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Reaction in the Arab world to the election of Ariel Sharon
TRIPOLI, Libya, Feb 7th, 2001
 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, however.

"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 extremist?"

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 Palestine."

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.
The New York Times Company 8th Feb 2001

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08 February 2001 05:12:20 PM

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