Middle Eastern Responses to the Sea Change in Eastern Europe
Evoking today Middle Eastern responses to what has been termed the sea change in Eastern Europe may sound rather quaint. We have all quickly adjusted to the new reality there and hardly remember the dramatic events of 1989 that brought it about. Yet, one has to bear in mind that the recent war in the Gulf and the peace process in the Middle East have in a way been a consequence of this global sea change. 1
As a matter of course, political establishments in the Middle East were following developments in Gorbachev's Soviet Union, but accelerated change in Eastern Europe in the fall and winter of 1989 surprised the Arabs, as it did most of the world. Suddenly the Arab states faced an unfamiliar Eastern Europe and a new and different relationship between the superpowers. Many years of friendly rapport with veteran leaders there (e.g., Arafat with Honecker and Ceaucescu) were no longer either an assurance or an asset. This was succinctly expressed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in his notorious speech of February 24, 1990:
The Arabs, proceeding from a long-standing friendship with the Soviet Union, did not. expect [it] would give in to U.S. pressure in a way that would lead to grave consequences for the Arabs and pan-Arab security. 2
At the time there were three main kinds of initial Arab reactions to the changes in Eastern Europe: anxiety, satisfaction, and emulation.
Anxiety, even gloomy disarray: A Jordanian journalist was quoted by The Economist: "Our situation is terrible. The whole world is getting democracy except for us. ... we are weak, we are left behind. We can't even stop the Russian Jews from immigrating to Israel."3 To most Arabs, and especially to the Palestinians, the new situation spelled a major strategic setback. Palestinians