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Will Anyone Pay Attention To The Arab League?

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Will Anyone Pay Attention To The Arab League?

Middle East

Will Anyone Pay Attention To The Arab League?

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Leaders throughout the Middle East have called for an end to the Israeli attacks on Gaza. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the Arab League today that it must act swiftly to end the attacks. Yesterday, Lebanon's cabinet said it would donate a million dollars in aid to help Palestinians in Gaza.

For more on reaction in the Arab world, we're joined now by Rami Khouri. He is editor-at-large for the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut. Welcome back to the program, Mr. Khouri, and I know today in Lebanon, it's a day of mourning declared there. What is the mood like?

Mr. RAMI KHOURI (Editor-at-Large, Daily Star): Well, things are more quiet than usual. There's many, many fewer people and cars out on the street during the day because of the day of mourning. People are just (unintelligible). And it's also the weather is really bad. There is like a storm and cold and rain, so people are staying home, and then some people go out to celebrate New Year's Eve tonight. A lot of people won't because of the situation.

But it's a situation that is reflected all over the Arab world and many other parts of the world where people are really angry about what's going on. They think Israel is using excessive force. But they feel frustrated because they can't do anything about it, and their governments aren't - seemingly aren't doing anything about it either.

BRAND: Leaders are calling for an end to the violence, but there hasn't been much talk in terms of specifics. What can be done to accomplish that goal of ending these attacks?

Mr. KHOURI: Well, if they wanted to do something, they could a lot - diplomatically, politically, economically - but they are really more talk than action. This is the problem. The Arab leaders I think genuinely share their people's anger with what's going on in the Israeli attack. Many Arab leaders are also angry at Hamas. They don't like Hamas very much.

But they just talk. They don't really do anything, and they make appeals, and people are fed up with it, so people don't really pay much attention to the Arab League meetings anymore, even if they meet at the summit level. But it's a sign that the leaders are aware that their people are angry and concerned.

And the fact is that Hamas, like Hezbollah in Lebanon, is an Islamist group that is actively fighting back against Israel, and they're the only people who seem to do this, and popular opinion in the Arab world is very much with them. Not everybody is with them. Some people criticize them, but most people line up, support Hamas in terms of just fighting back against Israel, protecting Palestinians. So there is great tension within the Arab world itself over the situation.

BRAND: The Arab League is meeting today in Cairo. Do you think it will be as you say, all talk? Or will any action come out of that meeting?

Mr. KHOURI: Well, there probably will be some symbolic action. They'll probably send a delegation to the UN Security Council. They'll do something like that. They will ask for possibly a meeting of the Arab summit at the head of state level. But again, it will be more talk, more talk than action, more rhetoric. The facts on the ground won't change very much because of what the Arab leaders are doing, unfortunately.

BRAND: There is a bit of a perception that Iran's influence is growing in that region. How do you think Arab leaders are responding to that?

Mr. KHOURI: Well, Iran's influence is growing in terms of, well, two things - public opinion at one level. A lot of people in the Arab world like what Iran is doing in terms of defying the West and developing its own nuclear industry and things like that. But also, Iran is developing close links with groups like Hezbollah and Hamas and others like that, and it is forming a strategic relations with Syria and Hezbollah.

So, it has certain links with some people in the Arab world, but this scares the daylights out of most Arab regimes. Most Arab governments and leaders don't like what Iran is doing and are trying to actively fight back against it. So again, it's just another source of tensions within the Arab world between different Arab countries and between - usually between leaderships and public opinion.

BRAND: Rami Khouri is editor-at-large for the Daily Star newspaper in Beirut. Thank you, Mr. Khouri.

Mr. KHOURI: Thanks for having me.

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