Political analysts in the Arab world say the year 2002 forced many Arab leaders to walk a political tightrope. In addition to satisfying the demands of their own populations, many of them also had to try to satisfy the demands of the west.
Egyptian political analyst Said Sadek says that 2002 may have been the worst year ever for regimes throughout the Arab world, in just about any way you look at it.
"Economically, politically, legitimacy-wise, regionally, internationally, it has been the worst. And now most of those regimes are looking for survival, and so are reconciling with many opposition forces because they fear of the external pressure. And they also fear that there is external pressure and talk about democratization and things that they lack, and they are standing alone and they will have no place to hide," Mr. Sadek said.
Of all the issues confronting Arab leaders, said another Arab analyst, the one that has caused the most pressure on them is the possibility of a U.S.-led campaign to oust Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Hassan Nafae is the chairman of Cairo University's political science department.
"We in the Arab world do believe that if large-scale war takes place in the Middle East against Iraq, this will have a very negative effect on the peoples and the governments of the whole Middle East. It will be destabilized. That's why I do believe that, not only the peoples of the area would like to avoid war, but most of the governments in this region would like to avoid war," Dr. Nafae said.
He said while Arab leaders may not be enthusiastic about Saddam Hussein, they have at least two good reasons to oppose his ouster. If democracy is brought to Iraq, he said, the legitimacy of their own regimes will become threatened. He added that a U.S.-led military campaign against President Hussein could lead to more protests by Islamic hardliners against any U.S. presence in the region, and these protests could bring more pressure on their governments.
Another analyst, Uraib el-Rantawi, the director of the al-Quds Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Jordan, said some Arab leaders have one more reason to oppose a U.S. campaign against Mr. Hussein. They fear it may not end with Iraq.
"I think there is a serious worry among Arab countries, some Arab regimes in the area, because I think they fear that they will be the second target for the American campaign against the weapons of mass destruction," he said.
Most political analysts in the region agree that one clear indication of the Arab leaders' desire to avoid an Iraqi war is the efforts they went to to persuade Mr. Hussein to agree to the Security Council resolution demanding that Iraq open the country to U.N. weapons inspectors.
Dr. Nafae of Cairo University said many Arab leaders, as well as the leading Arab political organization, were involved in the effort. "Most of the Arab countries have played a major role and a positive role to try to convince Saddam Hussein to accept the U.N. resolution and to accept the return of the U.N. inspectors.
"Also, the Arab League, as a regional institution, played a key role, especially the personal role of its secretary-general, Amr Moussa," he continued. "Amr Moussa was very active in trying to, first of all, to bring the issue before the U.N. Security Council and to convince the United States this is the right way and also to convince Iraq and Saddam Hussein to accept that resolution to avoid a war in the region. Egypt played an important role. Saudi Arabia played an important role. Syria played an important role," Dr. Nafae said.
But despite the Arab effort to avert war, all of the experts who spoke with VOA believe that war is inevitable. And if there is war, they also believe that, as bad as this year has been, 2003 will be even worse.
Part of VOA's yearend series