Reaction in the Arab world to the
election of Ariel Sharon was a mixture of indifference, predictions of
dire consequences for any agreement with the Palestinians and
occasional relief among Arabs hostile to Israel that the notorious
general would be the one to abort the idea of coexistence.
From the Libyan capital to Syria to
Saudi Arabia, the most common response was a collective shrug about
the defeat of Ehud Barak, the Labor Party leader, stemming from the
sense that all Israeli leaders have treated Arabs with equal violence
no matter what their party affiliation.
"Barak kills calmly and with a
big smile," wrote the Saudi newspaper Al Medina. "Sharon
kills with a frown and spits on the body of the victim, then kicks
him. They are both at the end of the day butchers."
Wednesday's news, like much pre-
election coverage, referred to Mr. Sharon in derogatory terms ranging
from "evil and poisonous," to criminal and racist. "The
Victory of the Butcher Sharon" was the headline in the Egyptian
opposition paper Al Wafd.
Ever since Mr. Sharon became a
candidate, reports in the Arab press detailed a long list of bloodshed
that involved him, ranging from villages emptied at the time of the
first Arab- Israeli war in 1948 to the most infamous incident in the
Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila.
An Israeli inquiry found that
although the 1982 massacre, in which hundreds died, was carried out by
Lebanese militiamen, Mr. Sharon bore indirect responsibility for the
killings because, as overall commander of the Israeli invasion, his
troops controlled the area of Beirut around the camps.
People on the streets of Beirut were
aghast at his election. "In any decent country, this man should
not become prime minister," Kamal Ibrahim, 61, whose family died
during the 1982 bombardment of the city, told Reuters.
In Damascus, the state-run press put
the election in the starkest terms. "The victory of the terrorist
Sharon is a clear message from the Zionist entity to the Arabs which
amounts to an official declaration of war," said Al Baath, the
daily of Syria's ruling party. "In choosing Sharon, Israel has
opted for an escalation in terrorism, and put the future of peace in
the world, and not only in the Middle East, at the mercy of a general
obsessed by war."
The reaction was not complete dismay,
"I'm delighted that the Israelis
have elected Sharon, thus revealing their true face," said Dr.
Muhammad Aziz Shukri, chairman of the international law department at
Damascus University. "It proves that the majority in Israel is
far away from a fair and just peace. How can we negotiate with an
Talks between the Syrians and the
Israelis foundered a year ago over disputes about how much of the
Golan Heights, occupied by Israel since 1967, would be returned.
Among those expressing their
contented response to the outcome, the subtext was that Mr. Sharon's
expected belligerence might bring about the twin frustrated goals of
the Arab world — at least a hint of affection from Washington and a
closing of their own ranks.
"I believe a minority are happy
and I am one of them," said Hamdeen Sabahy, an opposition member
of the Egyptian People's Assembly. "Him being in power is bound
to awaken the Arabs."
In the two Arab countries that have
signed peace treaties with Israel — Jordan and Egypt — the
official response was more glum. There is concern that dealing with
his government could mean trouble at home, especially since months of
violence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip erupted after Mr. Sharon
inspected Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem.
In Jordan, no one has forgotten that
Mr. Sharon once took the position that "Jordan is
Even before the tally was announced,
remarks by King Abdullah II to his cabinet were broadcast on Jordanian
television, with the king attempting to reassure the country that it
"will not be affected" by who runs Israel.
"I want to assure everyone that
throughout our history we have gone through a lot and we have seen a
lot, and I think the most difficult hurdles are now behind us,"
King Abdullah said.
Egyptian television reported the
outcome live from Jerusalem, carrying speeches by both Mr. Barak and
Mr. Sharon, but broke off right after the winner declared Jerusalem
his country's eternal capital.
New York Times Company
8th Feb 2001