The Street Reacts to Operation Defensive Shield: Snapshots from the Middle East
One of the least-remarked upon features of Israel's Operation Defensive Shield was the massive response it engendered at the popular level throughout the Islamic world (and in many other countries in Europe and Asia): within days, hundreds of thousands of people from Morocco in the west to Indonesia and Malaysia in the east had taken to the streets to protest Israel's assault on the Palestinian territories and U.S. support of Israel. In the Arab countries, where reactions were strongest (the estimated attendance of a single demonstration in Rabat, Morocco, ranged from 500,000 to a million), angry protesters, even in places such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf, railed against the passivity and impotence of the Arab regimes; in a number of countries, U.S. diplomatic facilities were attacked, and protests turned violent; demonstrators were killed in Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, and Yemen. Common patterns included the role of satellite television coverage of Israeli destruction in galvanizing popular anger, massive collections of funds and supplies to send to Palestine amounting to tens of millions of dollars, and boycotts of American-made goods that continued after the demonstrations had died down in May 2002, and indeed are still in force in many places. Moreover, while Islamic groups spearheaded the demonstrations in some countries, everywhere secular and civil society groups had a strong presence. What differed from country to country was how the governments handled the protests-by cooptation, repression, or combinations thereof.
Hani Shukrallah is managing editor of the English-language Al-Ahram Weekly, Cairo.