The political impact of the U.S.-led
invasion of Iraq one year ago is still being felt throughout the Arab world.
There have been some tentative moves toward guarded political change, and some
countries have begun cooperating with the international community in the fight
against terror and the struggle to contain proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
VOA's Greg LaMotte in Cairo looks at some of the developments in the region in
the year since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, and talks to analysts about their
Saudi Arabia is in the midst of a massive crackdown on terrorists and has
announced its first municipal elections.
Libya unexpectedly revealed its program to build weapons of mass destruction
and declared it will fully cooperate with international inspectors to dismantle
Iran has increased its cooperation with U.N. nuclear inspectors.
Syria has recently had rare public demonstrations for greater freedom and
democracy, and Damascus has made overtures toward Israel to re-start peace
negotiations that broke down four years ago.
Egypt has assumed a greater role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
For the first time in two years, Israel's foreign minister was welcomed to
Cairo this month for talks on the U.S. backed "road map" for peace.
All these developments have occurred since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq
one year ago. Still, many Arab political analysts say the overall impact on
the region has been mostly negative.
According to Iran expert and lecturer at Cairo University, Amal Hamada, the
presence of U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan has had a negative effect on
the internal politics of Iran. She says conservatives have effectively used
the issue to all but eliminate the pro-reform movement in the Islamic republic.
"I think the presence of American military on the borders of Iran, the eastern
and western borders of Iran, has been of a negative effect on Iran domestically,
because this presence has been forcing different political forces in Iran to
take a harder position," she said. "And, it has brought to the domestic agenda
of the Iranian politics the issue of the relationship with the West in general,
and with the USA in particular, and this has been a very red-line issue. It
has been an issue frequently used to eliminate forces. So, I think, it has
been a very bad effect."
Some analysts say Arab governments are using the increased terrorism threat
to take a hard-line position against their own citizens. One of them, Mohammed
al-Musfir, a political science professor at Qatar University, says governments
are tightening their grip on their people in the name of fighting terrorist
groups like al-Qaida. As a result, he says, there has been an increase in political
The head of the political science department at Lebanese-American University
in Beirut, Sami Baroudi, agrees that the overall impact of the U.S.-led invasion
on the region has been seen as negative, but he says some seeds of democracy
have been planted.
"I think, the only positive thing we can speak of is that some of the small
sheikdoms in the Gulf have become a little bit more vocal in supporting democracies," he
said. "So, we can say that some of the small states that now feel protected
by the U.S. presence, they're sort of cooperating more with U.S. proposals
for reforming political systems. But, as far as major players, I think they
still feel like they did before: they resent U.S. presence in the region."
Professor Baroudi defined the major players as being Iran, Syria, Egypt and,
to some extent, Turkey.
Analysts and government officials in the Middle East also say the U.S.-led
invasion of Iraq has seriously hurt the U.S. image in the region. Recent public
opinion polls taken in Jordan, for instance, indicate that the overwhelming
majority of Jordanians describe themselves as being anti-American.
Mr. Baroudi says there is every reason to believe the same is true in most
of the Arab world.