By: Ahmad Khatib Ahmad Khatib – Sun Jan 16, 4:11 pm ET
AMMAN (AFP) – Governments across the Middle East anxiously watched developments in Tunisia
on Sunday after the ouster of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali,
fearing the spread to their doorsteps of violence and popular revolt.
After 23 years of iron-fisted rule, the Tunisian president caved in to violent popular protests
on Friday and fled to Saudi Arabia, becoming the first Arab leader to do so.
Administrations in the Middle East were cautious in their response to his toppling,
but are increasingly uneasy about the situation as opposition groups
seek to take advantage of the upheaval in the north African country.
Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit warned the West to stay out of Arab affairs,
after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called this week
on Arab leaders to work with their peoples for reforms.
Abul Gheit described as "nonsense" fears that a Tunisian-style
popular revolt could spread to other Arab countries.
The world's largest pan-Islamic body, the Saudi-based Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC),
said the strife in Tunisia was an "internal matter"
while urging people to "protect public and private properties."
It expressed hope, however, that Tunisia would show "the solidarity and unity
of its people and their aspirations for enhancing democracy and good governance."
The United Arab Emirates echoed the OIC's plea, urging Tunisians
"to maintain national unity and to thwart any attempt to undermine" their country.
Ben Ali's ouster appeared to embolden disenchanted youths in Yemen,
with about 1,000 students taking to the streets of the capital Sanaa,
urging Arabs to rise up against their leaders.
Flanked by human rights activists, the students marched from Sanaa University's campus
to the Tunisian embassy, calling for Arab peoples to wage a
"revolution against their scared and deceitful leaders."
"Leave before you are toppled," read one banner, without naming Yemen's own President
Ali Abdullah Saleh. "Peaceful and democratic change is our aim in building a new Yemen."
Syria's pro-government daily Al-Watan said the events in Tunisia were
"a lesson that no Arab regime should ignore, especially those following
Tunisia's political approach of relying on 'friends' to protect them."
"Arab leaders on sale to the West should learn form the Tunisian lesson.
They should make Arab decisions according to what is favourable to the interest
of the Arab people and not those of faraway countries," Al-Watan said.
In Jordan, the powerful Islamist movement urged Arab regimes
to carry out genuine reforms leading to "renaissance."
"Tyranny is the mother of all evil in the Arab world," it warned.
"We have been suffering in Jordan the same way Tunisians have been suffering,"
Muslim Brotherhood chief Hammam Said told 3,000 demonstrators
who held a sit-in outside parliament to protest government economic policies.
"We must put an end to oppression and restrictions on freedoms and people's will," he said.
Opposition MPs in Kuwait agreed.
"I salute the courage of the Tunisian people...
All regimes that oppress their peoples and fight Arab and Islamic identity
will meet the same fate," Islamist MP Waleed al-Tabtabai said.
Iran, which has good ties with the north African country, said it hoped
"the Muslim Tunisian nation's demands are fulfilled through peaceful and non-violent means."
"We are worried about the situation in Tunisia,"
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said in Tehran.
For Israel, the dramatic events in Tunisia were a sign of regional political instability.
"The region in which we live is an unstable region... " said Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu.
"There can be changes in governments that we do not foresee today but will take place tomorrow."