At a recent conference, State Department analysts offer counterintuitive findings: Once you move beyond the incessant anti-American rhetoric, relations between the United States and the Arab world have actually improved over the past decade. Egypt is cited as a case study:
Egyptian public opinion contradicts Egyptian actions. Even as polling results point to one conclusion, the actual behavior of the Egyptian people is usually the opposite. For example, despite relatively frequent anti-American protests and generally unfavorable sentiments in Egypt, students still deem the United States a desirable place to study. In 2005, some 84,000 Egyptian students received support from America-Mideast Educational and Training Services (AMIDEAST) to pursue studies in the United States. Even the Islamist-leaning al-Azhar University, a hotbed of anti-American sentiment, has had numerous applicants to such programs.
The Egyptian workforce exhibits similar tendencies. For example, the Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZs) project established industrial areas in Egypt that were permitted to enter the U.S. market free of tariffs so long as they included a certain percentage of Israeli inputs. Although they spurred a vast increase in trade, the zones were wildly unpopular in opinion polls: according to a 2005 Pew survey, some 70 percent of Egyptians opposed the initiative. Despite this seemingly overwhelming unpopularity, however, 24,000 Egyptians applied for jobs in the QIZs. At the official level, the Egyptian government has received public criticism for actions deemed to be supportive of U.S. policy. For example, when Egypt became the first Arab state to send an ambassador to postwar Iraq, only 38 percent of the public backed the decision.
Overall, then, Egyptian anti-Americanism operates under a unique dynamic: it is a sentiment, but not a movement. Egyptian attitudes toward the United States are mixed. The public vehemently opposes U.S. foreign policy, but it also desires the democratic reforms that the United States preaches. Attitudes and actions are not the same thing in Egypt. Although protests in the streets reflect dissatisfaction, these same Egyptian protestors want what the United States has to offer and hope to reap the benefits of a healthy relationship.
Fouad Ajami offered similar observations in this 2003 essay:
“America is everywhere,” Italian novelist Ignazio Silone once observed. It is in Karachi and Paris, in Jakarta and Brussels. An idea of it, a fantasy of it, hovers over distant lands. And everywhere there is also an obligatory anti-Americanism, a cover and an apology for the spell the United States casts over distant peoples and places. In the burning grounds of the Muslim world and on its periphery, U.S. embassies and their fate in recent years bear witness to a duality of the United States as Satan and redeemer. The embassies targeted by the masters of terror and by the diehards are besieged by visa-seekers dreaming of the golden, seductive country. If only the crowd in Tehran offering its tired rhythmic chant “marg bar amrika” (“death to America”) really meant it! It is of visas and green cards and houses with lawns and of the glamorous world of Los Angeles, far away from the mullahs and their cultural tyranny, that the crowd
The frenzy with which radical Islamists battle against deportation orders from U.S. soil— dreading the prospect of returning to Amman and Beirut and Cairo— reveals the lie of anti-Americanism that blows through Muslim lands.
The world rails against the United States, yet embraces its protection, its gossip, and its hipness. Tune into a talk show on the stridently anti-American satellite channel Al-Jazeera, and you’ll behold a parody of American ways and techniques unfolding on the television screen. That reporter in the flak jacket, irreverent and cool against the Kabul or Baghdad background, borrows a form perfected in the country whose sins and follies that reporter has come to chronicle.
The United States need not worry about hearts and minds in foreign lands. If Germans wish to use anti-Americanism to absolve themselves and their parents of the great crimes of World War II, they will do it regardless of what the United States says and does. If Muslims truly believe that their long winter of decline is the fault of the United States, no campaign of public diplomacy shall deliver them from that incoherence. In the age of Pax Americana, it is written, fated, or maktoob (as the Arabs would say) that the plotters and preachers shall rail against the United States— in whole sentences of good American slang.