From that point on you saw lots and lots of debates and coverage of Iraq over the sanctions and weapons inspections—it was always a front-burner issue. MJ: Now how would you connect the protests in Egypt and Jordan, along with the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, to the creation of this new Arab public and the emergence of networks like al-Jazeera? I think that al-Jazeera had a lot more to do with them than the Iraq war. Its talk shows had been talking democracy since the late s, and if anything the invasion of Iraq drove democracy questions off the front burner for almost a year.
There are also direct relationships.
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If you look at the people who are actually involved in the protests—if you look at the Kefaya movement in Egypt—those individuals often cut their teeth in the Palestine and Iraq protests. And one of the things those protestors have learned is that an al-Jazeera camera is worth many thousands of people. MJ: You cite some instances in which Arab regimes are forced by the debates in the public sphere to pay at least lip service to public opinion. For instance, regimes by and large demurred from least publicly supporting the invasion of Iraq in But how far does this go?
ML: Yeah, there are real limits. But I would think about the direct and indirect influence of the public. Take Iraq: if you look at the late s and early s, a lot of the Arab regimes were changing their rhetoric on sanctions in order to accommodate public opinion. So in terms of affecting the big issues, public opinion was never going to, say, drive Hosni Mubarak from power, or lead Saudi Arabia to change its policy towards Iraq.
But if you look indirectly , the public debates are actually much more influential than that.
Public opinion changes the incentives for politicians, who have to at least think about what will play well on al-Jazeera. So the things the new Arab public cares about are going to become things the rulers have to pay attention to. The public might not be able to force these regimes to do what they want, but they can put it on the agenda. I think this new Arab public is inevitably going to be disappointing to the extent to that it has to act by itself.
And for those activists trying to actually form political parties or protest movements or trying to lobby the government to respect human rights, the transnational media like al-Jazeera can be an unreliable ally. To accomplish change you need a national media working on your side, and a national public that is really focused on local issues.
VOICES OF THE NEW ARAB PUBLIC: IRAQ, AL-JAZEERA,ADN MIDDLE EAST POLITICS TODAY
This also means that people who want to encourage democratic change in the region should focus on supporting free and independent and critical local media—Jordanian newspapers, Egyptian local TV stations. And we would expect Arab governments to be very wary of that kind of thing. MJ: Now over the past decade, opinion polls have begun to come out revealing, for the first time really, what the Arab public actually believes.
How has this changed what observers of the Middle East understand about public opinion? ML: I think the phenomenon of public opinion polling in the Arab world is just fascinating and works in a number of different directions. On the one hand it confirmed a lot of things we already knew: that anti-Americanism was high, or that most Arabs sympathize with Palestinians, for instance. But it also showed that sizeable majorities of Arabs were able to distinguish between opposition to American foreign policy in the Middle East and wanting democracy, human rights, economic modernization. The second thing is that public opinion polls in any society generally tend to privilege the less motivated, the less knowledgeable kinds of actors, and often have the potential effect of marginalizing activists.
While admitting that Arab reporters sometimes indulged in emotionalism, Lynch points out that they investigated the impact of the war by moving through the Iraqi streets.
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American journalists were embedded with military units. The difference in American and Arab coverage is less a result of supposed Arab bias than the result of covering the war from two different perspectives — that of the invader and that of the invaded. As Lynch makes clear in his book, Iraq was for a decade a touchstone of Arab identity politics and political argument.
The new Arab public sphere could degenerate into an arena for identity-driven discourse under the incipient tyranny of the majority, or it could provide the underpinnings of a more liberal and pluralist politics. Lynch posits that this crossroads has been reached. In this context, Lynch weaves in his oft-repeated argument that, if the United States truly wants to see democracy in the Arab Middle East, it must engage with this public sphere and not try to sidestep it.
It is critical and suspicious of American policy. Democracy will not lead to attitudes that are more pro-American, as neoconservatives seem to think, but will provide a forum for dialogue and interaction. It is particularly relevant to American officials, who seem to entirely misunderstand the liberalization potential of a contentious and highly critical Arab public sphere.
Bush had his reasons: The satellite network, after all, was at the time single-handedly shaping the outcome of the battle against insurgents in Fallujah, by broadcasting images of violence and civilian casualties from inside the besieged city to its million viewers across the Middle East, eventually forcing the U. President Bush was hardly the only person to see al-Jazeera as an enemy of the United States. Buckley, Jr.
Marc Lynch » NYU Primary Sources
Is that all there is? Insofar as U. In part thanks to new media such as satellite TV and the internet, a new public sphere is emerging in the Arab world, where political issues can be debated and the status quo criticized for the first time in history.
https://thromoutrogrevi.ga Talk shows on al-Jazeera have provided a forum for Arabs to debate the future of the region, and to agitate for democratic change. Indeed, al-Jazeera receives as much criticism from despotic Arab regimes as it does from the United States. Lynch, an associate professor of political science at Williams College and the until recently anonymous writer behind the popular blog Abu Aardvark , talked to Mother Jones about how the new Arab public is transforming the Middle East.
How does this differ from Arab public debates of the past? ML: I think it is; although that self-conception passes through a couple of phases. The common narrative is very much framed by a pervasive sense that the world has a long history of being out to get the Arabs—through Israel, through American foreign policy. Even the things that we in the West would see as positive things—democracy, globalization, modernization—still create in the Arab world an overwhelming sense that the region is being battered by forces from the outside. So the question is: How are Arabs going to respond to that?
MJ: It was interesting that your book focused on Iraq, rather than Israel-Palestine, as the one issue that has really helped create the new Arab public sphere. Can you explain a bit about why the issues surrounding Iraq—from the first Gulf War, the sanctions, the bombing attacks in the late s, and eventually the invasion—were more conducive to creating serious public debate in the Arab world than, say, the Palestinian issue?
Whereas with Iraq, people really disagreed. You had, on the one hand, people who were really horrified by the impact of the UN sanctions, seeing the images on TV. On the other hand there were people who saw Saddam as really nasty and responsible for a lot of things that had gone wrong in the Arab world in the s. So there was a lot of space for arguments and disagreements about what to do about Iraq. MJ: And around that same time al-Jazeera was emerging and starting to cover the news independently and aggressively, unlike the state-run media stations of old, but also creating a new space for actual political debate that people around the region could watch.
So that sort of combined with the emerging Iraq debate to create a perfect storm, right?
The three big issues debated in this new public are: the Palestinian issue, Iraq, and then a big basket of things concerning reform and critiques of the Arab political status quo, and each works in different ways. With the Palestinian issue, what you get is mostly just mobilization; al-Jazeera and the other TV stations will show Palestinians fighting against Israelis, and you get a lot of emotion without generating a lot of debate.
From that point on you saw lots and lots of debates and coverage of Iraq over the sanctions and weapons inspections—it was always a front-burner issue. MJ: Now how would you connect the protests in Egypt and Jordan, along with the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, to the creation of this new Arab public and the emergence of networks like al-Jazeera? I think that al-Jazeera had a lot more to do with them than the Iraq war.
Its talk shows had been talking democracy since the late s, and if anything the invasion of Iraq drove democracy questions off the front burner for almost a year. There are also direct relationships.