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Tuesday, 6 February, 2001, 20:04 GMT
Sharon victory: An Arab nightmare
Hosni Mubarak, Ariel Sharon, and King Abdullah
By the BBC's Heba Saleh

Although it has been widely expected, Ariel Sharon's election victory can only arouse deep apprehension in the Arab world.

Palestinian officials have voiced serious misgivings about the consequences of Mr Sharon's victory, while the Lebanese prime minister has described it as a 'prescription for war'

In Arab eyes, he is the epitome of everything they hate about Israel - belligerent, arrogant and prepared to use force to crush demands for Arab rights.

Newspaper commentators and cartoonists across the region have been reviling and ridiculing Mr Sharon without restraint.

They describe him as a criminal and the "Butcher of Beirut", recalling his role in the massacres of Sabra and Shatila when he led the Israeli army's invasion of Lebanon.

Peace process

Arabs also blame Mr Sharon for sparking off the latest round of violence in the occupied territories, describing as provocative his September visit to the Al Aqsa mosque, the third most holy site in Islam.

And it is not just Mr Sharon's past which worries the Arab world. His peace plan offers the Palestinians far less than that proposed by Ehud Barak.

Mr Sharon has made it clear he will never give up Israeli sovereignty over a united Jerusalem.

Young Arab women in Jerusalem
Israeli Arabs stayed away from polling booths
He will give the Palestinians only half the territory which Barak had offered and all the Israeli settlements will remain.

Palestinian officials have voiced serious misgivings about the consequences of Mr Sharon's victory, while the Lebanese prime minister has described it as a "prescription for war".

Many Arab commentators expect that the peace process will be frozen, and that violence in the occupied territories will mount.

In this charged atmosphere, the leaders of Egypt and Jordan, the Arab countries which have full peace treaties with Israel, will have to tread very carefully.

There will be none of the sighs of relief and warm expressions of optimism which greeted Ehud Barak's victory over Binyamin Netanyahu in 1999.

Egypt and Jordan

The Egyptian leader, Hosni Mubarak, has already had his first spat with Mr Sharon.

Hosni Mubarak
Mr Mubarak has already had his first spat with Mr Sharon
It was prompted by reports that a member of Mr Sharon's camp had threatened to bomb the Aswan dam.

Mr Mubarak responded in an interview on Israeli television in which he dismissed talk of war as unnecessary.

He also said that Mr Sharon would be welcome if Middle East peace were his aim.

If not, then the Egyptian president had "no time to waste".

Mr Sharon is also starting on a negative note with Jordan.

His remarks that the Palestinians could stage a coup d'etat in Jordan and have their state there earned him an angry response from Jordanian officials.

It seems likely that the cold peace between the two Arab countries and Israel will become even chillier under Mr Sharon.

Ariel Sharon
For Arabs, Mr Sharon is their ultimate nightmare
The Arabs will be waiting to see if his tough pre-election talk might not be tempered once he is in power.

Indeed, the Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa suggested that the Israeli leader might change tack once he was actually in the driving seat.

But if there were to be no signs of that, analysts say Arabs will probably try to sit Mr Sharon out and hope that his government will prove untenable and crumble soon.

But that, they say, would be easier for Egypt or Jordan, than for the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, who is under daily pressure from both the Israelis and his angry population.

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