The Arab uprisings that began in 2010 profoundly altered politics in the Middle East. Once a voiceless region dominated by authoritarian rulers, the Arab world developed a new identity that led many experts to revise their understanding of the Arab people. Political scientist Shibley Telhami says the uprisings would not have been such a surprise if analysts had paid closer attention to Arab public opinion. In a new book, Telhami uses a decade’s worth of original polling data to argue that the driving forces behind the Arab Spring had been gestating for decades.


  • Shibley Telhami Professor of peace and development at University of Maryland and senior fellow at Brookings Institution.

Read An Excerpt

Excerpted with permission from “The World Through Arab Eyes: Arab Public Opinion and the Reshaping of the Middle East” by Shibley Telhami. Available from Basic Books, a member of The Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2013.


  • 11:06:56

    MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The Arab uprisings in the Middle East that began three years ago triggered seismic changes across the region. Political scientist Shibley Telhami argues the Arab Spring is not only a response to corrupt leaders but also a cry for respect from the outside world. In a new book, he analyzes the driving forces and emotions behind the Arab Spring and the future of politics in the Middle East. Telhami's book is titled "The World Through Arab Eyes: Arab Public Opinion and the Reshaping of the Middle East."

  • 11:07:40

    MS. DIANE REHMShibley Telhami joins me in the studio. You're welcome to be part of the program. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Good morning to you, sir, it's good to see you.

  • 11:08:03

    MR. SHIBLEY TELHAMIGood morning, good to see you.

  • 11:08:04

    REHMAnd you have written that this book was 20 years in the making. How come?

  • 11:08:13

    TELHAMIWell, it's really interesting because, you know, back when the Cold War was ending, I happened to be taking a leave from the university to be with Congressman Lee Hamilton who was then chairman of the House Subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East. I went to the Middle East to review the implications of the end of the Cold War for the Middle East and there, among other things, I went to Baghdad. And I was actually hosted by, then U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad, April Glaspie, who was associated ultimately with the Iraq War.

  • 11:08:49


  • 11:08:49

    TELHAMIShe suggested that I meet Yasser Arafat while there because the U.S. didn't have a dialogue with him and that somehow, you know, meeting him would give him a picture about Washington. He might want to send a message. When I met with him, one of the things that was striking, separate from the immediate issues, was how he focused on public opinion, Arab public opinion. At a time when our leaders and our governments were saying, who cares about Arab public opinion? You know, these are old dictatorships, all authoritarian rulers. It doesn't matter.

  • 11:09:23

    TELHAMIWell, interestingly, right after the Iraq War, we saw the king of Jordan, who was America's closest ally, who was dependent on the U.S., say no to the U.S. in the Iraq War because he was worried that he would be toppled possibly or would face some uprisings or would face revolts, would have difficulties.

  • 11:09:43

    TELHAMIAnd on the other hand, you had the Saudis who did something unpopular, inviting American forces on Arab soil and they got away with it. And so it got me thinking about writing about Arab public opinion. I started writing about it then. I wrote a couple of articles after that war and then you have this information revolution with the advent of...

  • 11:10:03

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:10:03

    TELHAMI...Al Jazeera. And so I decided to design a decade-long study of the impact of the information revolution on Arab public opinion, the relevance of Arab public opinion and how the information revolution may be changing how Arabs define themselves.

  • 11:10:21

    REHMWhy do you believe public opinion in Arab nations was ignored for so long?

  • 11:10:30

    TELHAMII think because superficially it does look like it wasn't important. Meaning what? Meaning Arab governments seem to monopolize the information. They tell people what they would want to believe, that's what people thought. They had repressive mechanisms so when people didn't like what they were doing they can get away with it. And so it's easier for an American government to say to the ruler, I want you to do this and think that there are no consequences. I think there are consequences and they were evident.

  • 11:11:02

    TELHAMII recall, I wrote a book on the first Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel. During those negotiations Menachem Begin, then prime minister of Israel, replied to Sadat, when Sadat said, I can't do this because my public wouldn't let me. And he said what public? You're essentially a dictator. And Sadat was so furious then he wouldn't even talk to him. For the rest of the negotiations, they didn't actually negotiate directly with each other. Their subordinates had to and guess what happened? Sadat was ultimately assassinated.

