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

Like other governments across the Middle East, Egypt has not been shy about its position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its denunciations of Israel over the war in Gaza are loud and constant. State media outlets broadcast images of long lines of aid trucks waiting to cross from Egypt into Gaza, spotlighting Egypt’s role as the sole conduit for most of the limited aid entering the besieged territory.

Earlier this month, however, when hundreds of people gathered in downtown Cairo to demonstrate in solidarity with Gaza, Egyptian security officers swooped in, arresting 14 protesters, according to their lawyer. Back in October, the government had organized pro-Palestinian rallies of its own. Yet at those, too, it detained dozens of people after protesters chanted slogans critical of the government. More than 50 of them remain behind bars, their lawyers say.

It was a pattern that has repeated itself around the region since Israel, responding to an attack by Hamas, began a six-month war in Gaza: Arab citizens’ grief and fury over Gaza’s plight running headlong into official repression when that outrage takes aim at their own leaders. In some countries, even public display of pro-Palestinian sentiment is enough to risk arrest.

Out of step with their people on matters of economic opportunity and political freedoms, some governments in the Arab world have long faced added discontent over their ties with Israel and its chief backer, the United States. Now the Gaza war — and what many Arabs see as their own governments’ complicity — has driven an old wedge between rulers and the ruled with new force.

Morocco is prosecuting dozens of people arrested at pro-Palestinian protests or detained for social media posts criticizing the kingdom’s rapprochement with Israel. In Saudi Arabia, which is pursuing a normalization deal with Israel, and the United Arab Emirates, which has already struck one, the authorities have displayed such hypersensitivity to any hint of opposition that many people are too frightened to speak on the issue.

And Jordan’s government, caught between its majority-Palestinian population and its close cooperation with Israel and the United States, has arrested at least 1,500 people since early October, according to Amnesty International. That includes about 500 in March, when huge protests were held outside the Israeli Embassy in Amman.

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