The intense Israeli response to the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7th has rekindled Arab support for the Palestinians, after it sparked public outrage in Arab countries, not only against Israel and the United States but also against Arab governments, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal.
Some Arab and Islamic countries joined global condemnations of Hamas, which killed 1,200 people according to Israeli authorities. However, with the death toll from Israeli airstrikes and ground operations exceeding 12,000 in Gaza, as per the health authorities in the Hamas-controlled sector, images of suffering and destruction in Gaza covered Arab screens and social media, the newspaper reported.
While there are few public opinion polls on the Arab reaction, the newspaper’s report observed that from Jordan to Oman, and from Egypt to Morocco, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in weekly demonstrations to express their support for the Palestinians and call for a ceasefire. They also demand their governments cancel agreements with Israel, and in some cases, chant for Hamas.
Despite public pressure, The Wall Street Journal says Arab states have not taken strong action against Israel, “and are unlikely to do so, as those in power look to maintain stability and maintain relations with the United States,” analysts say.
The newspaper quoted Najah Al-Atoum, a retired teacher in Jordan who spends hours following developments in Gaza on social media, saying, “For me, what’s happening in Gaza requires a response from the entire Arab world,” adding that “our governments’ stance is shameful.”
Pro-Palestinian protesters in Egypt last month chanted the slogan “Bread, freedom, and social justice” that spurred the 2011 revolution, which led to the overthrow of the long-time dictator, with security forces arresting dozens of protesters and suppressing subsequent demonstrations.
In Morocco, hundreds of thousands took to the streets “to support the Palestinian cause,” as the organizers say, but also to criticize their government’s relations with Israel, according to the newspaper.
Jordanian political analyst Osama Al-Sharif told The Wall Street Journal, “We are in a very sensitive and extremely dangerous phase, we do not know what kind of reaction we will face, especially with these regimes feeling the pressure resulting from their abandonment of the Palestinians.”
Nearly 720,000 Palestinians were displaced during the founding of Israel in 1948, followed by rounds of armed conflict with Arab states. In recent decades, many of these countries made peace with Israel and deepened relations even with little progress towards a political settlement between Israelis and Palestinians, the report states.
Morocco, Bahrain, UAE, and Sudan normalized relations with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords reached during the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump, opening doors for trade and security cooperation. Egypt and Jordan, which have strong relations with the U.S., have had diplomatic relations with Israel since 1979 and 1994, respectively.
In the months preceding Hamas’s October 7th attack, Israel and Saudi Arabia engaged in U.S.-mediated negotiations aimed at Riyadh recognizing Israel in exchange for security guarantees from Washington and help in establishing a nuclear program.
A senior Arab official told the newspaper, “The scenes we see from Gaza destroy everything Israel has built over the past three decades in terms of peace and regional integration.”
The Saudi talks are now on hold. Saudi Arabia condemned Israel’s actions in Gaza, Bahrain suspended its economic relations with Israel, and Turkey recalled its ambassador.
Jordanian lawmakers agreed this week to review agreements with Israel, including the 1994 peace treaty and a $10 billion gas deal. In Tunisia, parliament is discussing criminalizing communications with Israel, including by ordinary citizens.
However, The Wall Street Journal deems such moves unlikely to advance without support from the leaders of both countries. Even Iran, Hamas’s main supporter, has offered only moral support for the movement since the attacks, despite U.S. and Israeli claims that Tehran helped facilitate the attack with training, funding, and other aid, and its direct involvement in the October 7th terrorist attack has not been confirmed.
Hamas, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, is seen as a dangerous Islamic nationalist movement by Arab governments like Egypt, Jordan, and Gulf countries.
The report adds that Jordanian security forces tolerated protesters waving Hamas flags and chanting pro-militant slogans, while preventing them from approaching the Israeli embassy in Amman or marching toward the border with Israel.
Arab officials say they are concerned that the longer the conflict lasts, the harder it is to contain domestic unrest, which previously led to violent confrontations between protesters and police in Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey.
The Wall Street Journal quotes the UAE’s diplomatic advisor Anwar Gargash, saying on Saturday that what he describes as “moderate Arab states” must “stand up to extremism and radicalism” to confront “the onslaught within the Arab public opinion, resulting from the war.”
He added at a security conference in Bahrain, “We have to take responsibility because there is a fundamental attack on us, on the positions of countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan.”
Regional leaders see the risk of a resurgence of global terrorism and say it could also lead to broader protests on local issues, such as poverty, employment opportunities, and security state violations of the type that led to the “Arab Spring” revolutions.
A decade after the uprisings that toppled many governments, the Middle East and North Africa region is largely run by “autocratic governments that have not addressed these underlying concerns,” the report states.
Areeb Al-Rantawi, director of the Jerusalem Center for Political Studies in Amman, told The Wall Street Journal he does not rule out a scenario of a new wave of the Arab Spring, “which could include many countries.”
The report recalls that Moroccans were largely against normalization before the 2020 agreement to establish relations with Israel, with more than 88% opposing the idea, according to the Arab Center Research Institute in Washington.
Nevertheless, Morocco, “the monarchical regime that restricts freedom of expression,” as the newspaper describes it, proceeded with normalization in exchange for recognition of its sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara and access to Israeli intelligence technology and Washington’s approval.
Before that in the UAE, and after normalizing relations with Israel, most of its citizens opposed working with Israel, according to a survey by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Subsequent polls showed that after months of the normalization agreement in 2020, the population was almost equally divided on the issue, but in the years that followed, more people backed away from the idea.
Surveys in Bahrain, which normalized relations with Israel in the same year, showed a roughly equal split.
Sion Assidon, one of the organizers of the Moroccan Front for Supporting Palestine and Against Normalization, told the American newspaper that police harassed protesters before the war or prevented them from joining anti-normalization marches.
Assidon, a former political prisoner of Moroccan Jewish descent, said, “Now, it’s impossible to stop us, there are so many of us, the police open large roads and hear us chanting, normalization is complicity, we protest in front of parliament and government buildings.”
He added, according to The Wall Street Journal, that the government internally portrays itself as pro-Palestinian even as it brokers military and intelligence agreements with Israel.
“It’s a contradiction.. and they need to manage it,” he said.