ALGIERS -- Thousands of miles from the Persian Gulf, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia wait uneasily for a war over Kuwait that diplomats, government officials and observers fear risks destabilizing North Africa's already fragile economic, social and political fabric.
So, too, do European states on the Mediterranean's northern shore, fearful that war in the gulf will provoke upheaval in Moslem North Africa that will spill over into Europe. The prospect of hundreds of thousands of North African "boat people" landing on Europe's southern shores to escape turmoil at home has for years animated domestic politics in France.
Arab and European officials fear war could radicalize North African society, transform or sweep away present moderate regimes, compromise budding experiments with democracy and jeopardize badly needed Western investment and financial aid.
Any war-caused regional upheaval would feed less on support for Saddam Hussein, officials said, than on accumulated resentment against the West -- especially the United States -- for supporting Israel in thwarting Palestinian demands for a state in the occupied territories.
In recent weeks violent events in all three North African countries have heightened fears of instability.
In Morocco, December riots by largely unemployed young men appeared to be a message to King Hassan II that the precarious political balance he has fashioned for three decades is fraying.
In Tunisia since the gulf crisis began, the government has arrested more than 450 Islamic fundamentalists, suspended eight publications and declared itself the victim of a subversive fundamentalist terrorist plot.
Algeria appears even more open to continued violent turmoil now that its ruling National Liberation Front's 29-year monopoly on power has effectively ended.