Monday, 3 March 2003

American billions keep Arab regimes sweet

by Robert Fisk

It was pathetic. The President of the United Arab Emirates – too old and too sick to visit Sharm el-Sheikh – sent a message begging Saddam Hussein to go into exile, just as the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, had told the Arabs to do last Thursday, when he urged them to get President Saddam "out of the way and let some responsible leadership take over in Baghdad".

Even the Saudis didn't oppose the Emirates' plea, while the Egyptians – host to the Arab League summit – could only claim that they were "not in the business of changing one regime for another". How much does it cost to produce this kind of subservience? In Egypt's case, $3bn (£1.9bn) in US aid and other credits, plus another $1bn in gifts. Another $1bn for Jordan, which has just accepted US troops on its territory – only to man Patriot missile batteries, of course.

Money seems to make the Arab world go round. The Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram and the Saudi newspaper Al-Hayat are singing the Emirates' tune and demanding a "regime change" in Baghdad. Turkey – not an Arab country – is waiting for its $26bn in promises to let the US army tramp across its border into Iraq.

Syria alone – since it may well be number two on Washington's list for "regime change" – said that it was a mistake to identify the Iraqi leadership as the source of the current crisis. President Bashar Assad said that America wanted Iraq's oil and wished to "redraw the region's map". The latter is undoubtedly true, since Mr Powell unwisely admitted just that last week. "We are all targeted ... we are all in danger," President Assad said.

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