  • 11:11:32

    REHMIndeed, indeed. Now so this led you to begin to compile polling data from Arab countries. That could not have been an easy task. How did you begin?

  • 11:11:48

    TELHAMIWell, this is interesting because, you know, systematically, we started really to try it in the late 1990s. There were some people who were doing it. I wasn't the first one who tried to do it, but there was no systematic public opinion polling repeated every year. And I went to Zogby International. I found out that they were doing public opinion polling on consumer things because you know, people were doing, do you like Coca Cola? Do you like Pepsi Cola? Which television station do you like? Which program do you like?

  • 11:12:15

    TELHAMISo that was common, including in places like Saudi Arabia. There was a lot of money to be had and they already had an infrastructure for, you know, consumer product polling. So I asked if we could ask a couple of political questions...

  • 11:12:28


  • 11:12:28 the middle of those polls. It worked out well. Everybody thought it worked out and then we expanded it.

  • 11:12:32

    REHMHow did you begin? Who were the people you were polling? How did you get them to speak honestly with you?

  • 11:12:44

    TELHAMIWell, you know, first of all, in terms of the samples, these are -- we did the polling in six countries, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon. So we had to do it consistently in those six countries, although I added also Arab and Jewish Israelis later on for comparison purposes and also American public opinion toward the Arab world...

  • 11:13:06

    REHMI see.

  • 11:13:06

    TELHAMI...also for comparison purposes. But that sample was roughly close to 4,000 people a year. And what we tried to do is to have a national representative sample, but really limited initially only to -- only later did we expand it into major cities, major urban areas. Most Arabs live in major urban areas. It was very hard to get into the countryside to do polling.

  • 11:13:29

    REHMI see.

  • 11:13:29

    TELHAMIAnd now do we know that people speak honestly? Obviously this is always a question whether you do or not. I could tell you how we controlled forward to the extent possible. Number one, we never put the respondent in a position of discomfort. For example we never asked them, do you like your government or not? Do you like your king or your president or not? And even when we asked about leaders outside, we would ask whom among world leaders do you admire most outside your own country? We didn't want to put it that way.

  • 11:14:02

    TELHAMISecond is consistency. We found that no matter who we used locally in which country they were very similar from Morocco to Egypt, from countries that were somewhat more liberal like Lebanon where we knew people can speak. And third, you would be surprised how people want to speak. They want their voices to be heard. And we find that for example if you compare the pre-Arab uprisings with the post-Arab uprisings of opinion in Egypt. Say okay, well they were under authoritarian rulers, now it's opened up completely, very little difference, very little difference which tells you something, you know, that you're capturing something.

  • 11:14:41

    REHMShibley Telhami, he's the Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland. He's also a senior fellow at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution. His new book is titled "The World Through Arab Eyes: Arab Public Opinion and the Reshaping of the Middle East."

  • 11:15:08

    REHMDo join us 800-433-8850. Send us your email to Feel free to follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. What have you found in terms of the kinds of specific questions you would ask? What were the questions that were most revealing about the way Arab culture itself is changing?

  • 11:15:50

    TELHAMIReally, one of the central questions is exactly that, is how Arabs define themselves and how that's changing. And let me start with, you know, this, the chant that people had in Egypt and in Tunisia and in Libya right after the revolution (speaks foreign language), meaning, raise your head high, you're an Egyptian. Raise your head high, you're a Libyan. It was mesmerizing. I was there in one of those demonstrations in Cairo right after the revolution, absolutely mesmerizing.

  • 11:16:21

    REHMSay it again.

  • 11:16:22

    TELHAMI(speaks foreign language) Raise your head high, you're an Egyptian. And what that, you know, it tells you a lot because, sure you know, this is about a lot of issues, the economy, dictatorship, poverty, absence of jobs, all of this but it was also about raising their head high. But it was about raising their head high and the raising their head high not only vis-a-vis the rulers but undoubtedly vis-à-vis the outside world. This is something that's not fully understood and it's not fully analyzed in our discourse.

