The United States' Challenges in the Middle East: Arab Perspectives

The United States' Challenges in the Middle East:
The Middle East greeted President Obama’s Cairo speech with enthusiasm, but many cautioned that words, though welcome and encouraging, must be matched by actions to mend the relationship. To explore the issues the Muslim world hopes the U.S. administration will address, the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut commissioned eight commentaries from prominent Arab writers and policy makers.
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In December 2008, the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington solicited commentaries about the election of President Obama from a small number of Arab intellectuals and analysts. The commentaries revealed a complex picture. On the one hand, they showed great enthusiasm about Obama personally and about the fact that Americans had elected as president a member of a minority group that has only enjoyed full rights for a few decades. On the other hand, the commentaries revealed continued, deep skepticism that even the new, admired president would have the capacity to address successfully the burning issues of the region, above all the Palestinian–Israeli conflict. The commentaries also underlined profound differences in the ways issues are perceived in the United States and in the Arab world.

The present set of commentaries seeks to explore further Arab views about specific issues that affect their relations with the United States. This time we posed different questions to commentators coming from different countries. Once again, the commentaries reveal startling differences in perception between the United States and people in the region on many issues.
We chose countries from each of the Arab world’s main sub-regions―North Africa, the Levant and Egypt, and the Gulf. For each country, we posed a question on an issue that shapes its relationship with the United States.  In North Africa, we selected the Western Sahara issue, which is a key component in the relations between Morocco and the United States although it is often ignored in other countries. We also selected the policy to curb terrorism, which has become the backbone of a strategic partnership between Algeria and the United States. We finally looked at the impact of the Middle East Partnership Initiative and its democracy promotion projects in Tunisia, where the United States does not have major strategic interests that interfere with its general concern for political reform and human rights.
In the Levant and Egypt, countries also face very different challenges in their relations with the United States. We solicited a commentary by an independent Syrian intellectual on the future of his country’s relations with the United States, which appear to be in flux at this time. We asked a leading member of Hamas to write a commentary on what Hamas expects from the Obama administration; the commentary obviously reflects the party line, but also contains details that are not well known in the Western world. In Egypt, we asked for comments on the challenges of U.S.–Egyptian bilateral relations following the tensions between the Bush administration and the Mubarak regime.
All commentaries are written by well known, respected intellectuals and researchers. And while the responsibility for each commentary ultimately is the author’s alone, we believe that they all denote views and approaches that are widespread in the region and thus deserve attention.
With regard to the Gulf, the interrelated issues of Iran’s regional role and the future of security arrangements are at the core of the relationship of the Gulf states with the United States and are also object of intense debate domestically. We included a commentary by a well known Bahraini intellectual that addresses both issues and moves beyond a simple recounting of existing problems to suggest a new overarching security system for the Gulf that includes Iran and aims at safeguarding the sovereignty of Arab and non-Arab states in the Gulf.
Finally, we solicited a commentary that addresses the impact of U.S. economic assistance. As Obama’s Cairo speech clearly demonstrated, the issue of America’s development aid to the region is back to the forefront of the U.S. engagement with Arab countries. While the commentary focuses specifically on Egypt, the major Arab recipient of US assistance, it raises broader regional concerns that deserve attention.

We have decided to publish all the commentaries that were submitted to us, regardless of the authors’ political and ideological inclinations. All commentaries are written by well known, respected intellectuals and researchers. And while the responsibility for each commentary ultimately is the author’s alone, we believe that they all denote views and approaches that are widespread in the region and thus deserve attention.


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About the Middle East Program

The Carnegie Middle East Program combines in-depth local knowledge with incisive comparative analysis to examine economic, sociopolitical, and strategic interests in the Arab world. Through detailed country studies and the exploration of key crosscutting themes, the Carnegie Middle East Program, in coordination with the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, provides analysis and recommendations in both English and Arabic that are deeply informed by knowledge and views from the region. The program has special expertise in political reform and Islamist participation in pluralistic politics.


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In Fact



of the Chinese general public

believe their country should share a global leadership role.


of Indian parliamentarians

have criminal cases pending against them.


charter schools in the United States

are linked to Turkey’s Gülen movement.


thousand tons of chemical weapons

are in North Korea’s possession.


of import tariffs

among Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru have been eliminated.


trillion a year

is unaccounted for in official Chinese income statistics.


of GDP in oil-exporting Arab countries

comes from the mining sector.


of Europeans and Turks

are opposed to intervention in Syria.


of Russian exports to China

are hydrocarbons; machinery accounts for less than 1%.


of undiscovered oil

is in the Arctic.


U.S. government shutdowns

occurred between 1976 and 1996.


of Ukrainians

want an “international economic union” with the EU.


million electric bicycles

are used in Chinese cities.


of the world’s energy supply

is consumed by cities.


of today’s oils

require unconventional extraction techniques.


of the world's population

will reside in cities by 2050.


of Syria’s population

is expected to be displaced by the end of 2013.


of the U.S. economy

is consumed by healthcare.


of Brazilian protesters

learned about a massive rally via Facebook or Twitter.


million cases pending

in India’s judicial system.

1 in 3


now needs urgent assistance.


political parties

contested India’s last national elections.


of Egypt's labor force

works in the private sector.


of oil consumed in the United States

is for the transportation sector.


of Chechnya’s pre-1994 population

has fled to different parts of the world.


of oil consumed in China

was from foreign sources in 2012.


billion in goods and services

traded between the United States and China in 2012.


billion in foreign investment and oil revenue

have been lost by Iran because of its nuclear program.


increase in China’s GDP per capita

between 1972 and today.


billion have been spent

to complete the Bushehr nuclear reactor in Iran.


of Iran’s electricity needs

is all the Bushehr nuclear reactor provides.



were imprisoned in Turkey as of August 2012 according to the OSCE.

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