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
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.
"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
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,
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.
Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company