Arab anger turns inward

April 30, 1996|By Rami G. Khouri

AMMAN, Jordan -- The wave of Arab anger and frustration over Israel's bombing of Lebanon threatens not only what's left of the Arab-Israel peace process but the young, fragile trend toward democracy and liberalization in key Arab states.

Arabs have felt this anger ever since Israel started attacking Lebanon at will in the late 1960s. But the new twist is that it is now being directed not just against the U.S., Israel and Britain but inwards, against Jordanian and Arab targets as well.

What is now particularly galling to Arabs is the way America and Israel see the Arab Middle East merely as an appendage to Israeli security concerns and Hizbollah's attacks against northern Israel, rather than Israel's occupation of south Lebanon, as the root cause of the fighting.

Symbolic gestures

Yet beyond a few symbolic gestures such as sending letters and holding protest marches, Arabs like myself in Jordan have been unable to channel our anger into any meaningful political or diplomatic directions. Those of us who accepted the peace treaty with Israel are starting to seriously question it. More important, we are beginning to question the meaning and utility of our own evolving ''democratic'' governance.

For Jordan and other evolving Arab political systems the danger comes not from violent upheaval or coups as was common in the 1960s but rather from national atrophy. Atrophy threatens Arab domestic order through slow internal bleeding, a listlessness and fraying of the political fabric, a growing gap between government and people.

In such a context, governments are perceived as weak and ineffective -- a condition that invariably invites the very instability and upheaval that a functioning democracy would have prevented.

Arab governments need to take more than symbolic or rhetorical action against the tragedy in Lebanon. But their scope for political maneuvers is limited by their overriding strategic need to promote closer relationships with both Israel and the United States.

Furthermore, among citizens themselves, new stresses are arising from the physical presence of American troops in Jordan just when Israel uses its American arms to wreak havoc in Lebanon. Similarly, the growing official and commercial interchange between Jordanians and Israelis are generating tension and awkwardness at the popular level.

The irony for Jordanians -- one that is splitting our souls -- is that we regard Israel and the United States as friends and partners. Yet as Arabs we see them as the killers of our brothers and sisters in Lebanon. They speak to us in the language of peace, stability and economic progress. Yet when it comes to the issue of Israeli versus Arab rights to security, they revert to blind militarism and quasi-racism.

Contradiction of the peace accords

The fundamental contradiction that has plagued the peace accords that Egypt, Palestine and Jordan have signed with Israel has burst out in the open for all to grasp. On the one hand the U.S. and Israel are committed to Israeli rights and security as the linchpin of stability in the Near East. Yet on the other, the Arabs expected equal recognition of their own rights to sovereignty and security. Instead we found our demands relegated to secondary status -- to be met only after Israel's concerns for safety and acceptance were satisfied.

The continued failure to remedy this flaw is causing unprecedented outrage among ordinary Jordanians and other Arabs for which we can find no effective outlet within the domestic Arab political system. As a result, we wind up internalizing this rage.

In the face of repeated American-Israeli military action and diplomatic deceit, this internalizing of rage and self-doubt is going to complete the poisoning of Arab political culture. This goes way beyond wounded pride. The ultimate price will be paid in the corridors and ramparts of political power throughout the Arab world.

Rami G. Khouri is a syndicated columnist, author and TV-radio commentator in Jordan.

Pub Date: 4/30/96

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