But it might not be the changes the Bush administration is looking for.
Since 2000, the US has pursued an aggressive campaign to promote democratic reform in the Middle East saying it was the best formula to deter Islamic extremism and fundamentalism.
The pro-democracy movement in Lebanon and elections after Syria’s withdrawal from that country were considered signs of success exonerating that policy.
New Middle East?
At the beginning stages of the Israeli conflict with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, US President George Bush said he was concerned about keeping the democratic process alive in Lebanon.
Arab political analysts, however, have dismissed talk of democracy as propaganda to further US and Israeli aims in the region.
“This is just an expression to fill the propaganda vacuum,” said Dr Abdel Moneim Saiid of the Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies in Cairo.
“It reflects the internal thoughts of the [Bush administration] that a new Middle East is an expanse with no resistance to American agendas in the region.”
The American vision for the region, according to statements made by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as she shuttled from Tel Aviv to Beirut, is to implement an ‘urgent and enduring’ peace in the region where differences are settled through means other than war.
However, she warned that those who “wish to strangle a democratic and sovereign Lebanon in its crib,” would be forcibly prevented from doing so, signaling more conflict.
“This is a different Middle East. It’s a new Middle East. It’s hard; we’re going through a very violent time,” she said of the destruction in Beirut and war raging on the Israel-Lebanon border.
But Moustapha Bakri, member of Egypt’s People’s Assembly, accused the US of applying a set of double standards in the region, calling for democratic reforms on the one end while becoming hostile to elected governments it did not approve of on the other.
“The Americans talked about a new Middle East where democracy rules and dictatorships are abolished, and then Hamas came and swept the free and fair Palestinian elections,” he told Aljazeera.net.
“Hamas was not to their liking so are we to interpret the new Middle East to really mean one where all opposition to US foreign policy is systematically wiped out?”
But beyond the protestations of some analysts, the wheels of change may already be churning in the Middle East as a rift between official government policies and popular sentiment on the ‘Arab street’ becomes increasingly evident.
When Israel first began its air strikes against targets in Beirut and southern Lebanon, Arab heavy-weights such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt condemned Hezbollah for acting without conferring with the Lebanese government.
Civilian deaths in Lebanon have sharpened Arab anger at the US
US State Department officials touted these positions as evidence that Arab allies were beginning to understand the need for routing out terrorist organizations which threatened regional stability.
Israeli officials went further claiming that Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan understood that this was the first step in a wider Shia-Sunni conflict in the Middle East.
US and Israeli support for the positions of some Arab governments, however, may be adding fuel to the tension in the region.
“Relations between Arab leaders and their peoples now stand at the edge of total estrangement,” Bakri, who is also Editor in Chief of the Al-Osboo weekly newsmagazine, told Aljazeera.net.
“The Arab regimes have been exposed to their populations as the epitome of subservience and followers to their American masters.”
The growing disconnect was exemplified by the numerous demonstrations expressing support for Lebanon and the Shia movement Hezbollah in many capitals.
In Iraq, thousands proclaimed their support for Hezbollah while chanting anti-US and anti-Israel slogans. In Yemen, protesters denounced the impotence of Arab leaders and the Arab League.
In Cairo, demonstrators shouted “Tell [Secretary-General Hasan] Nasrallah we are all Hezbollah.”
“The Arab street will stand behind Hezbollah despite official attempts to slander Hezbollah and Islamic resistance by portraying them as having entered a losing battle with Israel and bringing a catastrophe on Lebanon,” political analyst Mohamed El Saiid Idris told Aljazeera.net.
The Arab street, disenfranchised from the decision making process in the region, may have been revitalized by Hezbollah chutzpah in taking on the most powerful military in the region, Israel’s.
“Hezbollah’s potency and their ability to bombard Israel’s cities and their capacity to withstand Israel’s onslaught for the first time in Arab-Israeli conflicts, led the Arab people rallying to them cause while divorcing their governments,” Dr Mahmud Khalil, a political writer, said.
Even secular Arabs admire Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah
The inability of Arab institutions to react to crises on the scale of the current Israel-Lebanon war and resolve other conflicts has left the Arab street looking elsewhere for inspiration.
Failed efforts to bring to an end the 58-year Israel-Palestinian conflict and an Iraq spiraling out of control and on the verge of fragmentation have disillusioned many Arabs who feel helpless as decisions and events are made for them.
When Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa declared the peace process dead on 15 July, he was merely echoing a popular sentiment long held by the Arab street.
Into this fray enters Hezbollah.
“While Arab leaderships lose status among their people, Hezbollah seemed to have fulfilled a certain hunger in street,” said leftist journalist Salah Essa.
“Nasrallah is one of the few who prove that a turban may have a first class statesman underneath,” he told Aljazeera.net.
As the fighting and violence in Lebanon rages on with the rest of the world either appearing reluctant or powerless to stop it, the mood in the region is bleak.
Abdel Moneim Saiid of the Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies believes there are two likely outcomes.
“The one which I am leaning to is that Lebanon will become a new Iraq, an open-ended situation where both sides lose and the whole area drowns along with them,”
“The other scenario has Israel Hezbollah tiring out, softening each other out, until a ceasefire is brokered. Then, the violence erupts again.”
But the intensity of the violence and the extent of civilian deaths have left one commentator at a loss for words.
Magdy Mehana, a columnist in the daily Al-Masry Al Yom newspaper left his space blank with only one comment: “What will Arab traitors say now after the massacre of Qana?”