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Why Arabs’ relationship with the US is complicated

“It’s complicated” is probably the best definition of the relationship between the US and the Arab world. Most Arab governments have a solid and evolving relationship with America, yet the country is often extremely unpopular among Arabs. Ironically, there are always long queues at US consulates all over the Arab world, and millions of Arabs dream of obtaining a green card or entry visa to America.
As a global superpower, the US defines and shapes its relationship with Arab nations. Arab leaders could play a more constructive role in influencing the relationship by using their limited leverage. But they prefer to adopt a passive stance that serves our short-term needs rather than our long-term interests. During their visits to the US, Arab leaders try to meet with as many decision-makers and influencers as possible, hoping to serve immediate national interests rather than promoting Arab regional needs.
US politics operates via a clear mechanism. Thousands of politicians and political entities place their inputs and influence in their “political machine,” and work to mobilize citizens until the required outcome is realized.
While this mechanism is not operated by a single group, the people or entities that know how to use it best are obviously in a better position to influence and shape it. If we Arabs want to play a truly constructive role, we need to have leverage that we can introduce into this political machine to help obtain our desired outcomes.
US presidents often use Arab leaders’ domestic demands to strengthen America’s regional influence, offering no privileges in exchange. The fact that the US administration regularly alternates between the Democratic and Republican parties could help us advance our relationship with Washington. But due to the absence of a clear and united Arab vision, changes in administration have always benefited a few Arab nations at the expense of others.

Arabs have lost many political battles with America because of their lack of understanding of its political dynamics and ruling mechanism.

Mohammed Nosseir

Meanwhile, Israel, which can be defined as an opponent or enemy of Arab nations, has mobilized thousands of influential Jewish Americans to promote its interests and serve its goals. Israel’s Jewish-American allies may have different opinions on many matters, but for the vast majority, Israel’s security is not debatable. There is no shortage of Arab-American influencers, but we do not know how to mobilize them to serve our mission.
The US has succeeded in exerting pressure on many Arab nations by tapping into the issues of democracy and ongoing conflict with political Islamists. Although most US presidents do not really care about either issue, they have all used this card whenever a political dispute with an Arab leader arises. Egypt recently asked the US and other Western countries to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, but this is one ace up its sleeve that Washington will not readily give away.
We Arabs have lost many political battles with the US because we do not understand its political dynamics and ruling mechanism. Penetrating it is a long-term mission that we do not have the stomach for. Our urgent needs often overrule making the kind of investment this would entail. To realize this vision, we need many visionary Arab leaders who are willing to invest the necessary resources and effort today, confident that this investment will yield a better future for the Arab world.

• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. Twitter: @MohammedNossei