent and liberal--can be swept aside, then all the others can be challenged: From now on they are living on borrowed time. If the Al Sabah family is restored, it would quite soon have to yield its absolute power to an elected parliament or face people-power.

The interstate systems of the Arab World have been tested and found wanting. The Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab Cooperation Council have been unable to do anything positive. Surprisingly, the Arab League has gained some credit because it did pass a resolution that took a stand--but at the price of setting aside the provision of its charter that all important decisions should be unanimous. After this precedent, no future decisions of the league are ever going to be unanimous, because the Kuwait crisis has forced governments to stand up and be counted with some strange results: Moderate pro-Western Tunisia turned out to be an angry radical, which was also more or less true of the United Yemens and Somalia, while professionally anti-Western Syria aligned itself with Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Apart from the gulf emirates, the regimes that are going to be the most vulnerable because of their policy in the crisis are Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Despite the extra security provisions that have been taken in Egypt, there was the extraordinary spectacle of Egyptians lining up in front of the Iraqi Embassy in Cairo to volunteer for service with Iraq and, therefore, possibly against the Egyptian contingent defending Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi claim to be the custodian of Islam's Holy Places has been demolished because that government brought into the Holy Land thousands of the men of the cross, the neo-Christian Crusaders. They are led, at this moment, by George Bush, on holiday in Maine. It is because of this fanatical aspect that the eventual gainers from the current situation, apart from Israel, will be Islamic fundamentalists everywhere, not least in Saudi Arabia and not just in the Arab World.

The current coalition between the secular Arab nationalists and fundamentalists is as powerful as it is unprecedented, because hitherto the fundamentalists have backed the conservative, pro-Western regimes.

Because of this imposed shift in opinion, the leadership of Yasser Arafat within the Palestine Liberation Organization, seriously questioned and even challenged, has been strengthened by his pro-Iraqi stand. And this internal cohesion largely makes up for the loss of the PLO's Saudi paymasters and its loss of credibility in the West.

And what of Iraq? Iraq means Saddam Hussein. As of now he is in a no-lose situation. If he "wins," in whatever fashion, he will emerge as a greater Arab hero even than Gamal Abdel Nasser--almost as great as Saladin, the 12th-Century sultan of Egypt and Syria who, like Hussein, was also a native of Tikrit on the Tigris. If he loses he will be a martyr, because he will not fail by stepping down, resigning or going into voluntary exile. He will have to be killed, either in an internal coup or by military action. The manner of his death will decide his place in Iraqi history.

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