Anti-War Anger In Jordan

Public Opinion Overwhelmingly Against The War

As American troops continue their advance on Baghdad, the United States is closer to a military victory in Iraq. But the battle for the hearts and minds of the people of the Middle East is at best uncertain and may already be lost. Correspondent Ed Bradley reports.

Public opinion in the Arab world is overwhelmingly against the war, against the U.S. and among America's allies in the region increasingly against their own governments. Nowhere is that clearer than in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan -- one of America's closest allies in the Arab world.

"We are not a party to this war. Let's establish that," says Bassem Awadallah, a Jordanian government minister and close friend of King Abdullah. "His majesty and the government have been very vehement about, about this, very vocal about this. We in the government are also as angry as the people on the street."

King Abdullah of Jordan may be more concerned about the war in Iraq than any other leader in the Arab world. Having failed to convince President Bush to avoid war he's been trying to minimize its impact on his tiny country. Sixty percent of his people are Palestinian refugees bitter toward the U.S. for its support of Israel and his economy is dependent on trade with Iraq.

The war was only a few days old when angry demonstrations took place in the streets of Amman, the Jordanian capitol -- fueled by pictures of bombs falling on Baghdad and dead Iraqi civilians on television.

Last week, in a nationwide broadcast King Abdullah told his countrymen he shared their feelings of anger about the war in Iraq and appealed for calm and national unity.

But the demonstrations continued, and plainclothes security officers have arrested leaders of unauthorized protests. So far, anger has been aimed at the United States, but some of it is also being aimed at King Abdullah for his decision to allow the United States to station patriot missiles and a limited number of troops along Jordan's border with Iraq.

"American troops are here for a specific purpose -- for the defense of Jordan," says Awadallah. "The fact that we feel angry at what this war is resulting, in terms of human casualties and in terms of further suffering by the Iraqi people, should not be seen as an excuse for us to compromise our relationship with the United States, which is very special and very important for us -- politically, strategically, militarily and economically."

"I think the king is very much in touch with his people. I think the king feels the anger of the Jordanian people and I think the king knows exactly where Jordan's interests lie."

Laith Shubailat is an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq who believes King Abdullah is walking a dangerous tightrope.

"Why doesn't he denounce the war," says Shubailat. "Doesn't he have the courage to denounce this war? Only to say this is a war of aggression?"

"This government is dragging Jordan what people think is treason. Very close to treason. There are American pressures? Fine, but there are also Arab national pressures, the feelings of the people. You cannot accommodate the Americans all the way."

Shubailat views this as treason to the Arab cause, and last week, he had some more strong words to say about the king. He helped write an open letter to King Abdullah, published in the press, asking the king to condemn the invasion. Ninety-nine former Jordanian government officials signed the letter, including four former prime ministers.

But it's not just politicians who are opposing the war. We've talked with people from many walks of life in Amman - students, teachers, members of the government, ordinary Jordanians. We haven't found one Jordanian who supports this war.

"Shock and awe was not really how we felt. It was more of anger and despair," says Osama Al Sharif, an American educated newspaper publisher and influential Jordanian columnist. "People have now totally taken the side of looking at this invasion, at this incursion into Iraq, as a colonial aggression."

What does this tell Al Sharif about the way Americans understand the Arab world?

"With this latest crisis, I think the Arabs and Americans have never been so far apart," he says. "And this is really sad."

That sadness is exacerbated by what Arabs are watching on television, with all the violence and images of Iraqi suffering reported by Arab journalists. Since the first Gulf War, there has been a dramatic change in what people see in this part of the world.

In cities like Amman, satellite dishes sprout like mushrooms. So have all of the news satellite television channels that are now broadcasting all war -- all the time. Almost all of the news is unsympathetic to the U.S.

So are the cartoons in Middle Eastern newspapers. Imad Al Hajaj is one of Jordan's most influential political cartoonists. These days, one of his favorite subjects is President Bush and Arab leaders.

"Bush is riding them just like a horse taking their oil and their resources," says Al Hajai.

In one cartoon, there is no question what parallel Al Hajaj was trying to make.

"It's like making the twin towers if New York," he says. "I make them like the twin palms of Baghdad. I don't believe in this war. I think it's unfair and illegitimate in all ways."

It's a war that many people here say has condemned another generation of young Jordanians to hatred for the United States. And there's one overwhelming reason why.

"We were hoping that during the decade of the '90s, and especially over the past four years, that these young minds will be rid of hatred against the West. That the West hates Islam and hates the Arab nation and they will live, like we did, in an atmosphere where we feel we are in total confrontation -- in constant fights and battles against the West. This is very dangerous," says Awadallah.

But is the anger, the frustration that exists in the Arab world, targeted at the U.S.? At Israel? At their own governments?

Awadallah believes it's all of the above, but mainly at the American government.

"The United States is perceived as the major power that continues to support Israel," says Awadallah. "Arabs consider that the support that the United States gives to Israel is unquestionable, unequivocal, total, and that that is what drives the Israeli power, and leads Israel to feel that they cannot and they should not compromise when it comes to Palestinian statehood, to Palestinian independence, to Palestinian rights."

American forces are battling for control of Baghdad. The final chapter of the war in Iraq has begun. But how it will all end is still unclear.

Can the United States win this war militarily and still lose?

"I think this is exactly what is going to happen," says Al Sharif. "I think the United States will have to deal with a lot of bush fires in this part of the world."
  • Rebecca Leung

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