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The Arab Street Talks Back

How does the Arab Street view the increased Western involvement in the region?

June 5, 2003

How does the Arab Street view the increased Western involvement in the region?

The term "Arab Street" is widely used as a reference to public opinion in Arab countries. Although there is probably no such thing as a unified Arab opinion, views from the region are certainly different from perceptions in the West. Our Read My Lips feature captures what Arabs think about the increased Western involvement in the region — and how some Westerners view the Arab Street.

Why should people pay attention to the Arab Street?

“The so-called Arab street is a figment of the imagination that has become a reality.”

(Fawaz Gerges, Professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Sarah Lawrence College, November 2001)

Why does the Arab Street continue to create trouble?

“The “Arab Street” is angry and anti-American because it is full of young people who can’t get good jobs and aren’t allowed to express their discontent freely — unless they direct it at the United States or Israel.”

(Sebastian Mallaby, Member of the Washington Post editorial board, October 2001)

Is some of that self-imposed?

“Few students in Saudi Arabia are prepared for the modern world. Those who graduate are channeled into an already saturated government bureaucracy.”

(Mohammed Al-Mohaissen, Arabic professor in Riyadh, March 2003)

What is the record of the Bush Administration?

“The Bush Administration acts as if the “Arab street” is containable, toothless and marginal in the larger scheme. This needs to change.”

(Raghida Dergam, Senior Diplomatic Correspondent for the London-based Al Hayat newspaper, April 2003)

How deep are U.S. misunderstandings of the Arab world?

“The most surprising thing is that the United States has said it can detect the movement of ants and the color of Saddam’s underwear — but it has failed to understand the feelings of hatred of the Iraqi people.”

(Editorial in Egypt’s Al-Jumhuriyah, April 2003)

Do Arabs hate America?

“We don’t hate the American people, but we hate U.S. foreign policy — because it is killing people and bombing cities.”

(Abdul Hai, King Saud University in Saudi Arabia, March 2003)

How have Arab opinions of the United States changed?

“We were in awe of America — and now, we are bitter, confused. The admiration is gone.”

(18-year-old Egyptian Yomna Samy, March 2003)

What has contributed to this situation?

“I used to say I would do anything to visit America. Now, they won’t even let me in. They would call me a terrorist.”

(Aghaby Zarif, 22-year-old Egyptian, March 2003)

Are there any signs that things are improving?

“What worries me about U.S. post-war planning is that it has no soul — no sense of the Arab need for dignity and self-determination.”

(David Ignatius, Washington Post columnist, March 2003)

What frustrates Arab countries about this point in particular?

“It’s as if the Arabs are telling the world we are not qualified to deal with large problems. We have done what we can and we wait for the outcome of your negotiations — and we will adjust with whatever the results are.”

(Ibrahim Nafie, Editor-in-Chief of Egypt’s Al-Ahram, March 2003)

Why is the Palestinian-Israeli conflict all important?

“The lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has left a deep undercurrent of cynicism in the Arab world.”

(Jordan’s Queen Rania, April 2003)

Do Arab finds signals from Washington confusing?

“Bush says you are either with us in the fight against terrorism or you are against us — and then he calls the Palestinians terrorists? What are we supposed to do?”

(Tujan Faisal, former female Jordanian MP and liberal Muslim, February 2003)

How could the United States convince the Arabs of its intentions?

“The United States can win hearts and minds in Europe — and maybe even in the Arab world — by convincing people that the war was more just than they thought.”

(Robert Kagan, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, April 2003)

And finally, what is the real aspiration of Arabs?

“A lot of people do covet their neighbors’ houses. And thanks to television, every poor Egyptian and Pakistani can see our houses as well.”

(Gary Clyde Hufbauer, Senior Fellow at the Institute for International Economics, April 2003)