  • 11:16:51

    TELHAMIWe've fallen into this belief that this is all about, you know, the economy. Well, let's look at it this way, look at the past two, three, four decades. No one has been surprised that Arabs are angry with their governments. They've been angry with the governments for decades. It's not just in 2010 or 2011. The economy has been bad throughout. There is no major economic crisis the likes of which Arabs hadn't experienced that took place in 2010 or 2009. This is no major repression the likes of which Arabs haven't experienced even worse before.

  • 11:17:25

    REHMIt was all there.

  • 11:17:25

    TELHAMISo what was it then that was new in 2010? There were two things really. One is the information revolution. I think it, don't underestimate its impact. It's not because it provided an impetus but it provided a tool of organization. People like me, political scientists said, well, it's not enough to have angry people to have a revolution, you need a way to get these people into the street and to have that you need political parties, social institutions, charismatic leadership.

  • 11:17:51

    TELHAMIWell, none of the above was needed in Tunisia and Egypt early on. Obviously, they joined later because they had this new tool whose power we didn't fully understand that enabled it to mobilize without it. That's number one. But the second thing over that whole decade, if you look at -- so what was really particularly important about the impetus, the anger of the people the anger with their government.

  • 11:18:16

    TELHAMIWhat was the source of that anger over the past decade? Foreign policy, because you look at it, what did it start with? The collapse of the Israeli policy and negotiations in 2000, the fighting between the Israelis and Palestinians that captured the television screens that 9/11, that post 9/11, the war on terrorism, the Iraq War, the Lebanon War, the Gaza War, that was the decade. That was the increase in anger.

  • 11:18:38

    REHMShibley Telhami, the book is titled "The World Through Arab Eyes." We'll be right back.

  • 11:20:05

    REHMAnd welcome back. Just before the break, author Shibley Telhami was talking about the change in thinking, the change in character, the change in attitude before the uprising began in the Arab World in his new book, "The World Through Arab Eyes." He argues that we have not really understood the Arab culture, the Arab World and that what he has done is begun a 20-year journey trying to understand process and what mobilized the Arabs finally to begin that uprising.

  • 11:20:59

    REHMYou were in the midst of that.

  • 11:21:02

    TELHAMIYes. And I was saying just to complete the thought on the decade of foreign policy humiliation -- I say humiliation because these events for most Arabs, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Iraq War, the Afghan War, the Lebanon War, the Gaza War were humiliating to them. And in some ways, it kind of captures -- Arab people are angry with their governments, yes for the repression and for not providing for sure.

  • 11:21:33

    TELHAMIBut they're also angry because they weren't raising their heads in the world and they were seen not only as subservient on core issues like the Iraq War, the overwhelming majority of the Arab people opposed it. Arab people -- the Arab governments not only couldn't stop it, but were seen to be collaborators with Arab enemies on that issue.

  • 11:21:51

    REHMHow would you say the Arab World reacted to 9/11, Shibley?

  • 11:21:59

    TELHAMIYou know, this is -- we have this phrase, the post-9/11 relationship. It's not a post-9/11 relationship, it's a post-Iraq War relationship. And I think we get confused and let me say why, because initially when you look at 9/11, people had mixed feelings. Some people said they got frustrated over the Palestinian issue. There were all kinds of reactions. But if you look at the institutions of the Arab World and governments, from the Syrian government, even outside the Arab World to Iranian government, there was sympathy and collaboration over the Afghanistan war.

  • 11:22:33

    TELHAMIWe had -- the biggest coalition in history was put together for the Afghanistan War because people understood America was attacked. And so, yes, there was some mixed views and unfortunate views. But by and large, that wasn't really the core of the reaction. What happened is, it's the Iraq War. The Iraq War, people believed it was unnecessary. An overwhelming majority of people thought it was -- went against the aspiration of the Arab people.

