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

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap 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.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid