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Middle East Also Harmed by Events of September 11 - 2002-09-05

The September 11 attacks in the United States also harmed the region the terrorists came from, the Middle East. In the year since the attacks, Arab countries have seen their economies take a beating, their primary religion under fire and their security and political systems under new stress.

What exists in the Arab world today, that did not exist September 11 2001, "is a wave of fear." That is the assessment of Abdel Moneim Sa'id, the head of the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. Mr. Sa'id says there is fear of terrorism, economic depression, loss of democracy, and political oppression. "You have all kinds of uncertainties here, so this issue of Muslim terror is not something to be taken lightly,"he said. "It showed us that we are not as good people as we thought, at least on the side of liberal people."

According to Mr. Sa'id, many Arabs feel that they have been indirectly victimized by terrorism.

There is no shortage of statistics to support that feeling. Income from tourism has been nearly cut in half. And new foreign investments dropped as much as 40 percent in some Arab states. Democracy is also suffering while various Arab regimes use military laws to crack down on terrorism and fundamentalism.

Egyptian political analyst Mohammad Kamal says the region has been affected economically and politically. "I think the situation in the Middle East and the Arab world in particular, is worse off a year after September 11 in terms of domestic, economic, and political conditions," he said. "And, also in terms of relations with the West, particularly with the United States. Domestically the economic situation is worse due to loss of revenue from tourism and that affected countries like Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and so on. On the political side I would argue that the gap between the Arab countries and the United States, with regards to regional issues, have widened with regards to the Palestinian question and with regards to Iraq. That strained relations between the United States and most Arab countries, even friends of the United States like Egypt and Saudi Arabia."

Islam has gone through its own self-analysis during the past year. Many religious leaders in the region have been outspoken in their call for moderation.

Milad Hanna, a religious expert at the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, says the majority of Muslims believe "fanaticism has no place in religion. "Religion is like fire," he said. "If it is ruling the house it will burn the house. If the fire is slow in a fireplace it brings warmth. Therefore, we do need religion, but a small amount of religion gives people security and happiness. A big amount of religion will end up by fanaticism." Mr. Hanna says many Muslims throughout the region believe the war against terrorism is really a U.S. war against Islam. As a result, many political analysts in the region say some Arab regimes are reluctant to support the campaign against terror for fear of angering their people.

But U.S. officials have repeatedly pointed out that this is a war on terrorism, not on Islam. And many Muslim nations have joined it, including Pakistan, the new Afghan government and many countries in the Middle East.

In the year since September 11, several Gulf nations have frozen bank accounts, tightened financial regulations and shared intelligence with U.S. authorities in the hunt for terrorists. Syria provided rare help in the form of intelligence contacts and Iran assisted indirectly by turning 16 al-Qaida suspects over to U.S. ally Saudi Arabia.

Yemen has shown enthusiasm in cooperating with the United States. After September 11 Yemen's president formed a national security agency to combat terrorism and accepted U.S. military counter-terrorism training for his forces.

The impoverished country was an al-Qaida recruiting ground. The USS Cole was bombed in Yemen's port of Aden in October 2000 killing 17 American sailors in an attack blamed on al-Qaida.

Saudi Arabia has cooperated in intelligence gathering and is scrutinizing financial transactions. But Saudi Arabia was home to 15 of the 19 hijackers on September 11, and U.S. sources in the region say, despite its cooperation, the country is still widely considered fertile ground for new al-Qaida recruits and financiers.

Although many Arab leaders share the U.S. desire to stamp out extremist violence, it is sometimes difficult for them to support the effort enthusiastically and publicly.

Hassan Nafae, an analyst who heads the political science department at Cairo University, says leaders throughout the Arab world want to fight terrorism, but not on American terms. "You have a problem in the Arab and Muslim worlds and deep reform is needed, but this does not mean we, as Arabs and Muslims, have to resolve it the way the West wants it," he said. "It has to come from within to have a real consensus from the major players and the United States and the West has to understand this."

During the past year the Arab world has seen an internal crackdown on fundamentalist organizations. Arrests of Muslim fundamentalists are almost routine. And while that might help fight terrorism, it has also raised some concerns.

Cairo-based Arab affairs analyst Abdullah el-Ashaal says, "in the name of state security and suspicion, democracy has been the greatest victim of September 11". "The security is taking the utmost importance,' he said. "You are giving new justification for the dictators to use their power and justify their dictatorships. So I think now democracy orientation is suffering a lot in the Arab world and nobody can talk about democracy because they say it is the security of the regime, security of the whole nation."

Security concerns are also affecting average Arab citizens in a different way. U.S. sources in Cairo, for example, say there is a huge backlog of visa applications, in part because requests from Arab men between the ages of 16 and 40 are being heavily scrutinized. The sources say what was once routine, is not routine anymore.

Many Arabs, the majority of whom say they were overwhelmingly saddened by the events of September 11, say they feel a greater sense of tension than they did a year ago.

Some have become fearful of flying. Others say they worry about the security of their bank accounts or have concern for their own safety and the safety of their family and friends.

One man told VOA, "in a heartbeat your life or your family's, can be wiped out by ghosts who possess evil minds."