  • 11:22:59

    TELHAMIIn fact, if there was -- I know there's this, you know, silly notion that somehow the Bush administration's advocacy of democracy is really what got people to believe in democracy later on is probably the opposite. People's anger with an Iraq War that they felt was unjustified was the reason -- one reason why they became more angry with the governments. And I think the democracy argument at that time was never bought in the Arab World.

  • 11:23:26

    TELHAMIWe have a lot of polling showing that the overwhelming majority of Arabs never believed that the Bush administration was trying to bring about democracy in the Middle East.

  • 11:23:35

    REHMHow did you select the people you chose to poll?

  • 11:23:40

    TELHAMIWell, we relied on Zogby International and their local partners to select a demographically representative sample from each country. And so I hired Zogby International to do it. They were the ones who actually carried out for us. And in Israel, by the way, of course it wasn't all Zogby International because when we did the Arabs and Jews in Israel itself, we hired another firm Dahaf Polling, which is an Israeli firm to select the samples.

  • 11:24:11

    TELHAMIAll of the interviews were face-to-face interviews. There were no phone interviews in the Arab World. All the Arab interviews in the Arab countries were face-to-face interviews. The interviews in Israel were phone interviews because the Israelis have a system of phone that they're...

  • 11:24:28

    REHMI see.

  • 11:24:30

    TELHAMI...they find acceptable.

  • 11:24:31

    REHMNow, did you cross economic lines?

  • 11:24:34

    TELHAMIYes. It was done to be representative demographically, geographically, economically, gender or across all of these. And actually we have analyses of the demographics of the data in the polling. So we have obviously done considerable analyses on women, women different from men, or young people different from old people, or other regional differences from to Riyadh to Jeddah.

  • 11:25:05

    REHMAnd were you allowed to poll women in places like Riyadh?

  • 11:25:12

    TELHAMIYes. But here's the rule that we obviously had to follow, which is women interview women, and men interview men, which obviously we don't do here but that's the way it is down there.

  • 11:25:24

    REHMAnd did you find significant differences between the responses you got from women and from men?

  • 11:25:32

    TELHAMIThis is interesting because it depends on the issue. On most issues, remarkably, particularly foreign policy issues, there was not a huge difference. We found that they're actually quite similar and, you know, some variations across. But on some issues where you'd expect to find a difference, we did. For example, do women have -- should women have the right to work outside the house.

  • 11:25:53

    TELHAMIAnd that's an important question because it's not just about women's rights. You know, it's an abstract notion. Should women have the right to work outside the house? Always, only when economically needed or never. And as you can imagine, more women, by far, say always and more men say never. But here's the interesting thing that a majority of men and women say, women should have the right to work outside the house at least when economically needed.

  • 11:26:23


  • 11:26:24


  • 11:26:25

    REHMBut governments are not paying attention to that polling, are they?

  • 11:26:32

    TELHAMIActually, surprisingly they are. And what we found, I mean, it's interesting because some of the same firms that were doing polling for us then suddenly were hired by governments to do private polling for them to see where the public is. Now whether they follow what the public wants to do or not is another question. I think for, you know, I have a whole chapter on the book on sort of the role of women, the role religion in society.

  • 11:26:58

    TELHAMIAnd you can see that a lot of this issue about women working is really a function of economic need. I'd give you one example that's really interesting in Saudi Arabia. I went to a women's college in the fall in Saudi Arabia and, you know, this is -- by the way, in Saudi Arabia now there are more women college students than there are men college students.

  • 11:27:24

    REHMAs is the case in this country.

  • 11:27:27

    TELHAMIAs is the case in this country, exactly. But of course that's not true when it comes to jobs, although that's increasing. So the women who graduate obviously from those colleges have a slightly higher chance of being employed. But what the director of that college was telling me is that a woman who is educated and has a job is now, quote, "more marriable." And so -- and that tells you something about the political economy of this particular time of expanding need that culturally there doesn't seem to be an aversion in principle for it. When you create opportunities, it may expand.

  • 11:28:07

    REHMAnd what about religious differences? Did you interview, for example, as many Muslims as Christian or Jews any of the other many religions?

  • 11:28:21

    TELHAMIWe had most certainly, in places where there were, you know, different segments of the public. For example, Lebanon, take Lebanon. You know how diverse Lebanon is. It's not just Muslims, that we should talk about Muslims and Jews, we should talk about Shias and Sunnis.

  • 11:28:36

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:28:38

    TELHAMIAnd so we've broken along all of this.

  • 11:28:39

    REHMI see.

  • 11:28:40

    TELHAMIAnd we made sure that we had representative segments of the population. And there are major differences in Lebanon.

  • 11:28:47


  • 11:28:47


  • 11:28:48

    REHMSuch as?

  • 11:28:49

    TELHAMIFor example, even -- start behaviorally. When you ask people what is your primary source for news. You know, in the Arab World, by the way, Al Jazeera is still number one. Al Arabiya is up there. There are few others, but Al Jazeera is still number one. But in Lebanon, it really is -- breaks down along sectarian lines. So you have now Al-Manar, which is Hezbollah's TV. It's the number one for the Shia.

  • 11:29:14


  • 11:29:14

    TELHAMIYou know, the Sunnis have their own television station and stuff that they watch. Also they watch Al Jazeera. The Christians watch LBC more. So even what they watch on television is more reflective of the sectarianism. But here's a fascinating story about this is that you would expect that people would have sectarian identity. We ask a question in the Arab World, do you feel more Lebanese or Jordanian or Egyptian or more Arab or Muslim all the time?

  • 11:29:41

    TELHAMII know you are all these things, identities. It's complicated. But which one is more important to you today? In Lebanon, you have the strongest identification in the state of any country in the Arab World. They say they're Lebanese first, whether they're Shia or Sunni.

  • 11:29:56


  • 11:29:56

    TELHAMIAnd in Saudi Arabia, you have the lowest identification with the state.

  • 11:29:59


  • 11:30:00

    TELHAMIAnd in Egypt, you have the most balanced identification between state, Muslim and Arab. Although over time, and this is one of the findings in the research, is that identification with the state across the board has declined over the decade and people feel more Muslim or more Arab than they do Egyptian or Jordanian or Saudi.

  • 11:30:21

    REHMSo what do you feel should be the revisions that this country and other countries make in regard to their view or views of the Arab World?

  • 11:30:38

    TELHAMIWell, you know, as I said, I think it was never the case that Arab public opinion didn't matter. You have to pay attention to it. You have to pay attention to it even more now in an environment of information revolution. An environment of the Arab uprising. So I think we have to understand what has taken place here in the Arab World. So you have to ask the question, so what has changed about our politics?

  • 11:31:00

    TELHAMIWhat's different right now? And I'll tell you the most important element because some people say, well, this is episodic. You know, every once in a while they're going to have a revolt, they're going to be back to normal and so forth. And maybe this is one of them. I don't think so. I think if you had to look at what is the distinctive feature of post-uprising Arab politics, I would say it's the empowerment of the individual and groups that had not been empowered before.

  • 11:31:26

    TELHAMIIt is enabled by an information revolution that is only expanding, and therefore it's not going back. And it is -- I compare in some ways structurally with the Industrial Revolution where the economic reality changed the power of the individual. It's not quite the same thing, but it has that empowerment. And that doesn't mean this is the end of politics. It means it's the beginning of a new politics.

  • 11:31:49

    TELHAMIBut, Shibley, how does -- how do your conclusions line up with what's happening currently in Syria?

  • 11:32:00

    TELHAMIYes. This is a fabulous question because it gets to the point which is, yes, public empowerment doesn't in any shape or form tell you how things are going to work out. It only tells you that we have a new important factor in politics. And when you have an empowered public, you have the left and the right empowered. You have the secular and the religious empowered. You have the rich and the poor empowered.

  • 11:32:27

    TELHAMIAnd so the fact that you have empowerment doesn't tell you about where it's headed. And sometimes you're going to have more contention and the old sources of power, whether they're the militaries or the corporations...

