Although Limited, Arab Public Protests Against the War in Gaza Continue

Seven months into Israel’s violence in Gaza—which has credibly been identified as an active genocide—the Middle East has teetered on the brink of chaos. Understandably, media attention has focused on the prospect of escalating regional conflict. Coverage has concentrated on militant groups such as the Houthi rebels who have nearly paralyzed maritime traffic along the Gulf of Aden-Suez Canal route, and Hezbollah’s escalations on Lebanon’s southern border. Iran’s April 13 drone and missile attack on Israel and Israel’s April 19 counterattack on Iran, and the risk of a full blown Israel-Iran war, have also received extensive coverage.

But there has been far less attention on the protest movements that have emerged in the Arab world against Israel’s violence in Gaza. Governments have struggled to contain these movements, and their medium- to long-term ramifications for regional politics remain to be seen. As scholars and activists have long noted, Palestine has been a crucial driver of oppositional politics in the Arab world. This writer has characterized the Palestinian issue as the “gateway to dissent,” even in places where opposition activism is least expected. Furthermore, as recent history has shown, Arab regimes cannot depend on repression to quell these movements. For these reasons, it is not sustainable to keep ignoring such dissent.

This article describes recent pro-Palestine activism in Jordan, Egypt, and the Gulf Arab states. To be sure, these are not the only Arab countries to experience pro-Palestine activism since October 7, but their protest dynamics illustrate regional trends. It is important to note that in several cases, regimes have either already normalized relations with Israel or are actively pursuing normalization. This has implications for understanding these protests and what they signify for political trends in the future.


Since the start of Israel’s current war on Gaza, protests have not ceased in Amman and other major cities in Jordan. In recent weeks, the protesters have focused their attention on the Israeli embassy in Amman, demanding that Jordan cut ties with Israel. The United States has also featured prominently in protest chants and demands, with protesters clearly connecting Israel’s ongoing assault on Gaza to American support. Most recently, protesters have criticized the Jordanian response to the Iranian missile strike on Israel as evidence of collusion between the Jordanian government and the United States to protect Israel.

The wave of demonstrations has challenged security forces in their size and defiance. But state repression has been swift, with more than 1,500 protesters arrested since October. Videos of security forces using excessive force to break up protests have circulated widely on social media. According to Amnesty International, the Governor of Amman has illegally detained protesters despite the public prosecutor’s orders for their release, and journalists and other prominent figures have been prosecuted for social media posts under the state’s Cybercrime Law.

As shocking images and details of the violence in Gaza continue to emerge, Jordan’s protests may not remain predictable.

The protests in Jordan should not be surprising. Not only have Jordanians as recently as 2021 protested against economic cooperation deals between their government and Israel, but Jordan is also home to some two million Palestinians. Furthermore, public disapproval of the 1994 Jordan-Israel Wadi Araba peace agreement remains high, 30 years on. Various public opinion polls, including the Arab Opinion Index.

In response to these dynamics, pro-regime figures and spokespeople have painted the protests as prioritizing Palestine over Jordanian interests, or alleged that nefarious forces—“ghosts”—are instigating the unrest. Such attacks have not quelled the protests: they persist, with chants of “one nation, not two” featuring prominently.

Nevertheless, the conditions of repression in Jordan have created dynamics that scholar Sean Yom characterizes as “mobilization without movement.” Yom argues that protests in Jordan have managed to amass large-scale participation but have not been able to build toward larger movements with clear leadership and concrete demands. Formal civil society organizations are missing as central nodes in the mobilization. As a result, these intentionally decentralized and non-ideological mobilizations dissipate before they can turn into “movements.”

There are similar trends in this latest wave of protests, and scholars of Jordanian politics do not believe that they pose a significant threat to the regime. Yet as shocking images and details of the violence in Gaza continue to emerge, Jordan’s protests may not remain predictable. Furthermore, the impact on medium- to long-term politics remains an open question, especially as the Gaza genocide becomes a formative moment in the socialization of young activists. What is clear now is that if Jordanians had a more accountable government, the kingdom’s policies toward Israel would change. The Jordanian regime, Israel, and the United States clearly know this.


Pro-Palestine activism, and its embeddedness in domestic dissent, has a long history in Egyptian politics. The Palestine issue activated a generation of opposition figures during the second intifada, many of whom went on to organize and participate in the 2011 Tahrir Square uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak. The fact that Egypt was the first Arab country to make peace with Israel has done little to quell Palestine’s effect on internal politics and opposition.

