A Style story yesterday about the Arab community in London, quoted Kuwaiti pediatrician Fawzia Sayegh as saying she had broken with her good friend, Columbia University professor Edward Said, because of his support for Saddam Hussein's linkage of the Palestinian issue with the withdrawal from Kuwait. Sayegh said Said, member of the Palestine National Council, called her crying three or four times saying the PLO support for Saddam was wrong, but that when he spoke out on television, he changed his story and criticized the U.S. policy. Said had not been asked for a response to Sayegh's accusations, and yesterday he disputed her account. He said Sayegh "is a casual acquaintance, hardly a 'good friend.' I never 'cried' to her nor did I speak to her more than once, when she telephoned me and harangued me over the phone. The rest of what she reports is a fabrication." (RP 1/29/91)

LONDON -- The war being waged in oil-rich Arab countries is also being played out -- more subtly but with every bit the vehemence -- in the British capital of London, the Arab world's Western hub that in its way belongs as much to the Middle East as Cairo and Baghdad.Kuwait's silk-clad refugees, Iraqi exiles, Palestinian bankers, Lebanese entrepreneurs, intellectuals, students and the idle rich have all come to London to create what is undoubtedly the wealthiest and best-educated Arab community outside the Middle East, a distillation of the privileged and talented.

Until the Persian Gulf crisis, theirs had been a discreet and fairly impenetrable world, closeted within the homes and preferred clubs and restaurants of the Arab community, barricaded from the rest of London behind language, custom and money.

Now they bicker and quietly criticize one another, like the Bedouin tribes encountered earlier this century by Lawrence of Arabia. They air their grievances to outsiders. Some aren't on speaking terms with former friends. They must choose sides in the gulf war -- a trying experience for many -- and find that they have not all chosen the same side, though all, naturally, are on the side of freedom, justice and independence for all Arabs.

"You know, the basic problem is that people in the Middle East are very emotional," says Nasser Rashid, a Kuwaiti exile, recommending a book called "The Arab Mind" that is often criticized by Arabs as condescending. "For the Arabs, every issue is black and white -- they carry it to either extreme. They can't be objective."

"Saddam {Hussein} doesn't give a damn about the Palestinians," sighs a Bethelehem-born Palestinian banker, bemoaning the shortsightedness of fellow Palestinians' support for the Iraqi leader. "But the Arabs have been so humiliated for the past 50 years -- every time they go to war they've lost. They feel the world doesn't take them seriously ... so they've built up this hope. Now in a few weeks Saddam will be defeated, and then they'll be looking for new scapegoats."

"No one has hurt the Arabs more than they have hurt themselves," philosophizes an Iraqi businessman, watching his colleagues argue. "To them, all bad things come from the outside, and all good things come from inside {the Arab world}. This is their biggest mistake."

An Arab proverb popular in the gulf seems appropriate to the current mood in Arab London. It notes: "When the camel falls, everyone sticks in the knife."

Friend Against Friend

A buzz of happy activity envelops the Association for a Free Kuwait, a plush office with tight in-house security at 63 Curzon St., not far from the Ritz Hotel and the upscale shopping of Bond Street. Fawzia Sayegh -- a Kuwaiti who has lived mostly in London for nearly 20 years and is a daily volunteer at the association -- chirps. She coos. She hasn't felt this good in five months.

"What do you want? Tea? Coffee? Whatever you want, it's no problem at all, as long as you keep on bombing. Just bomb that man... ." She is murmuring to herself cheerfully, "The bastard. I hate him."

British secretaries and assistants usher in a BBC television crew, which sweeps by a black-and-red poster labeled "Crimes of Saddam Hussein: Murder-Torture-Rape-Terror-Looting. How long must a people suffer?" Another wall labeled "Atrocities" offers similar evidence of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait.

But today's talk is not of atrocities -- now it is of the war that the Kuwaitis asked for virtually since the Aug. 2 invasion, and finally got. They are not very successful in putting on sober faces to reflect the gravity of the situation. Truth be told, they feel triumphant -- they are among the few refugees of the world who will probably get their country back.

Sayegh, a pediatrician dressed simply in a striped silk blouse and cotton knit sweater, calls around the office, "Daad, come here. Farida, come, sit down. Give an opinion."

She turns to a visitor. "You know war is a horrible thing for everybody, but for us, waiting six months, watching our country dismantled, our families tortured, eliminated, anything is good for us, any means of ending it," she says, brows knitting over warm brown eyes. "For six months the whole world begged Saddam Hussein to withdraw -- how many people, organizations begged him to let it happen without more bloodshed?

"You know, the Iraqis, they are very aggressive by nature."

How do the Kuwaitis feel when they learn that much of the Arab world -- the Palestinians, Lebanese, Jordanians, North Africans -- is rooting for the man who raped their country?

