Arab Leaders Quell Public Outrage Amid Escalating Gaza Conflict

As Anger Grows Over Gaza, Arab Leaders Crack Down on Protests

Arab Governments Suppress Protests Over Gaza, Fueling Cynicism

Amidst the mounting anger over the crisis in Gaza, Arab governments like Egypt have been unambiguous in their condemnation of Israel. State media outlets relentlessly broadcast imagery of aid trucks queued up to cross into Gaza, highlighting Egypt’s role as the sole channel for most of the restricted aid entering the embattled region.

However, these governments are revealing their true colors. When hundreds of Egyptians gathered to demonstrate solidarity with Gaza earlier this month, the state responded by arresting 14 protesters, according to their lawyer. The government, which had previously orchestrated its pro-Palestinian rallies, detained dozens of participants after they voiced criticism against the authorities. Over 50 protesters remain in custody, their lawyers have stated.

Grief, Fury, and Repression

Such a pattern of repression has been a recurring theme across the Middle East since the outbreak of the six-month war in Gaza. The grief and fury of Arab citizens over the dire situation in Gaza have frequently clashed with the oppressive reactions of their governments when they voice dissent against their own leaders. In some cases, even a public display of pro-Palestinian sentiment can warrant an arrest.

With their populace often at odds with their stance on economic opportunities and political freedoms, Arab governments have long faced additional discontent due to their affiliations with Israel and its key supporter, the United States. The ongoing war in Gaza, perceived by many Arabs as a result of their governments’ complicity, has reinvigorated the long-standing disconnect between rulers and the ruled.

Cracking Down: Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan

Arab governments have not hesitated to crack down on pro-Palestinian sentiments. Morocco is prosecuting dozens arrested at pro-Palestinian protests or detained for social media posts criticizing the kingdom’s rapprochement with Israel. Similarly, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both pursuing normalization deals with Israel, have shown extreme sensitivity to dissenting voices, to the point that many citizens are too frightened to express their views on the issue.

Jordan, balancing between its majority-Palestinian population and its close cooperation with Israel and the US, has arrested at least 1,500 people since early October, according to Amnesty International. This includes about 500 individuals who protested outside the Israeli Embassy in Amman just last month.

Arab Autocracies and the Palestinian Cause

Arab autocracies have seldom tolerated dissent. However, activism around the Palestinian cause is particularly sensitive. For decades, Arab activists have linked the fight for justice for Palestinians to their own struggle for greater rights and freedoms. For them, Israel symbolizes the authoritarian and colonialist forces that have impeded their societies’ growth. But for some Arab governments, this connection could spell danger, especially considering how Palestinian flags were a common sight at the Arab Spring protests of 2011.

The Fear of Backlash

In Egypt, where President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has stifled protests and suppressed most criticism since seizing power in 2013, the authorities are acutely aware of how quickly activism can backfire against them. The fear is that today’s protests for Palestine might be tomorrow’s protests against the president himself, as noted by Nabeh Ganady, a human rights lawyer representing the activists arrested in Cairo.

Such sentiments have resulted in a clear message for the populace: there is no room for freedom or democracy, and one must tread carefully when making demands. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, viewed by many Arab citizens as a struggle for justice against oppression, has only served to heighten their disillusionment with their own governments, seen as morally bankrupt in their dealings with Israel.

Normalization with Israel: A Doomed Endeavor?

The recent normalization agreements between Bahrain, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates with Israel, coupled with Saudi Arabia’s steps towards following suit, have stirred outrage against not only Israel but also Arab leaders willing to collaborate with it. For many Arabs, these agreements are destined to fail due to the lack of popular support for ties with Israel.

“To make peace, you need regimes and governments that represent their people, that are elected,” says Abdurrahman Sultan, a Kuwaiti who has participated in sit-ins in support of the Palestinian cause since the war began.

The suppression of pro-Palestinian protests and the growing cynicism amongst Arab citizens testify to the widening chasm between the rulers and the ruled, a chasm further deepened by the ongoing crisis in Gaza.