PARIS, JAN. 28 -- Governments in southern Europe are concerned about the Iraqi war's potential to foment political instability across North Africa, where the rulers of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia are responding to the demands of their publics by showing more support for Baghdad.

In a region troubled by soaring birth rates, chronic unemployment, and Islamic fundamentalist movements disdainful of materialism, the Persian Gulf War may soon ignite social tensions in North Africa that could have serious consequences for Europe as well, according to officials and analysts here.

Islamic militants, who are challenging secular governments in all three countries, have sought to exploit the war for political gain. They are depicting the bombing raids against Iraq as evidence of "imperial aggression" against a brother Arab nation by rich Western powers, led by the United States and France. Iraq's invasion and occupation of Kuwait have been played down.

The pro-Western government of Morocco's King Hassan II, which previously condemned the Iraqi invasion and sent 1,500 troops to join the multinational force in Saudi Arabia, tacitly endorsed a general strike today that was called by major labor unions as a public show of support for Iraq. The government urged citizens "to observe this day of solidarity with the brother Iraqi people in contemplation, discipline and responsibility." Morocco's five opposition parties urged a day of fasting, prayer and blood donations on behalf of Iraqi war victims.

In Tunisia, where crowds have denounced President Bush and attacked French properties, President Zine Abidine Ben Ali escalated his defense of Baghdad by condemning "the destruction and devastation of Iraq," which he said was surpassing "the threshold of the intolerable." While appealing for calm and the security of foreign interests in his country, Gen. Ben Ali declared that the war seemed intended "to prevent the renaissance of the Arab nation . . . so that it remains forever condemned to {foreign} dependence, with no proper place in this so-called new world order."

Algerian President Chadli Bendjedid, who sought to mediate an Arab peace agreement before war broke out, also has sharpened his criticism of the West since a pro-Iraqi demonstration on Jan. 18 attracted more than 400,000 people.

Bendjedid had condemned Iraq's invasion of Kuwait but also the presence of foreign troops in the gulf. But he shifted into Iraq's camp after the war started because, he said, the multinational force had transgressed its United Nations mandate to liberate Kuwait and was seeking to destroy Iraq. "Algeria will stand by the side of its brother Iraq," he told the National Assembly last week.

A fourth former French colony, Mauritania in west Africa, has resolutely backed Iraq as one of President Saddam Hussein's most steadfast allies. The government has provided shelter for Iraqi Airways passenger jets flown out to avoid the bombings. Rumors have circulated that it was providing refuge for Saddam's wife and children.

The swing by the North African states is perceived by senior French officials as the only course available to those governments if they hope to contain public discontent and the rising influence of their Islamic critics. A North African appeal for a truce to relaunch the diplomatic process of resolving the crisis was rejected by the U.N. Security Council.

French officials said that a gulf war lasting several months could undermine the secular North African governments even before any post-crisis efforts to reach an international settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict get off the ground. They said the political situation was worse than they had imagined before hearing the assessment of Francois Scheer, France's highest ranking diplomat, who visited Algiers, Tunis and Rabat last week.

"These governments were already under a tremendous amount of pressure just from their domestic problems," a senior French government analyst said. "When you add the emotionally volatile fact of Western bombs falling on brother Arabs, it will be awfully hard to keep those places from exploding in the next few months."

In June, Algeria is planning to hold its first free general elections since independence three decades ago. The Islamic Salvation Front, already the country's biggest political party, has used the war issue to its advantage even though it receives much of its funding from Saudi Arabia. It formerly accused Saddam of brutal treatment of his Islamic opponents.

Nonetheless, the Islamic front has planted the perception that it is leading the vanguard of pro-Iraq demonstrators and is demanding that the government open its military bases to provide training for volunteers who want to fight for Iraq.

In Tunisia, the Ben Ali government arrested more than 100 members of the main Islamic party, Ennahdha, when it became clear that hostilities in the gulf could transform its growing political clout into a serious threat to seize power if trouble erupted in the streets.

Some French officials say Morocco could prove more vulnerable because of long-festering opposition to authoritarian rule and a weakening economy. Riots broke out in the religious city of Fez in December over union demands for better pay, and King Hassan's long friendship with the United States and his close relations with the Saudi and Kuwaiti dynasties are coming under attack from pro-Iraqi opposition groups.

The threat of political turmoil and the possible ascendancy of Islamic regimes among neighboring Arab states has gradually emerged as a major security concern in the post-Cold War era for France, Italy and Spain.

These governments worry that the collapse of secular Arab governments on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea would unleash a new wave of immigrants, exacerbating racial clashes and fears of terrorism.

Over the years, the southern European countries have attracted millions of Arabs for the menial jobs that native Europeans no longer want to perform. Economists say that if Western Europe hopes to sustain the high growth rates of the last two decades, its countries will have to continue importing labor.

But racial tensions are becoming a serious domestic concern. Many of France's 4 million Arab residents, who comprise the biggest Arab community in Europe, complain of harassment and worry that the gulf war could prompt a serious backlash from right-wing extremists.

Arezki Dahmani, president of France Plus, a civil-rights organization promoting a multiracial society that claims to represent 3 percent of French voters, said that members have imposed a ban on street rallies for fear that they would provoke violent confrontations with anti-Arab extremists.

Some Arab residents have decided to return to their homelands for the duration of the crisis. French banks have reported a massive run on savings by Arab workers here, and planes leaving for North African countries are heavily overbooked.