Three days into the US-led military campaign against Iraq, Arab governments
must be praying for the fall of Saddam Hussein's leadership as quickly as
Syrian women gather in protest at the war
The "Arab street", derided in recent years as politically inert and powerless, appears to be showing signs of life.
Cairo, Sanaa in Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon and the Mauritanian capital
Nouakchott have all witnessed clashes of varying decrees of seriousness
between riot police and citizens enraged by what the US is doing in Iraq.
In many cases, the fury against the Americans is mixed with discontent
about their own governments and anger about the Israeli-Palestinian
The close ties that many Arab countries have with Washington are a particular
embarrassment, as the US wages what most Arabs perceive as an unprovoked war
of aggression against Iraq.
In Jordan for example, the cry is for US troops to leave the kingdom.
Egyptians, meanwhile, are concerned about the economy, the slow pace of
democratisation and the heavy-handed emergency legislation which restricts
freedoms in a wide range of social and political spheres.
New forums for debate
Some observers think the possibility of the Arab street being a major factor
in the current situation stems from the increasing ease of popular access to
Egyptian human rights
activist Hafez Abu Sa'ada said: "Before we only had national television stations, where 15 minutes of news
were about meetings held by the president.
"Now you have al-Jazeera and al-Arabia satellite news, as well as the
internet where you can find political speeches you couldn't see before and
chat rooms where people exchange ideas and tell jokes about their political
leaders." she said.
"But still the police use harsh treatment of people which creates fear in
their hearts, so they are reluctant to go out onto the streets because they
know they will get arrested."
Demonstrators vent their anger in Jordan
The al-Jazeera effect may well be being felt right now - as audiences watch
developments live in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, as well as reports of
their own protests, something unthinkable in the pre-satellite days of Arab
We have already seen shocking pictures of civilians gunned down by
the security services in Yemen on Friday, something which could galvanise
people to further protest.
But so far there has been no footage of significant civilian casualties as a
result of American bombing, which - if it comes - could considerably
escalate tensions and manifestations of popular discontent.
So Arab governments have a predicament on their hands - one which can only
apparently can be solved by a quick, relatively bloodless war, plus firm
steps to keep order on the streets.
After that, another predicament looms - Washington's much-vaunted imposition
of democracy in post-Saddam Iraq, which American officials apparently expect
will spread freedom through the rest of the region.
It may not happen, but if it does the Americans may not be
that happy with the results if people in the Arab world are really allowed
to freely choose their own leaders and destinies.