LEADERS ACROSS the Middle East are terrified that Israel's war on the Palestinians will provoke wide scale revolt. Representatives from Egypt and Jordan have pleaded with Bush to help them quell unrest by appearing to check Sharon's excesses. Anne Adams has just visited Egypt. She says the Arab rulers are right to be fearful of the pro-Palestinian movement.
The protests are of a size and militancy unparalleled in recent years. On Saturday of last week there were mass confrontations on the streets of Cairo in Egypt. A demonstration was planned to mark Palestinian Land Day, commemorating a movement of Israeli Arabs in the 1970s.
It was transformed by students furious at Sharon's military campaign. Around 15,000 students streamed out of Cairo University to confront the security forces on the streets outside. According to the Al Jazeera news station around half a million people have taken to the streets over the last five days in every large town and city in Egypt. In the city of Alexandria some 5,000 students clashed with police as they tried to march on the Israeli embassy.
In Banha in the south of Egypt an amazing 25,000 people demonstrated in solidarity with the Palestinians. The size and militancy of the protests have visibly shaken the Egyptian regime. The age of the demonstrators is incredibly young. News channels have shown 14 year old schoolgirls leading demonstrations of thousands.
The sheer scale of the protests, combined with the youth of those taking part, has made it hard for the government to respond as it usually does – with repression. The Arab newspaper Al Hayat reported how a main news programme had been pulled off the air after only ten minutes.
The regime was terrified that allowing people to see pictures of the intifada would inspire greater numbers to actively support it. In the capital city of Jordan there was a huge demonstration of 20,000 on the Tuesday of last week. In Lebanon there have been five or six continuous days of protests. The authorities are terrified that Hizbollah will begin a military campaign against Israel.
Barbed wire roadblocks were thrown up to protect the Israeli embassy. Marchers have repeatedly clashed with security forces, and have been bombarded with teargas. Students at Beirut's American University staged a sit-down protest, and then marched with banners proclaiming that they had renamed their college the Palestinian University.
An additional 20,000 marched in the Lebanese port of Sidon, burning Israeli flags. There have been big demonstrations at the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps, where thousands of Palestinians still live. It was in these camps that Ariel Sharon allowed thousands of Palestinian refugees to be murdered in 1982.
In Syria reports are leaking through that suggest thousands of demonstrators barricaded themselves onto roofs to burn US flags. Pro-Palestinian demos have attracted thousands, even in the super-rich pro-US Gulf states.
In Qatar 10,000 took part in a march that was unprecedented for the involvement of foreign workers.
In Bahrain security forces resorted to rubber bullets to try and crush the protests. One demonstrator was killed. In Saudi Arabia, one of the US's key allies in the region, tens of thousands have reportedly marched on the Israeli consulate in Dhahran. Around 250,000 protested in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, on a march led by Colonel Gadaffi.
Thousands of people in Greece have taken to the streets in solidarity with the Palestinians. 'There were protests in Athens on Friday two weeks ago and again the following Monday,' says Panos Garganas, editor of Socialist Worker's sister paper in Greece.
'We held a big meeting on Monday of this week, and a mass solidarity concert backed by the trade unions was planned for Wednesday. The building workers were on strike last week. They marched to the Israeli embassy as an act of solidarity with the Palestinians.'
In Turkey, a close military ally of Israel, days of continuous protests have been held outside the Israeli embassy. Over 10,000 people marched through Barcelona on Saturday of last week despite heavy rain. Over 20,000 marched through Paris in solidarity with the Palestinians.
For coverage of protests in Britain see Solidarity with Palestinians.