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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

The Myth of the "Arab Street"

Slate has an article about how refreshing it is that no one is talking about the "Arab street" nowadays. You know the mythical Arab street - where hundreds of thousands of enraged Arabs are always feared to rise up and cause havoc, usually in context of "Don't make them mad! You don't want to piss off the Arab Street!"

But to anyone who has followed the recent history of the Street, it is obvious that it never existed.

Things may have been changing a bit lately, especially with recent examples in Lebanon and Egypt. But in the Palestinian areas, the myth lives on, just now it has taken on a new, peaceful side - the myth that the Palestinian street is all of a sudden aghast at the thought of terror attacks in Israel. As AP reported,
Palestinians expressed anger Saturday at an overnight suicide bombing in Tel Aviv that killed four Israelis and threatened a fragile truce, a departure from former times when they welcomed attacks on their Israeli foes.
Look at this - the Street all of a sudden is sympathetic to Israel! It all fits in the new script that Abbas is a miracle worker and he is going to bring peace to the Middle East!

Once again, the press is buying into an illusion. First of all, because there indeed was public support for the terror bombing in Tel Aviv:

A masked supporter of the Islamic Jihad movement, which claimed responsibility for last Frday's suicide bomb attack that killed five Israelis in Tel Aviv, holds a knife and a copy of the Quran, Islam's holy book, during a demonstration in the university of the West Bank town of Hebron Monday Feb. 28, 2005. The rally was the first major expression of support for Friday's bombing. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)


A masked supporter of the Islamic Jihad movement, which claimed responsibility for last Frday's suicide bomb attack that killed five Israelis in Tel Aviv, holds a knife and a copy of the Quran, Islam's holy book, during a demonstration in the university of the West Bank town of Hebron Monday Feb. 28, 2005. The rally was the first major expression of support for Friday's bombing. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

But the more important fact that is always overlooked is that the Arab Street should be called the Arab Sheep: they do whatever the government-controlled press tells them to do. Right now, the Palestinian Authority has decided that terror bombings are counterproductive to the Palestinian cause (they've never said they were immoral or wrong), so the PA-controlled press and broadcasts didn't celebrate the bombing and the people took their cues of how they should react.

A similar thing happened back in the 70s, when Sadat made his dramatic trip to Jerusalem. The Egyptian "street" all of a sudden loved Israel! It was amazing - after decades of rallies against the Zionist enterprise, in a few minutes the entire Egyptian populace wholeheartedly supported peace with Israel!

And within a few hours of the last grains of sand of the Sinai being handed over to Egypt, guess what happened? Yes indeed, the "Egyptian" street started hating Israel again.

Now there are indications that the Arab world is starting to think for itself. With the Internet and satellite TV, it is much harder for the governments to control their people's thoughts and actions as it had been. But for the moment, the power of the Arab street is still predominantly with the leaders of the Arab world, who still use their people as pawns to try to scare the West.

And of course, there is a willing Western press more than happy to buy the whole package of the myth as long as the story fits in with what these reporters already think they know beforehand.