The Arab world's efforts to speak with one voice about a US-led war against Iraq became a full-throated shouting match over the weekend.
At the emergency Arab League Summit here, called to discuss ways to avert war, Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qaddafi accused Saudi Arabian leaders of making a "deal with the devil" - paving the way for US presence in the region by allowing American troops to defend the Arabian peninsula during the Gulf War a dozen years ago.
The spat that ensued exposed both the region's open wounds and a rising feeling of impotence in the face of a US military juggernaut poised to invade an Arab neighbor. It also underscored a growing debate in the Arab world of how to hinder US plans to create what some pro-Western political analysts refer to as a "Pax Americana" in the Middle East, but what many Arab leaders fear will be a new form of colonialism.
The ailing Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, his head draped in a traditional bleached-white kaffiyeh, did not disguise his rage at Mr. Qaddafi's remarks. "Saudi Arabia has never worked for US interests," he said, shaking his forefinger at the Libyan leader. "You are a liar and your grave awaits you." The crown prince stood up and walked for the door as Egypt's "live broadcast" of the proceedings went abruptly blank.
Few leaders in the Arab world will admit openly that they trust US intentions in the region, but several, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain are allowing US troops to be stationed on their soil as US war plans move ahead. Analysts say the region's leaders remain afraid of broader US goals of regime change.
"I believe that US national security interests will drive nation building across the region, a new kind of Marshall plan for the Middle East," says Prof. Hala Mustafa, an analyst at Cairo's Al Ahram Center for Strategic Studies. "But this terrifies authoritarian regimes in the Arab world, especially the ones that pay lip service to democracy and that have been accused by Washington of having unofficial or official ties to terror."
The divisions at the summit began …