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Arab Public Opinion and the Reshaping of the Middle East

by Shibley Telhami

Pub Date: June 11th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-465-02983-9
Publisher: Basic

Arab public opinion, newly codified and relevant.

In the wake of President Barack Obama’s recent exhortation to young Israelis to look at the world through Palestinians’ eyes, this work holds a prescient message at how recent changes in the Middle East have certainly opened the eyes of many Arabs, as well as favorably altered American attitudes toward them. The methodology of the polling undertaken by political scientist Telhami (Peace and Development/Univ. of Maryland; The Stakes: America in the Middle East, 2002) is key. After establishing his own credentials, he explains in detail how the polling was gathered over the last 20 years, then combined with significant changes over the last two years when the authoritarian screens in many of the countries were lifted. As the author writes, “it was obvious that the Arab governments’ near monopoly of the media was crucial to limiting public discontent.” He focuses mainly on six Arab countries as representative and in which to track public opinion—Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan and United Arab Emirates—and divides the narrative into thematic areas of inquiry—e.g., Arab identity, the use of the Internet, the sense of empathy with others, the Palestinian-Israeli crisis, the Arab uprisings, opinion of the United States, Israel and Iran, and shifting attitudes about religion, women and democracy. Arab identity has been deeply shaped in relation to long humiliation by Israel and the West, and the “prism of pain” among all the Arab respondents was the enduring Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Hence, Arabs are still deeply suspicious of Western motives, choose France or Turkey in terms of model countries, and don’t necessarily believe that the clergy should have a political role.

An intriguing, revealing study of Arabs' changing views of themselves and the world as their countries open up—deserves a wide audience.