ACRPS Director Azmi Bishara delivers the opening remarks of the Conference on Arab-US Relations.

Nearly 50 scholars and researchers from the US and the Arab world convened in Doha today to discuss the past, present, and future of Arab-US relations in the ACRPS’s conference “The Arab World and the US:
Interests and Concerns in a Changing Environment (An Academic Perspective)”. ACRPS General Director Azmi Bishara opened the gathering with a conundrum: “In reality, there can be no such thing as Arab-US relations. While the United States is a functioning state with clearly defined interests and national security concerns, the same is not true of the Arabs.” Bishara continued to explain the significance of the meeting, stating: “It is by engaging the other in dialogue that we are better able to arrive at a definition of ourselves as Arabs.” The conference is part of a series organized by the ACRPS to examine relations with regions of significance to the Arab world. Previous events have been held to study Arab relations with Iran, Turkey and the Horn of Africa.

Bishara evoked the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 as an example of the vast-reaching impacts of the US-Arab relationship. The invasion and its aftermath were resolutely disapproved around the world, and serve as an example of how the US has been implicated in a lose-lose quagmire in many situations across the Arab world. Clearly, the ongoing conflict in Iraq, where member groups of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are threatening the post-invasion installed by the American occupation forces, formed the overarching context for the first day of proceedings at the conference. Speaking to the possibility of action being taken by the Obama administration to save the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and likening the present situation to the 1948 Nakba in Palestine, Bishara noted: “It would be a disaster if Maliki wins, but a disaster too if the other side wins.”

Mohammad Almasri, head of the ACRPS’s Arab Opinion Index , delivered a presentation on Arab public perceptions of the US, and the factors behind these, picking up where Bishara left off. While Arab public attitudes could seem unruly and amorphous, they are underpinned by real experience. Almasri explained that while respondents to the survey held negative perceptions of the US, they justified such views by employing terminology reminiscent of the postcolonial struggles of the 1950s and 1960s. Though the Arab public recognized the existence of significant cultural and value-based differences between their own societies and that of the US, these differences did not ultimately shape their opinions toward the US. This year’s survey was based on responses from more than 23,000 individuals in 14 countries.


Mohammad Alsmasri explaining the findings from the 2014 Arab Opinion Index, with an emphasis on Arab perceptions of the United States.

Earlier in the day, former American ambassador Richard W. Murphy gave a historical overview of the US’s approach to the Middle East during the interwar period. Murphy reminded the audience of the Wilsonian ideal of self-determination of peoples, which the US seemed to genuinely want to apply to the post-Ottoman areas after 1918. A lack of commitment from, and disagreements with, its British and French allies forced the United States to abandon its idealism, paving the way for a vastly more complex and troubled post-WWII era, which we continue to see today.

The first day of the conference provided the opportunity to cover a broad range of themes. In addition to the historical overview and a discussion of Arab public opinion, participants also discussed questions of energy security and interdependence between the GCC and the United States; stereotyping, Islamophobia, and public diplomacy; the centrality of Palestine to Arab-US relations; and the future options available to the GCC states in the wake of waning US global supremacy. Speakers during this first day included Abdullah al-Shayji, Raghid al-Solh, Khalil Jahshan, Suhaim Al-Thani, Daniel Serwer, Anthony Cordesman, and Abdullah Baabood. 

The conference will continue until Monday, June 16. To read a full list of participants, sessions and themes, please click here.