Today, despite harsh repression under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egyptians have protested repeatedly since the start of the war in Gaza. Some protests, such as one in October, proved difficult for state security forces to handle, with protesters advancing into Tahrir Square for the first time since el-Sisi’s 2013 coup. In an attempt to sway public opinion, the government organized pro-regime Palestine protests, which Egyptian activists quickly denounced. Finally, el-Sisi emphasized Egyptian security in his statements, and pro-regime messages on social media have proliferated, claiming that Egyptians already have enough challenges to occupy them at home.

The size and frequency of the protests in Egypt have decreased primarily due to state repression.

Seven months into the Gaza violence, the size and frequency of the protests in Egypt have decreased, primarily due to state repression, such as when state security forces arrested more than 100 activists during the October protests. As a result, protests have become narrower in scope and confined to certain locations. While organizations such as the Journalist Syndicate have repeatedly gathered protesters in front of its Cairo headquarters and pushed the boundaries of acceptable discourse, such mobilizations remain limited in size and impact. Repression continues unabated, as recently witnessed with the protest at the UN Women headquarters in Cairo, in which more than a dozen women were detained even as security officials denied arrests had taken place.

Interesting dynamics have emerged, however, at academic institutions such as the American University in Cairo (AUC). Student activists, inspired by recent waves of pro-Palestinian university protests and learning lessons from more seasoned opposition figures, have begun mobilizing on the AUC campus and disseminating political material. Activists even staged a disruption during the AUC Tahrir 2024 CultureFest, calling for the university to end contracts with two companies tied to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Egyptians are also watching as the members of the Egyptian diaspora in the United States, United Kingdom, and Europe have challenged what they see as Egyptian regime complicity in the Gaza violence. Diaspora activists, including those exiled following the 2013 coup, have staged protests in front of Egyptian embassies around the world and connected with Egyptian groups in exile and at home.

Gulf Arab States

Pro-Palestine activism also has a long history in the Gulf Arab states. In some countries, such as Bahrain, anti-normalization offices and committees preceded the independence of the state itself. In relatively more open Kuwait, pro-Palestine activism and discourse is common, despite the country’s historical ordeal with the Palestine Liberation Organization’s decision to support Iraq’s invasion of the Emirate in 1990.

Following the Abraham Accords and the break in precedent with the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, pro-Palestine activism has transformed and expanded in a variety of ways. For example, in the weeks after the Abraham Accords were signed, activists from across the Gulf founded the Gulf Coalition Against Normalization, encompassing several organizations and individuals. During key moments such as the FIFA World Cup in Qatar in 2022, groups such as Qatar Youth Opposed to Normalization seized upon global attention to make demands and stage actions.

Repression of pro-Palestine activism and discourse has rapidly increased.

But repression of pro-Palestine activism and discourse has also rapidly increased. For example, Saudi Arabian organizations remain missing from the Gulf Coalition, as a result of the narrowing of space and repression of opposition voices within that country. Protests and actions in Bahrain are surveilled and controlled, as are similar actions in Qatar. The space for political action is so limited in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that most discussions on the Palestine question are happening abroad among Emiratis in exile.

Since the October 7 attacks and the ensuing war on Gaza, activists have expanded their activity within certain areas. Bahrain began to witness regular protests and anti-normalization groups have held many lectures and educational events. In Qatar, student activism has increased, with student activists on American satellite campuses in Doha joining efforts with student activists at Qatar University. Even in usually quiet Oman, protests have occurred on multiple occasions. Finally, across the region, the Gulf Coalition and other anti-normalization groups have been disseminating information and attempting to shape public discourse.

Gulf public opinion has indeed been very supportive of Palestine and approval of normalization with Israel has plummeted, according to the latest polling by the Arab Opinion Index. While these trends in public opinion cannot be attributed solely to recent activism, it is safe to assume that they are playing a role in sustaining this sentiment.


Pro-Palestine activism in the Arab world cannot always be contained or controlled. Even when regimes manage to temporarily subdue such protests, experiences of dissent reverberate with participants for many years, as the example of the Arab Spring shows. Repression is not a sustainable solution to the growing grievances of Arab publics on the Palestine question and related issues.

The region’s pro-Palestine demonstrations should concern US officials, especially because of the prevalence of anti-American sentiment and the clear blame placed on US support of Israel for the ongoing violence in Gaza. The recent Arab Opinion Index poll showed that 94 percent of the Arab public sees the American position to be either bad or very bad. The trend should give the Biden administration pause regarding its push for Arab-Israeli normalization. Such deals are increasingly unpopular and could pose risks to stability within these countries. Moreover, Washington’s policy of pushing such deals against all odds erodes American image and position. Rising Arab dissent on Palestine should force a change in the longstanding US assumption that public opinion in this region does not matter.

The views expressed in this publication are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab Center Washington DC, its staff, or its Board of Directors.

Featured image: Shutterstock/SLSK Photography