The visceral response seen across the world to Israel's attacks on Gaza has been described by many as an unprecedented outpouring of support for Palestinians suffering in Gaza. Millions have taken to the streets to protest the war, even in Kuwait, a country that is one of America's closest Arab allies and that rarely witnesses such an outpouring of impassioned protesters.
But on Friday, as Arab foreign ministers held meetings to discuss the war on Gaza just two days before the Arab Economic Summit was set to begin in Kuwait, conservatives and liberals, Sunnis and Shiites marched alongside South-Asian workers, chanting slogans including "No concessions! No Surrender!" and "America is the mother of all terrorists."
Immediately following Friday's call to prayer at least 5,000 protesters marched from Masjid Al-Kabir, Kuwait's largest mosque, towards the parliament building, echoing the anger and embarrassment felt by many Arabs and emboldening the Islamist extremist base both in the streets and parliaments of Arab countries.
Watch thousands of protesters march in Kuwait calling for an end to the war, Israel and America:
The march ended at Martyr's Square directly opposite the parliament building where Nasser al Sane, a Kuwaiti parliament member, told the crowd, "It is shameful [Arab leaders] are holding an [economic] summit while there are Israeli flags still flying in Arab countries."
Protesters carried signs praising the Venezuelan and Bolivian presidents that read, "Viva Chavez, Viva Morales and no sympathy for Arab leaders!" One week earlier, in the first parliamentary session held in two months in Kuwait, Islamist parliamentarians challenged Arab governments, condemning Egypt, and praising the initiatives taken by South American countries.
"I call for moving the Arab League from Cairo to Caracas," Waleed al-Tabtabai, a member of Kuwait's Parliament told his colleagues. "[Chavez] proved that he was more Arab than some Arabs."
Venezuela expelled the Israeli ambassador from Caracas over two weeks ago in protest of Israel's offensive on Gaza while many Arab governments, like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, still maintain ties with Israel. Venezuela's move highlighted the perceived failure of Arab leaders to take serious measures to end the violence, prompting parliamentarians across the region to challenge the credibility of Arab leaders as heads of state and as Muslims.
Foreign ministers from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt insisted on discussing the war at the Arab Economic Summit in Kuwait, refusing to attend an emergency summit in Doha called for by Qatar's Emir, who urged Arab leaders not to further delay discussions. The Doha summit was organized with the expectation that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would attend, but he too didn't show up. His absence prompted Qatar's Emir to send a private jet to bring Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas's political wing, from Syria to meet with the heads of Islamic Jihad, the secular Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamadinejad. As Arab leaders bickered about where and when discussions on how to end the war on Gaza should be held, Israel's invasion continued and Arab outrage soared. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan's refusal to attend the summit in Doha suggests that they may have been extremely confident that a ceasefire would be declared before the Arab Economic Summit on Monday. Israel's unilaterally declared ceasefire on Saturday night seems to confirm speculations that American officials, probably from the Obama administration had established an agreement with Israel that their military offensive would end before Obama's inauguration.
This gives Obama at least a millisecond to take a deep breath before rolling his sleeves up on day one and offering his promised and much-anticipated, though likely unchanged policy perspective on the war on Gaza. After all, America deserves to throw a huge party to celebrate the departure of an extremely unpopular president and the arrival of an unprecedented and popular one.
Still, the absence of representatives from most Arab countries exemplified the inability of Arab leaders to speak in a collective voice and weakened their already crumbling credibility -- especially among opposition groups and Islamist factions. It also solidified the deepening divisions that have been forming in the region in recent years placing the governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait and others that are allied with the United States on one side and Syria, Iran, Libya, Hamas and Hezbollah on the other. Qatar, which has earned a reputation for playing all sides against one another, called for the conference with America's biggest foes in the region, despite its extensive U.S. ties (including hosting the U.S. Combat Air Operations Center, which served as a key center for the U.S. invasion of Iraq and U.S. operations in Afghanistan).
After helping remedy Lebanon's political crisis following its own war with Israel in summer 2006, Qatar's summit was viewed as an attempt to relive its glory, but it was unable to secure enough participation in the emergency summit to give it the same significance the meetings taking place in Kuwait will garner from an international perspective.
Despite the UN's passing a resolution calling for a ceasefire on XXX, a hospital, media building and UN compound were all shelled on Thursday. The director of the UN Relief and Works Agency, John Ging, described the "relentless bombardments" as leaving tons of food in a food aid warehouse burning, adding it was impossible to extinguish the flames from rounds that emitted phosphorus.
When the UN resolution carried no weight, the General Assembly was prompted to hold an emergency special session to evidence the international community's opinions.
Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann, president of the General Assembly, opened the session by focusing on a reality that was stressed repeatedly at the emergency summit in Doha.
"If this onslaught in Gaza is indeed a war, it is a war against a helpless, defenseless, imprisoned population," he said. "Gaza's civilians find themselves locked inside a lethal war zone behind a wall surrounding their densely populated territory," he said. "They have no means of escape."
Khalid Mishaal, used his unprecedented position as the main representative for the Palestinian people to reiterating Hamas' stance to reject Israel's terms for a Gaza ceasefire and call for a fund to be set up to help the Palestinians in Gaza.
The boundaries and alliances that were drawn as the two separate summits held in Kuwait and Doha proceeded are bound to complicate and delay whatever decisions Arab leaders are able to make in the coming weeks and months.
Israel has single-handedly decided it was time for a ceasefire. But many questions remain.
Will Hamas stop firing rockets now that Israel has declared a ceasefire?
Will protesters, human rights advocates and the media move on from the humanitarian crisis in Gaza to the one in Sri Lanka or Congo?
The answers remain unclear, though there is one question that many in Gaza have been asking since the war began that can be answered.
Q: Where are the Arabs?
A: In the streets protesting like much of the rest of the world. But their leaders are couped up in swanky hotels, meeting in separate countries, and arguing over where, when and what to talk about, instead of listening to the streets for suggestions.
Follow Ahmed Shihab-Eldin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ase