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Tuesday, May 4, 1999 Published at 13:26 GMT 14:26 UK

World: Middle East

Analysis: Muslim dilemma over Kosovo

Arab protesters: "We are Muslims and we have to help each other"

By Middle East Correspondent Jim Muir

The plight of Muslim Kosovo Albanians has attracted widespread sympathy in the Arab world.

Kosovo: Special Report
But support is tempered by scepticism about Nato's motives in bombing Yugoslavia, with some observers suspecting the West of having a hidden agenda.

In Egypt, demonstrators have been protesting against the abuse of Muslims in Kosovo and some have been calling for volunteers to be allowed to join the struggle.

Angry students recently gathered outside a Cairo university chanting: "Rise Up, Muslim, and wage your holy war. The soil of Kosovo is Your Land!"

One protester said: "We want Egypt to open the door to every young man to go there and fight.

[ image: Arab volunteers want to fight in Kosovo]
Arab volunteers want to fight in Kosovo
"Second, we want Egypt to cut every diplomatic relation with these countries who are fighting Islam, like Serbs."

But the Egyptian authorities have an uneasy relationship with Muslim radicals and are opposed to their involvment in an Islamic holy war.

Radicals returning from fighting the forces of the Soviet Union after its 1979 invasion of Afghanistan have been a source of instability in Egypt, with some Islamic extremists waging war on the country's vital tourist trade.

And last month, Albania handed over twelve men for trial in Cairo.

Commentator Salama Ahmad Salama said: "It's very easy to get extremists lurking there under the cover of fighting with the Muslims...and then after that they come here to Egypt to make such crimes."

Official reluctance to encourage activists has been criticised by some as inertia in the face of the plight of fellow Muslims in Kosovo.

[ image: Refugees:
Refugees: "Need arms not aid"
As one student put it, most of the money donated has been at "the people level", with unions, students and political parties working hard to raise funds for the Kosovo Albanians.

"The people really feel sorrow for these people," he said.

"And I'm so sorry to say that our regimes and our authorities are not very concerned about helping those people from that perspective - that we are Muslims and we have to help each other."

There is a body of opinion, however, that believes aid is not enough and Arab governments should send arms to the Kosovo Albanians.

"They don't need aid. If we give them aid, we'll help to perpetuate their status as refugees," said another student.

Global policeman

There is also nervousness about Nato's intent in launching air strikes against Yugloslavia, with some observers accusing the alliance of being inconsistent by failing to support other oppressed Muslim groups, such as the Kurds.

Nato is also being accused of acting as a "global policeman", enforcing the agenda of the world's only superpower, the United States.

A Kurdish spokesman said: "If it's a question of human rights, where was the West during Bosnia, for example?

[ image:
"Danger if the United Nations are weak"
"And where was the West concerning Turkey and the Kurds? It's the same problem.

"Kurds calling for self rule - they're a minority, they have rights - and the Turkish Government is suppressing them more violently than the Serbs."

Editor of the left-wing al-Ahali newspaper, Nabil Zaki, said many Arabs see Nato's aggressive campaign as a dangerous development for ethnic minorities - especially since the action is not formally sanctioned by the United Nations.

"They are sensitive concerning any intervention at any time, under any pretext, by foreign powers," he said.

"They feel that they are in danger if the United Nations are weak. This is a real feeling here in this region [the Middle East]."

'Two minds'

As Salama Ahmad Salama points out, Nato bombing has created an almost schizophrenic dilemma among Arabs and Muslims.

"The Arab and Islamic world is of two minds. One is from emotional point of view, they are supporting it.

"But on the other hand, from the political point of view, they see that it is a very dangerous precedent. And we should not forget that there has been the problem of the Palestinian refugees - the world has never taken such an initiative."

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