| BEIRUT/CAIRO, July 31
BEIRUT/CAIRO, July 31 With the Middle East
ablaze with multiple crises, Palestinians are getting less Arab
support than before in their latest battle with Israel in Gaza.
There may have been more solidarity on the streets of Paris and
New York than in Cairo or Beirut.
Arab nations that long championed the Palestinian cause are
now consumed by their own conflicts, including sectarian wars in
Syria and Iraq, and Egypt's political battle with the Muslim
Brotherhood that has drawn in rival Gulf states.
The death toll in the Israeli offensive launched on July 8
stands at more than 1,300 Palestinians. Fifty-nine Israelis have
been killed, most of them soldiers. Some Palestinians say they
have been abandoned.
Once unthinkable, commentators in Egypt have directed
criticism at the Palestinians rather than at Israel. The shift
echoes the Egyptian state's hostility to the Muslim Brotherhood
- the ideological parent of the Hamas group that runs Gaza.
"Let Gaza burn with those who are in it," said Tawfik
Okasha, a prominent pundit on a prime time Egyptian TV show.
The Cairo-based Arab League has held only one meeting during
the latest crisis, reflecting friction among Arab states at odds
over other issues including last year's army overthrow of the
Muslim Brotherhood head of state in Egypt.
"There is no doubt the Palestinians this time feel they are
alone in this battle, which is more violent than the previous
battles," said Khalil Shaheen, a Palestinian political analyst
based in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
There are still plenty of statements of support across the
Arab world, where the Palestinian cause has been a rallying cry
since the creation of Israel in 1948.
In gestures of solidarity, Lebanese lawmakers convened a
session of parliament for Gaza, and Algeria urged its people to
observe a minute of silence. There have also been some protests.
But enthusiasm for taking to the streets appears limited.
Some cite fatigue stemming from the "Arab Spring" uprisings that
brought hopes of democracy in 2011 before descending into the
chaos engulfing much of the region. Others see social media
rather than the street as the best way to express solidarity.
"On both popular and official levels, Arab support is
inadequate," Shaheen added.
Egypt's new president, former army chief Abdel Fattah
al-Sisi, has been cursed during protests in Ramallah. It is a
stark contrast to 2012, the last round of major conflict in
Gaza, when Hamas leaders were hosted in Cairo by President
Mohamed Mursi, the Muslim Brotherhood politician overthrown by
Sisi last year.
Some dissident Egyptians, opposed to what they describe as
government efforts at "brainwashing" the public, say they want
to protest for Gaza but fear arrest under laws that have been
used to crush the opposition.
"There has been no pro-Gaza activism in Egypt. It's quite
surprising and possibly even shameful that in places like the UK
there are such big rallies and in Egypt there is nothing," said
Wael Eskandar, an Egyptian blogger and journalist.
"The amount of detentions and mass brutality and the amount
of public support for the (Egyptian) regime doing whatever it
wants with impunity all adds up to no action on the street."
SAUDI FOCUS ON FOREIGN FIGHTERS
Saudi Arabia, which backs Egypt's crackdown on the Muslim
Brotherhood, has supported Egyptian diplomacy in the Gaza
crisis. The Egyptians complained that Qatar, the gas-rich Gulf
emirate that supported the Brotherhood government, had conspired
to undermine their mediation, after Hamas rejected Egyptian
proposals that had been accepted by Israel.
Saudi Arabia appears to be preoccupied by risks elsewhere.
Its top cleric used a sermon marking the Islamic Eid holiday to
warn Saudi youths against going abroad to fight - a reference to
the wars in Syria and Iraq that are drawing in Sunni militants.
A news story on his remarks published by the leading Saudi
newspaper al-Eqtisadiah made no mention of Gaza.
"The Palestinian cause was something that used to unite all
Arabs but now there are divisions on everything: divisions about
showing sympathy, divisions about the Egyptian initiative," said
Jamal Kashoggi, a leading Saudi commentator.
"It is easy to find a column in an Arab paper that blames
Hamas for the Israeli aggression in Gaza. Previously, even
writers who harboured such an idea would be ashamed to publish
it," he said.
WHAT ARE THEY WAITING FOR?
Among many Arabs angered by the Israeli offensive, there is
frustration with the policies of their own governments.
"Everywhere I go the talk of people during Eid visits is
Gaza where people say: 'God be with Hamas and the resistance',"
said Khalil Khaleyleh, a Jordanian businessman, referring to
this week's Eid al-Fitr Muslim festival marking the end of the
fasting month of Ramadan.
"Because Gaza has been let down by Arab (leaders), this has
made people sympathise with Hamas," he said.
Ali Mohammed, a 35-year old banker from Bahrain, said: The
pictures of the dead children that we see everyday are
devastating. I don't understand what the Arab world is waiting
Hezbollah, the armed Lebanese Shi'ite Muslim group that last
fought a war with Israel in 2006, has been drawn into the
sectarian civil war in Syria, where it is fighting alongside
President Bashar al-Assad's forces against Sunni Muslim
That conflict exposed a sectarian split between Hezbollah
and Hamas - groups that have cast themselves as part of the
"resistance" to Israel. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah
leader, last week pledged full support to Hamas, though he did
not say what his group might do to help.
In his Eid sermon, leading Lebanese Shi'ite cleric Ali
Fadlallah highlighted a twin threat from Israel and radical
Sunni militants. Sunni militants have staged repeated bomb
attacks on Shi'ite targets in Lebanon over the last year, a
spillover of the sectarian conflict in Syria.
Devastation wrought by years of turmoil in Iraq, another
arena of Sunni-Shi'ite conflict, has ground its people down,
said Ismael al-Nuami, a retired teacher. "They are too exhausted
to think about Palestinians," he said.
Younis Kareem, a Baghdad taxi driver, added: "We have enough
blood and bombs and destruction. We are fed up and the last
thing we should watch is a war somewhere else."
Raafat Murra, a Hamas official based in Lebanon, said the
reaction in the Arab world did not match the scale of
destruction in Gaza. This was because of "the weak Arab official
position, and partly because the social and political crises
going on in the Arab world", he said.
By contrast, he said people in Europe and the United States
had "condemned the Israeli barbarity to a great degree".
(Additonal reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Ali Sawafta
in Ramallah, Mohamed Abdelleh in Cairo, Abdelrahman Youssef in
Alexandria, Maha El Dahan in Abu Dhabi, Farishta Saeed in
Bahrain, Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman, Lamine Chikhi and Hamid
Ould in Algiers; Editing by Paul Taylor)