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2 Years After 9-11, US Support in Arab Countries Decreases

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks sent shockwaves around the world. There was almost unanimous condemnation of the attacks by governments everywhere, and tremendous support for America. Two years later there is still widespread support for the fight against terrorism, but less support for the United States. The aftermath of September 11 has been felt in every corner of the globe, and more intensely in the Middle East than most other areas.

With very few exceptions, people throughout the Middle East condemned the September 11 terrorist attacks, and felt sympathy for America. Two years later emotions are mixed and the Middle East remains in turmoil.

Israel and the Palestinians are locked in bitter conflict, and the United States and its coalition allies are fighting terrorists and the remnants of the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq, where peace and stability have yet to materialize.

Israel now has a much closer relationship with the United States, and feels there is greater support for its own fight against terrorism. Arabs in general are more suspicious than ever of American intentions, and feel that since September 11 they have been maligned as a people, along with their dominant religion, Islam.

There has been almost daily violence since the Israeli-Palestinian conflict broke out anew three years ago and both sides have suffered. But, political analyst Shlomo Brum of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies in Tel Aviv, says September 11 has given Israel a much freer hand in dealing with the situation.

"While Israel felt that after the start of the violent conflict, the so-called intifada, that it has to deal with it by use of military means, the USA still believed that it can renew the political process and did not support, usually, the military actions of Israel," he said. "That was changed by September 11."

From the Palestinian perspective, the view is very different. Manuel Hassasyan is professor of political science and executive vice president of Bethlehem University. He says Israel has exploited the post-September 11 political climate to legitimize its actions against the Palestinians.

"Unfortunately the Palestinian national struggle for self-determination has been portrayed by the Israeli government, and to a certain extent by the American government and the media, as terrorism," explained Mr. Hassasyan. "Israel now intentionally confuses the political agenda of the Palestinian national authority with that of Islamic Hamas and [Islamic] Jihad, thus depicting both as terrorist organizations."

Most Arabs have long complained of what they see as America's bias towards Israel. Now, after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, their suspicions about American intentions have increased.

"Maybe in the eyes of the United States administration, the combating of terrorism has been a priority," said Professor Hassasyan. "But this is being interpreted by the Arabs in general as fulfilling U.S. national and geo-strategic interests in the Middle East - meaning the pursuance of the control over oil and oil production, trying to circumvent any kind of monopoly by Arab regimes over the prices of oil and trying to secure Israel from any kind of threats by the Arabs."

Professor Hassasyan says most Arabs see the American focus on control of weapons of mass destruction as an excuse to legitimize U.S. actions in the Middle East.

Political analyst Shlomo Brum says Israel feels it has reaped broader benefits from U.S. action in Iraq.

"If you look at the way Middle Eastern powers, whether they are state actors or non-state actors, such as Iran, Syria or Hezbollah in Lebanon acted since September 11, I think we can determine they were much more cautious," he said. "And so from the point of view of Israel, this change is positive."

Since September 11 and the war in Iraq, the relationship between the United States and Arab nations has suffered, and anti-American sentiment has grown considerably on the Arab street. But, Palestinian Professor Manuel Hassasyan says some good might yet come of the situation.

"The Arab regimes have to understand that they cannot build their credibility and legitimacy through authoritarianism," he said. "They have to understand that openness, parliamentary systems, and democracy is the only panacea to all the problems and the malaise that face the Middle East."

Professor Hassasyan says the effects of September 11 and the war in Iraq should be a wake-up call for Arab governments to change. But he cautions the transformation to real democracy will take years to realize.