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

Tunnel Bombs Highlight Savagery of Aleppo Fight

Rebels have used tunneling tactic near government buildings, command posts or supply routes to set off explosives; they detonated their largest bomb this week under Syria's intelligence headquarters More

Sierra Leone Launches New Initiative to Stop Ebola Spread

Government hopes Infection and Prevention Control Units, IPC, will help protect patients and healthcare workers More

UN Official: Fight Against Terrorism Must Not Violate Human Rights

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights says efforts by states to combat terrorism are resulting in large scale rights violations against the very citizens they claim to defend 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.
Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boyi
X
Jeff Seldin
March 05, 2015 2:36 AM
A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video African Americans Recall 1960s Fight For Voting Rights

U.S. President Barack Obama and thousands of people will gather in the small southern U.S. city of Selma, Alabama, Saturday, March 7 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a historic voting rights march that became known as “Bloody Sunday." VOA’s Chris Simkins traveled to Alabama and introduces us to some of the foot soldiers of the voting rights struggles of the 1960s.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Cyber War Rages Between Iran, US

A newly published report indicates Iran and the United States have increased their cyber attacks on each other, even as their top diplomats are working toward an agreement to guarantee Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon and to free Iran from international sanctions. The development is part of a growing global trend. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More