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An Account Of Arab World's View Of U.S. Involvment In Middle East

Aired August 21, 2003 - 20:15   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to got some perspective now on the Arab world's view of the situation in the Middle East and the continued U.S. military presence in the region.
I'm joined now by Fawaz Gerges. Gerges is a professor of Middle Eastern studies and international affairs at Sarah Lawrence College. He's just returned from a trip to the Middle East.

Good to have you back in the studios with us.

FAWAZ GERGES, MIDDLE EAST ANALYST: Thank you. Thanks, Paula.

ZAHN: Tell us a little about what the perceptions were of the folks you talked to about American involvement in the Middle East, in particular in Israel right now.

GERGES: Well, I think, unfortunately, there is a great deal of suspicion and hostility towards the American military presence in Iraq in particular.

I think many Arabs remain unconvinced that the United States aims at bringing democracy into Iraq and empowering Iraq and Iraqis. And, also, they remain convinced that the United States acts as an impartial mediator in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

ZAHN: What are they most cynical about? What is that they don't trust?

GERGES: Well, they are not convinced that the United States will do what it promises to do. And, in fact, some also feel a sense of elation at America's trouble in Iraq.

But, of course, there are many voices who are sensible and critical and realize -- and realize -- that what matters today is that the Iraqi project succeeds and that the armed resistance against the United States is at that end and it does not serve Iraq and Iraqis. So you have really two basic perspectives. I think the majority, the overwhelming majority, remain suspicious of the United States.

ZAHN: Is that because of the speed at which things are happening?

GERGES: Yes. And also, partially, they say, look what's happening in Iraq. The United States promised to empower the Iraqis. The United States promised to expedite the process of handing the power to Iraqis. The United States handpicked the Iraqi governing council -- the civilian casualties in Iraq, some of the heavy tactics used by American soldiers.

There is, as you know, a cultural gap taking place in Iraq. So, really, it's a combination of factors. And, also, the fact is, many Arabs believe that the United States exerts pressure just on the Palestinians and, actually, the United States does not exert adequate pressure on the Likud-led government by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

ZAHN: You talk about the broad diversity of opinions. I think almost anybody reading the accounts of how some Iraqis were cheering about what happened at the U.N. headquarters were just absolutely sickened by it. I'm not just talking about Americans. I'm talking about people all over the world when they read about that.

How prevalent is that view? Do they really view the U.N. as a puppet of the United States, some of these folks you talk with?

GERGES: Well, absolutely.

It seems to me, the dominant view in the Arab world that the United Nations is basically a creation, an invention, an extension of American military power. And they say, look what the United States has been doing in Palestine, in Iraq, that the United Nations allowed the United States to do what it did in Iraq, and so on and so forth.

But I think, also, there is a general perception, overwhelming perception, that the United Nations is a victim, is a victim of both the United States and the hard-core elements in Iraq who basically perpetrated that terrible act against the United States. And in fact, the overwhelming response of the Arab world was an outcry of anger at what happened to the United Nations.

So there is really a great deal of diversity and complexity in the Arab world, but, at the same time, a great deal of suspicion and hostility towards the American military presence in Iraq and also the impartial role of the United States in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

ZAHN: Well, Professor, we appreciate your sharing some of your experiences on your long trip with us tonight.

GERGES: Thanks.

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