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Monthly Archives: August 2014

In order to understand the ‘power of public opinion’ we may recall how it interacts with foreign policy making. While the realist school asserts that people’s opinion is constantly changing, elusive, hardly reflect substantial knowledge on foreign policy issues and it is almost impossible to structure the various views (and as such it can be ignored for the higher good of the state), the liberal way of thinking is convinced about its consistency and stability (and as such public opinion is needed for democratic decision-making even in the field of foreign relations). Sometimes, public opinion tends to be tricky, elusive and ‘not so reliable’. To illustrate it, it is worthwhile to take a look at the following two tables containing data from the Arab Barometer (wave II, 2010-2011):

arab barometer wave II, q705.pdf

When asked ‘which is more important in causing the lack of development in the Arab world’ most people in most countries cited either internal factors, or the combination of internal and external factors. Only a minority said that (only) external factors explain the lack of development (Egypt 17,4%; Palestine 21,2%, Saudi-Arabia 7,7%). However, when they were asked about he main obstacles of reform in their countries, most of the respondents were much more critical:

arab barometer wave II, q7113

Vast majority of the respondents agreed with the statement – strongly or some extent – that (q7113) ‘foreign interference is an obstacle to reform in your country’ (Egypt: 83,9%; Jordan: 76,8%; Palestine: 85,1%; Lebanon: 92,4%). Reading the data, the reader may wonder how it is possible that ‘external factors’ play much less significant role in explaining the ‘lack of development’, than ‘foreign interference’ plays in explaining the ‘obstacles to reform’ in a given country. The explanation may be hidden in the ‘context’ of the given question (Q7113). Respondents might have been biased by being asked and answering the following questions at the same time: (q7111) ‘The Arab-Israeli conflict is an obstacle to political reform in your country’ and (q7112) ‘In order to eliminate global terrorism, the Palestine issue must be solved.’

Sources and further reading: Arab Barometer, wave II (2010-2011) and codebook: http://www.arabbarometer.org/instruments-and-data-files; [1] R. Holsti (2009) Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy. Revised Edition. University of Michigan Press

 

“The Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains the prism of pain through which most Arabs view the world” argues Shibley Telhami and concludes that “seen from the Arab side, this Israeli imperative entails exactly the sort of dominance that they reject and are revolting against; the very essence of the prism of pain through which Arabs view the world. In an era of Arab awakening, a half a billion Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa find it impossible to accept the strategic domination of a country of 8 million, especially when they don’t accept the Israeli narrative for the absence of Palestinian-Israeli peace to begin with. And they see America, and to some extent other European countries, as providing the support to make this possible. [1] Telhami’s argument is underpinned not only by his own survey data, but  by the Arab Barometer (wave II) survey too. When asked whether the Arab world should accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, most respondents opted for the ‘refusal’:

Arab Barometer wave II, q709

Looking at the results, it is very interesting, although not novel, that people living in those countries that signed any sort of peace agreement with Israel (Egypt 1979, Jordan 1994; Palestine/PLO 1993-1994-1995-) do not think significantly differently that people living elsewhere. The only exception perhaps is Egypt which has one of the highest rate of approval (36,8%) and lowest rate of refusal (55,8%). The distinction being made between country, nation and state is of particular interest in the Middle East [2], and polling institutes should formulate a question on the ‘existence of [Egypt, Jordan, Saudi-Arabia] as an Arab State’ in the future.

Sources and further reading [1] S. Telhami (2013). The World Through Arab Eyes, Chapter 5.; [2] B. Lewis (1998) Multiple Identities in the Middle East, Chapter 3, 4, 5. NY: Schocken

A few years ago researchers demonstrated that monkeys and humans ‘share a specific perceptual mechanism, configural perception, for discriminating among the numerous faces they encounter daily’. The main message is that  the evolution of the ‘critical human social skill of facial recognition’ enables us to form relationships and interact appropriately with others [1]. Provided that these others think alike.

monkey_mirror_curious_hg_wht

A recent article investigating the trends in social media communication (the specific subject is the recent war in Gaza, Israel vs. Hamas, but the findings are more general) seems to underpin the old wisdom of journalism: people read what they are otherwise interested in. Recalling the author’s words: social networks are perfectly designed to reinforce our existing beliefs. It is the media – not simply the traditional version, but everything which is internet-based, so to say, the online society itself, illustrated by the monkey above – which ‘creates’ reality (for itself, for themselves).  It is not the message, which is novel, but the way of proofing. The spectacular results can be seen here:

Gilad Notan (2014): Israel, Gaza, War & Data. Social Networks and the Art of Personalizing Data. https://medium.com/

View story at Medium.com

The gap between truth and reality is larger and larger, the former playing less and less significant role in any game. It seems so.

Sources and further reading: [1] ‘The science of faces’ blog post on Skepacabra, July 12, 2009 (the monkey graph is copy-pasted from this blog).

People’s views and perceptions are needed to understand the relations between foreign aid and legitimacy. Negative perceptions on their governments’ performance and their ‘illegitimate’ foreign alliances will lead to decreasing feeling of community between the masses and the elites as well as decreasing legitimacy of the regime. Mainstream literature dealing with the demonstrators’ motivations and contemporary history of the Arab Spring analyzes the ‘explaining factors’ from various perspectives, putting emphasis on the middle class and structural transformation, the socio-economic hardships such as increasing food prices and high unemployment and the desire for regime strange or the importance of internet-based technological development.[1] Looking at the opinion polls, however, the Arab uprisings have been widely interpreted as uprisings against political tyranny over freedom and public participation as well as against the prevalence of human rights abuses.

Source: Telhami, The World Through, Chapter 6, Figure 6.1.

Source: Telhami, The World Through, Chapter 6, Figure 6.1.

The demand for human dignity explains much better the demonstrations than any desire to seize power. The main message of the Arab Spring was addressed not simply to their corrupt leaders, but to the world outside too: ‘decades of perceived humiliations at the hands of the West have left many Arabs with a wounded sense of national pride, but also a desire for political systems with elements of Western democracies’.[2] The sense of humiliation is explained by the contradiction hidden in the previous sentence. As long as the West is held responsible for supporting oppressive and authoritarian regimes in the MENA, it seems to be uneasy, even illegitimate, to cooperate with it. It is true even if the Arab Spring itself has been conditional on interactions with the West, global political consciousness, messages conveyed by NGO aid and mobile-, internet-based innovations. Cooperating with the Western countries is even more humiliating, since ‘the [Arab] socialists, the liberals and the pro-feminists are today closer to this West in [their] thinking and in [their] democratic and scholarly attitudes – [they are closer to the] West that plotted against the peoples of the Third World and their interests’ – than to their own leaders, internal opposition and their ideologies.[3] Yet, even if accepting foreign aid is humiliating, this is probably the only source of money for those being interested in building Western-style democracies in the region.

Source and further reading: [1] Brynen Beyond the Arab Spring; Mona Christophersen, ‘Protest and reform in Jordan. Popular demand and government response, 2011 to 2012’ Fafo-report 50 (Oslo: Fafo, 2013); Sobhi Samour, ‘The Promises and Limitations of Economic Protests in the West Bank’ in Kjetil Fossheim (ed), Arab Spring. Uprisings, Powers and Interventions (New York, Berghahn, 2014)[2] Telhami, The World Through Arab Eyes; [3] Sahar Khalifeh, ‘Who is Hidden Beneath the Burqa? An Appeal to the West’ Qantara.de, Goethe Institute, 2011, http://en.qantara.de/content/who-is-hidden-beneath-the-burqa-an-appeal-to-the-west (accessed March 1, 2014).