News / Middle East

What Influence Does Washington Have in the Arab World?

Anti-government protesters react in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, February 4, 2011
Anti-government protesters react in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, February 4, 2011

U.S. President Barack Obama has once again called on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to begin now an orderly  political transition process leading to free and fair elections. It remains to be seen what influence - if any - Washington has over developments in the Arab world in general, and in Egypt in particular.

Many analysts believe Washington's credibility with what is known as "the Arab street" - or Arab public opinion in the Middle East - is very low.

One of those is Aaron David Miller, a former senior State Department official, now with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

"We are bogged down in two wars, in Afghanistan and in Iraq," said Miller. "We are trying to manage, and we are doing so fairly competently, sanctions against Iran - but without much effect in terms of deterring the Iranians from acquiring a [nuclear] weapon. The Arab-Israeli peace process, even before this, was in a deep freeze. And I suspect we are neither feared, respected, nor admired in this region, as much as we need to be, given how important it is for our interests. So I think our street credit is very low. I think people say "no" to us without much cost or consequence and I think we are in for a very rocky period in the weeks ahead."

Miller said one has to be very concerned about the effect of current, and possibly future, anti-government protests in Arab countries.

"You are going to end up with governments that are much more responsive and reflective of public and popular opinion, which in turn may make them much more critical of American policies," said Miller.

Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. Ambassador to both Egypt and Israel, said most countries in the Middle East are potentially vulnerable to street demonstrations.

"There are a lot of economic issues in the region," said Kurtzer. "There is not a lot of political space for open political activity, so it's hard to predict what's next. But my guess is that every government in the region is trying to put their finger on the pulse of their own population and maybe some of them can get ahead of the curve and actually begin to solve some of these problems."

Many analysts, such as Fawaz Gerges with the London School of Economics, said in the long term, irrespective of U.S. influence or lack thereof, people in Arab countries in the Middle East will determine their own fate - as is the case in Egypt.

"The future of Egypt will be determined by Egyptians," said Gerges. "There is a new reality in politics in the Middle East. The new reality is people are becoming empowered, they realize that the oppressive status quo has done a great deal of damage to their society, to their reputation, to their economy. The United States has limited options, even though the United States can be a force for stability by trying to convince and nudge its allies - that is they must respect the new reality of politics in the Middle East."

Gerges said the new reality is all about pluralism. "It's about institution building. It's about bread and butter. It's about freedom. In the long term, I would say that America's strategic interests are served, will be served, by the new reality, in particular if the new awakening is consolidated in institutional building and pluralistic government."

In the final analysis, Aaron David Miller said let's not overstate American influence in the Arab world.  

"Look, we have to get a grip and understand one thing - we don't manage history," said Miller. "Reinhold Niebuhr [American theologian] said you can't control and manage history. And we have to get used to that fact."

Describing the Middle East, Miller says "you have a broken, dysfunctional region that is going to take years to repair - and it cannot be repaired from the outside."

NEW: Follow our Middle East stories on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Photogallery South Africa Bans Travelers From Ebola-stricken Countries

South Africans returning from affected West African countries will be thoroughly screened, required to fill out medical questionnaire, health minister says More

Multimedia UN Launches ‘Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years’ in Iraq

Move aims to help thousands of Iraqi religious minorities who fled their homes as Kurdish, Iraqi government forces battle Sunni insurgents More

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

IT specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about disease More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbasi
X
Scott Stearns
August 21, 2014 9:20 PM
The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Gaza Conflict, Hamas Popularity Challenge Abbas

The Palestinian unity government of Mahmoud Abbas has failed to convince Hamas to agree to Egyptian-negotiated terms with Israel on a Gaza cease-fire. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports on what the Gaza conflict means for President Abbas, with whom U.S. officials have worked for years on a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Video

Video Nigeria's 'Nollywood' Movie Industry Rolls in High Gear

Twenty years after its birth in a video shop in Lagos, Nigeria's "Nollywood" is one of the most prolific film industries on earth. Despite low budgets and whirlwind production schedules, Nigerian films are wildly popular in Africa and industry professionals say they hope, in the future, their films will be as great in quality as they are in quantity. Heather Murdock has more for VOA from Lagos.
Video

Video UN Launches 'Biggest Aid Operation in 30 Years' in Iraq

The United Nations has launched what it describes as one of the biggest aid operations in 30 years in northern Iraq, as hundreds of thousands of refugees flee the extremist Sunni militant group calling itself the Islamic State. As Kurdish and Iraqi forces battle the Sunni insurgents, the fighting has forced more people to flee their homes. Kurdish authorities say the international community must act now to avert a humanitarian catastrophe. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Cambodian American Hip Hop Artist Sings of Personal Struggles

A growing underground movement of Cambodian American hip hop artists is rapping about the struggles of living in urban America. Most, if not all of them, are refugees or children of refugees who came to the United States from Cambodia to escape the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s. Through their music, the artists hope to give voice to immigrants who have been struggling quietly for years. Elizabeth Lee reports from Long Beach, California.
Video

Video African Media Tries to Educate Public About Ebola

While the Ebola epidemic continues to claim lives in West Africa, information technology specialists, together with radio and TV reporters, are battling misinformation and prejudice about the disease - using social media to educate the public about the deadly virus. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Ferguson Calls for Justice as Anger, Violence Grips Community

Violence, anger and frustration continue to grip the small St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri. Protests broke out after a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager on August 9. The case has sparked outrage around the nation and prompted the White House to send U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to the small community of just over 20,000 people. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas has more from Ferguson.
Video

Video Beheading Of US Journalist Breeds Outrage

U.S. and British authorities have launched an investigation into an Islamic State video showing the beheading of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by a militant with a British accent. The extremist group, which posted the video on the Internet Tuesday, said the murder was revenge for U.S. airstrikes on militant positions in Iraq - and has threatened to execute another American journalist it is holding. Henry Ridgwell has more from London.
Video

Video Family Robots - The Next Big Thing?

Robots that can help us with daily chores like cooking and cleaning are a long way off, but automatons that serve as family companions may be much closer. Researchers in the United States, France, Japan and other countries are racing to build robots that can entertain and perform some simpler tasks for us. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.

AppleAndroid