With hundreds of Lebanese dead and Hizbullah holding out against the vaunted Israeli military, the tide of public opinion across the Arab world is surging behind the Lebanese resistance movement with its head Hassan Nasrallah becoming a folk hero, a leading American newspaper reported Friday, July 28.
An outpouring of newspaper columns, cartoons, blogs and public poetry readings have showered praise on Hizbullah while attacking the United States and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for her "new Middle East" that they say has led only to violence and repression, The New York Times said in an editorial.
"But perhaps not since President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt made his emotional outpourings about Arab unity in the 1960's, before the Arab defeat in the 1967 war, has the public been so electrified by a confrontation with Israel, played out repeatedly on satellite television stations with horrific images from Lebanon of wounded children and distraught women fleeing their homes," the paper said.
It said the opposition press in regional heavyweight Egypt has compared Nasrallah to Nasser, while demonstrators waved pictures of both.
The Arab intelligentsia have publicly voiced their solidarity with Nasrallah in intellectual rallies across the Arab world.
"People are praying for him as they walk in the street, because we were made to feel oppressed, weak and handicapped," Egyptian poet Ahmed Fouad Negm told the Times in an interview.
"I asked the man who sweeps the street under my building what he thought, and he said: 'Uncle Ahmed, he has awakened the dead man inside me! May God make him triumphant!' "
In Lebanon, Rasha Salti, a freelance writer, summarized the sense that Sheik Nasrallah differed from other Arab leaders.
"Since the war broke out, Hassan Nasrallah has displayed a persona, and public behavior also, to the exact opposite of Arab heads of states," she wrote in an e-mail message posted on many blogs.
Fawaz Al-Trabalsi, a columnist in the Lebanese daily As Safir, suggested that the real new thing in the Middle East was the ability of one group to challenge Israeli militarily.
Facing fierce resistance, Israel has called up 15,000 reserve soldiers and ruled out a full-scale invasion of Lebanon, fearing to get bogged down.
Lebanese Health Minister Mohammad Khalifeh said Thursday, July 27, up to 600 Lebanese had been killed in the two-week conflict, around a third of them still buried beneath rubble with rescue workers unable to remove the bodies while under fire.
Distinctive changes in tone are audible throughout the Arab world in a bid by leaders to save face after their initial criticism of Hizbullah, the paper said.
The Saudi royal family, who were initially more critical of Hizbullah and are worried about the rising power of Shiite Iran, are scrambling to distance themselves from Washington.
Last week, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt emphasized his attempts to arrange a cease-fire to protect all sects in Lebanon.
King Abdullah announced that his country was dispatching medical teams "for the victims of Israeli aggression."
Commentators say that their first priority is to cool simmering public opinion.
American officials, however say that while the Arab leaders need to take a harder line publicly for domestic political reasons, what matters more is what they tell the United States in private, which the Americans still see as a wink and a nod.
They noted that there were concerns among Arab governments that a victory for Hizbullah — and it has already achieved something of a victory by holding out this long — would further nourish the Islamist tide engulfing the region and challenge their authority.
Mouin Rabbani of the International Crisis Group said Hizbullah's ability to withstand the Israeli assault exposed the weaknesses of Arab governments with far greater resources than Hezbollah.
"Public opinion says that if they are getting more on the battlefield than you are at the negotiating table, and you have so many more means at your disposal, then what the hell are you doing?" Mr. Rabbani said.
"In comparison with the small embattled guerrilla movement, the Arab states seem to be standing idly by twiddling their thumbs."
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