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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arab Street Bends to Will of the State

CAIRO, Egypt -- The crowds are large, their chants fiery, but the Arab street remains a force controlled and choreographed by the region's autocratic governments.

Tens of thousands of Arabs have protested every day since Israeli troops began taking over Palestinian towns and closing in on Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, making him a prisoner in the compound from which he once ran a quasi-government.

The demonstrations have erupted on university campuses across Egypt, in squalid Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan, along the sidewalks of Jordan's capital. Some of the largest have been in places like Iraq and Syria, where governments keep the tightest grip on self expression -- but use their media and security forces to organize mass demonstrations when they want to make a point to the world.

Less repressive governments keep a close eye on the protests. Egyptian police used tear gas and fire hoses Monday to disperse demonstrators who responded to a call by a group of intellectuals and opposition politicians to march from Cairo University to the nearby Israeli Embassy. University students who have held daily protests across Egypt have not been allowed to take them off their campuses.

Both Egypt and Jordan, the only Arab countries to have signed a peace treaty with Israel, have come under pressure to annul their treaties or sever diplomatic ties.

Roughly 60 percent of Jordan's 5 million people are Palestinians who fled or were driven out of their homes in the 1948 and 1967 Middle East wars, and calls for steps against Israel are growing. But a senior official said Monday that Jordan would maintain ties with Israel. Egypt has taken a similar position.

Officials say maintaining relations offers crucial influence in the conflict, though Egypt and Jordan both recalled their ambassadors to Tel Aviv more than a year ago to protest the violence that erupted in September 2000.

Anger on the street at Israel -- and the United States, seen as Israel's protector on the world stage -- has built up over half a century of wars and Arab-Israeli rivalry. That anger has been fanned by reports like one in the Egyptian opposition newspaper el-Osboa declaring: "Enough humiliation!"

But as united as Arab press, people and politicians are in anti-Israeli rhetoric, governments are not acting on calls to wage war on Israel or end all contacts with the Jewish state.

Egyptian sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim said his government was happy to let its people vent their very real anger over the plight of the Palestinians rather than see them focus on unemployment, inflation, lack of economic or political opportunity or other domestic issues.

"Whenever [protest] threatens to spill outside the university gates, then the ugly face of the security forces is shown," said Ibrahim.