"The whole gulf is with us -- like one person," says Sayegh. "And it is very dangerous to say that all the Palestinians are with him. But ..." She takes the point. "For 43 years we fed them, housed them, helped them, educated them, gave them citizenship... . Now they come and say that we have the help of the world, it is not right that we go home after six months and they have not gone home in 43 years."

"I am disillusioned with the PLO. I've lost faith in them," says Daad Abdullah, another Kuwaiti who has been living in London since the invasion. The Palestine Liberation Organization has supported Saddam's linkage of his withdrawal from Kuwait with Israel's withdrawal from the occupied territories, while the Palestinian masses have adopted the Iraqi leader as a popular hero. "These people are so desperate. They are confused -- these people don't know what they want. You know, even us, we're frustrated with them. They made a lot of mistakes."

The ideological division has affected all of their relationships. Abdullah says she cannot remain friends with other Arabs who are supporting Saddam. "It's very difficult because of the brutality of the occupation, we cannot deny it."

Sayegh says she has broken with a good friend, Edward Said, a literature professor at Columbia University and a member of the Palestine National Council, because of his support for Saddam's linkage.

"When it happened {the PLO's support for Saddam}, he called me crying and said, 'My dear, they are idiots. They are going to ruin our cause.' This he told me for three or four nights. So I told him to go on TV and to say it -- but when he went on TV the story changed. It became, 'Imperial power, West, the Americans. ...' He became a politician, not a philosopher, a thinker of Palestine. He became one of them.

"I said, 'Don't call me anymore.' "

Farida, who owned one of Kuwait's few art galleries (and asked that her last name not be used), says that since she has lost her country she has found out what many of her Arab friends really thought of Kuwaitis, who had earned a reputation for arrogance. Like the others at the association, she speaks nearly perfect, accent-free English.

"I don't socialize anymore, I don't have time," she says. "But in the little I do speak to friends, all their anger comes out now, how they felt about Kuwait. It's very interesting. Now that we're refugees, we're nothing," she says. "I saw Lebanese friends -- I went to school in Lebanon, and looked them up in London. Their first remark was, 'Why should U.N. sanctions work for you? Fifteen years of war and where are we? You think the United States will help you?'

"I said, 'Thank God the Americans are defending their own interests. Thank God there is a new world order.' You know, it's very sad, this rift right now, and it comes out in bitterness. I would never tell a Lebanese, 'After all, yours was a civil war,' as if to say in front of them, 'You deserve it.' "

'London Is My Home Now'

London has landmarks besides Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, depending on who's doing the looking. There is also the strip across from Hyde Park, along Park Lane, where the broad sidewalk in front of the Bank of Oman, the Mercedes dealership and the Arab newsstand Park Lane News is a boardwalk for the Arab community. In summer, Saudi women robed from head to toe stroll behind their husbands there and through the park nearby.

About a half-mile away on the more popular Edgware Road, women in traditional Moslem headdress shop at Arab bakeries and peer into Lebanese restaurants. But the shops are far from full, and there is not a soul at Nizam's Arabic Gift Store, specializing in Syrian prayer rugs, beads and Nigerian clothes.

Nizam sells traditional Arabic swords -- harmless, heavy chrome blades in gold-plated scabbards -- for $400. The prayer mats, shiny red and green, are less of an investment, just $16. Nizam, born in Syria, moved to London in 1983 in search of political freedom.

"Home is a feeling, no more than that," he says, folding the mats. "London is my home now."

It is impossible to know exactly how many Arabs make up the London community, but there are not many Syrians. Iraqis -- many Kurds among them -- appear to be the largest segment; Iraqi opposition groups estimate there are 200,000 Iraqis in England, at least half of them in London, and nearly all of them on non-Iraqi passports. There are at least 6,500 Kuwaiti refugees in London, according to records kept by aid associations. By most estimates, there are also several thousand Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians and Lebanese, and hundreds of Arabs from the gulf.

Arab migrations to London have corresponded to upheavals in the Middle East, Kuwait's being only the most recent. For those who can afford it, London is a magnet for Arabs as a leading financial center and a place where English, a preferred second language in most of the Middle East, is spoken.

The Iraqis began coming to London as early as the 1960s, after a 1963 coup ousted Gen. Karim Kassem from power. In 1968 Saddam Hussein's Baath Party took control of the country. Though many Lebanese went to France, they came increasingly to London starting in 1975 after the beginning of the civil war in their country. Wealthy Arabs from the gulf states came to shop, to socialize and to be present at what by the 1980s had become a veritable Arab Scene.

"From the gulf, London was always a place where we would come. We know the place -- the streets, the restaurants. We had many connections with English from our schools, from English teachers in the gulf," says Sayegh. "If you were in business you had to come to this source. The United States is a bigger source, but it is that much farther away from the Middle East."

