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Middle East: Analysts Say Anti-American Sentiment At All-Time High

Mideast analysts say anger at the United States is at an unprecedented high across the Arab world, primarily because of the perception of unfair U.S. policies on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They say growing anti-Americanism is also being fueled by the belief that Washington is likely to launch massive military strikes against Iraq, regardless of warnings from its European and Arab allies about the potential destabilizing impact of such action.

Prague, 11 September 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Mideast experts in Europe and the Arab world say most ordinary Arabs think the United States has lost the moral high ground in the international campaign against terrorism.

A report published today by "The New York Times" says that unlike past bouts of anti-Americanism in the Middle East, Arab anger today permeates all social and economic levels and is especially strong among the educated.

"The New York Times" report also says that in countries considered key allies of the United States, such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, ordinary citizens are becoming increasingly dismayed and disillusioned about their own long-entrenched U.S.-backed regimes.

Emad Gad, a senior researcher of international relations at the prestigious Cairo-based Abram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told RFE/RL that ordinary Arabs think U.S. President George W. Bush's administration has been misguided in its policies on terrorism since the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last 11 September. "In most of the Arab world, I think there are some feelings against the Americans because of the American adoption of the Israeli agenda toward the Middle East, and now, because of what ordinary Arab people have seen on satellite [television broadcasts] concerning what has happened in the Palestinian territories. [Also, these feelings stem from] American threats to strike Iraq without any understanding of Arab public opinion," Gad said.

Gad said most Arabs want to see democratic values and human rights enhanced in their countries. But they see the United States as an opponent of true democracy in the Middle East because, in their view, democracy would mean the demise of authoritarian and monarchist regimes that are supported by the United States. "Here in Egypt and in the [rest of the] Arab world, we think that these values like human rights and democracy [are] values that must be respected. But the American administration just uses these values as a means to apply the American agenda toward the rest of the world," Gad said.

Gad said most Arabs think Washington's top Mideast priorities are to bolster the security of Israel and to secure oil supplies for U.S.-based, multinational energy corporations.

Rami Khouri, a Jordanian analyst with the International Crisis Group, said many ordinary Arabs do not see Washington's moves against Iraq as the result of any need to protect the United States from future terrorist attacks or the possible use of chemical or nuclear weapons.

Rather, they view the threats to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein as an attempt by Washington to redraw the geopolitical map of the Middle East in favor of the strategic interests of the United States and Israel.

"The New York Times" notes that many Arab opinion leaders, businessmen, and public officials are now voicing bewilderment at what they see as a broken promise by the Bush administration following the 11 September attacks.

They say that instead of fulfilling Bush's pledge to reach out to Arabs, Washington has unquestioningly tolerated Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's actions against the Palestinians.

Many Mideast experts outside of the United States say that neither Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein nor Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden -- the suspected organizer of the 11 September attacks -- are deeply popular in the Middle East.

Among them is Dominique Moisi, deputy director of the Paris-based French Institute for International Relations. "There is no rallying behind bin Laden, but there is a rallying against the United States. This means that most people in the Arab world would not associate themselves with bin Laden, but would clearly disassociate themselves [from] U.S. policies since 11 September [2001]," Moisi said.

Like many Mideast analysts, Moisi said Arabs think the Bush administration's policies in the antiterrorism campaign and on the Middle East have been one-sided. "[There is a] feeling that the Americans have overreacted and that they have done the wrong thing in the wrong place. And [there is] the sense of unfairness, that [the Americans] are putting too much blame on Saddam Hussein and not enough blame on [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon," Moisi said.

But while some experts say anti-American feelings among Arabs are directed more against the Bush administration than at the American people, Moisi said such a distinction is becoming increasingly blurred. "It starts, really, with a criticism of the Bush policies. But it probably ends up with a criticism of America as such. Bush is America in the eyes of the [average] Arab on the street," Moisi said.

One reason for this blurred distinction is the continued high approval rating that the Bush administration enjoys among American voters. Moisi said another reason is the widespread perception that ordinary Americans are apathetic and ignorant about the world beyond the borders of the United States. "There is a perception in the Arab world that the Americans do not understand, culturally or politically, the region. That they are not really interested, that they tend to oversimplify [things], and that they probably believe that a military solution is an answer to all problems," Moisi said.

Moisi and other experts say most Arabs think the Bush administration will eventually overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, regardless of the warnings that have been expressed by Washington's European and Arab allies, and regardless of the destabilizing impact such a move could have on the entire region.