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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level 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.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid