David Pollack of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy writes just now that "large public demonstrations have so far failed to materialize in most Arab countries" in response to Gaza. While this may be reassuring to those who hope to minimize the importance of paying attention to Arab public opinion, it simply isn't true.
Just from Arabic press reports today:
- at least 50,000 protestors in the Egyptian city of Alexandria
- thousands in a rare protest in Doha
- "tens of thousands" in Bahrain
- huge protests in Jordan (and others broken up by force)
- "thousands" in Yemen (other reports say "hundreds of thousands")
- "hundreds of thousands" in Damascus
- "tens of thousands" in multiple protests across Iraq (and not just 'Sadrists', unless they took over Fallujah while we weren't looking)
- "thousands" in the cities of Algeria
- "hundreds of thousands" in Khartoum
- "thousands" in the United Arab Emirates
- thousands in Kuwait
And that's not even counting the many protests blocked by security forces across the region, in Cairo and Amman and elsewhere.
Pollack's claim struck me as particularly odd since, just like the vast majority of the Arab TV-viewing public, I've spent the last half hour watching al-Jazeera's reporting and extensive footage of massive protests across the Arab world. I still am... there are a lot of protests and reporting them is a key way that al-Jazeera constructs a narrative of Arab public opinion.
I don't think that protests on the famous "Arab street" are the only meaningful measure of Arab public opinion, nor that they can in and of themselves affect things. Arguments could be made for downplaying their significance: Maybe they are just a way for regimes to let off steam and divert popular anger. Maybe they are staged for the TV cameras. Maybe they substitute for more effective action. Maybe their anger is a cost worth paying for other important policy goals. All arguable -- I would disagree, but the points could be argued. But to deny that they are even happening when they manifestly are seems disinegenuous... and a very poor guide to policy or understanding the stakes of the conflict.
UPDATE: for updated accounts in Arabic of the "massive" and "unprecedented" protests during Friday's "day of rage" which swept virtually every Arab country (and led to some nasty clashes with heavy security forces in Jordan and Egypt), check out al-Hayat, al-Akhbar, al-Ghad, al-Dustour, al-Mesryoon, al-Khaleej, or even the Saudi al-Sharq al-Awsat (which would probably prefer to ignore them.