The result is that London has become a powerful Arab financial center with some 50 Arab banks, including the formidable Kuwait Investment Office, which manages the emirate's billion-dollar investments overseas.

"Believe me," says Sayegh dryly, "90 percent of those who are supporting Saddam have their husbands involved in one way or another making money from the gulf. And they are still making money from the gulf."

Beyond the Bitterness

London's Arab community seems to break down into definable groups. The Kuwaitis, Saudis and most other Arabs from the gulf support the U.S.-led attack against Saddam. Palestinians, Jordanians and Lebanese -- whether out of envy, frustration or admiration -- mainly support him. (The Palestinian banker points out that this support is limited to those whose business interests are not hurt by supporting Saddam. He, for one, believes the PLO made a grave error in siding with what is sure to be a loser.)

The Iraqis' sentiments are more complex. Many feel a visceral opposition to U.S. meddling in the Middle East, but are willing to put up with it if this means silencing Saddam. Others, having lived for years in the West, admire American-style democracy, and are hopeful -- despite the fact that bombs are falling on their relatives and birthplaces -- that the postwar period will bring peace and a free society.

Either way, this does not necessarily put them on the same team with Kuwaitis such as Sayegh, who wants the bombs to keep coming and considers Iraqis "aggressive by nature."

"You know, the Iraqis by nature are very, very gentle people," says a Kurdish banker, 51, who has resided in London for 20 years. "They are hospitable. Gentle. Whatever is good in human beings -- loyal friends -- "

"Very loyal," puts in his colleague, 41, a Basra-born Iraqi. This is the only point they agree on during a two-hour conversation.

" -- by nature, as individuals," the banker continues. "The negative side is what we are seeing with Saddam. Sometimes when it comes to their pride, they won't admit they're wrong even if they are losing, or even if they know they are wrong. Sixty percent of the war is because of this."

"I'm very optimistic about the outcome," says a soft-spoken 42-year-old from Baghdad. He drinks from an "Allahu Akbar" ("God Is Great") coffee mug. "We have to suffer, we have to pay a price to eliminate Saddam, hopefully with a reasonable cost in human lives. But the outcome will be very positive for Iraq. Eventually we will have democracy and peace in Iraq."

In a conversation among the three Iraqis (all of whom asked that their names not be used), none agrees on whether the U.S. involvement is entirely a good thing. They all, however, want to be rid of Saddam. And they all consider any of the current Arab leaders in the Middle East as cruel and corrupt as Iraq's.

"If it matches your interest to remove Saddam, that is my interest too," says the banker. "We have another objective too: to remove the system. But if you keep the system, and just destroy the buildings and the streets, then definitely we are against America."

"We are the silent majority," says his colleague. "We who are against America and against Saddam. We don't think one is better than the other. We think they are equally bad. But we've chosen to say nothing."

Wearing a pin-stripe suit and tie, he launches into an involved conspiracy theory starting from 1956 in which the United States (recently) encouraged Saddam to invade Kuwait in order to have an excuse to establish a military base in the gulf, then rejected any possibility for a negotiated solution in order to be able to "bomb the Middle East back to level zero."

He concludes, "This is a gigantic step toward a U.S. imperialist role in the Middle East, even if it had good reason to do it."

Such views find a sympathetic hearing among many Palestinians and Jordanians in London (as in the Middle East), most of whom read the pro-Palestinian al-Quds newspaper. Kuwaitis and other supporters of the war read papers such as the gulf-leaning Lebanese al-Hayat. Both are in Arabic and are published in London. The headline of the former on this day reads, "Iraqi missiles hit Saudi Arabia, Bahrain," while the latter reads, "Missile Attack Obliterated."

Abdelbarri Atwan, the editor of al-Quds, says his newspaper's circulation has tripled since the start of the war because Arabs in London are seeking accurate information.

"People are looking for the other side of the story," he says. "They discovered that what they were reading after the first day of the war -- that the allied forces had decimated the Republican Guard, the air force -- was pure lies."

Atwan, born in the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip, says the Kuwaitis in London are furious at him. No wonder -- he calls reports of Iraq's destruction of Kuwait an "over-exaggeration," based on reports from his wife, who hid in Kuwait City after the invasion.

"They are bitter, definitely. They want everyone to support their cause," he says. "But there should not be first-class refugees and economic-class refugees... . The problem is that the people here are divided, honestly. There are those who are dismayed by America's selective view toward the Arabs. We shouldn't single out Saddam Hussein."

The Kuwaitis, understandably, feel that the world has got to start somewhere. Lucky for them, their country sits on important oil reserves, and Saddam Hussein really knew how to get under George Bush's skin.

But however bitter the current divisions in London's microcosm of the Middle East, most Arabs feel that the wounds among them will heal far more quickly than those opened up with the United States.

"You will see when we are back in our country," says Sayegh. "If there is friction or disillusion, I think it will sort itself out."