  • 11:32:38

    REHMOr your monarchies.

  • 11:32:39

    TELHAMI...or the monarchies are not going away. They're going to just have to contend with the different politics. So in Syria, it comes together in the ugliest possible way because, on the one hand, yes, it was a revolution or rebellion against an authoritarian government for sure, but then it became a sectarian conflict with all the different segments in power. And then layered over that, you have the international intervention from everybody who has a strategic interest.

  • 11:33:09

    REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Before we open the phones, how do you see Syria evolving?

  • 11:33:22

    TELHAMILet me start with where the Arab public opinion is on Syria. And you find that in the polling that we do in the six countries, majorities, overwhelming majorities in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Jordan favor the rebels against the government. They want to see the Assad regime go. But when you ask them, do you want foreign intervention to bring that about, more people say no than yes.

  • 11:33:45

    TELHAMIThat is the crux of an issue. They can't separate foreign policy from what's happening internally and they don't trust foreign powers and they certainly don't trust the U.S. And that's reflecting itself even in the official position of Egypt.

  • 11:34:00

    REHMSo would you, depending on that attitude within the Arab World, say that Senator John McCain's push to establish a no-fly zone or to arm some faction of the rebels would be considered by the Arab World the wrong way to go?

  • 11:34:29

    TELHAMILet me start by saying I'm heartbroken over what's happening.

  • 11:34:32

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:34:33

    TELHAMIAnd I -- when I...

  • 11:34:34

    REHMWe all are.

  • 11:34:35

    TELHAMIWhen people ask me, you know, I'm an opinionated person. You had me on this show many times. You know how opinionated I am. When you ask me about Syria, I am struggling, I am genuinely struggling because I see the humanitarian crisis.

  • 11:34:47

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:34:48

    TELHAMII see what, you know, and I -- it aches that we can't do something to stop it. But I start not only with the founding. I told you when you say the Arab World, what is the Arab World? There are some parts of the Arab World who want the intervention, including states like the Gulf states. The Arab governments themselves are divided, including the Egyptian government who doesn't want it.

  • 11:35:06

    TELHAMIPublic opinion is also divided. So Syria is a divisive issue. But I can guarantee you one thing, if the U.S. intervene tomorrow and the outcome doesn't work out that well, people are going to say we didn't intervene for humanitarian reasons but in order to advance American imperialism, undoubtedly. I guarantee you that will be the outcome. So public opinion isn't going to trust the U.S. for intervening.

  • 11:35:30

    TELHAMISo we have to ask the question, therefore, under what circumstances should we intervene, should the U.S. intervene? I think it's a slippery slope when you say a no-fly zone, when you carry out the logic at some point it is impossible not to find yourself drawn in, sometimes even on the ground. Are you prepared to do that? Well, you have to ask the question, is this a moral or is this a strategic imperative that is driving you?

  • 11:35:56

    TELHAMIThe moral, even if it's a moral one, how do I know that Obama knows what is moral more than Bush? Bush thought he was doing the moral thing when he went to the Iraq War. He did it without the U.N., unilaterally. Can you do a unilateral moral thing? I'm not sure, particularly when you're prepared to pay the price. Why can't we persuade other people in the U.N. and Security Council that it is a moral thing to do?

  • 11:36:21

    TELHAMIWithout that, I don't see it as being moral. Second, there's a lot more at stake strategically, including the relationship with Russia and China, beyond even Syria itself. So I think -- and you don't have an American public who's urging to intervene. So I think the president is right for being cautious. And it's tough, I don't know, you know, at what point it would be necessary to intervene, if it does become that, but the president is right to be cautious.

  • 11:36:48

    REHMAnd here's a tweet from Laura: Is there any relation between the Arab Spring and the ongoing demonstration against the Islamic AKP ruling government in Turkey?

  • 11:37:05

    TELHAMII think, you know, it's not identical in many ways because Turkey is a democratic country. You know, people accuse Prime Minister Erdogan becoming more autocratic in his ways and maybe he has. But by and large, it's still a democratic country and people can still vote him out of office. But it does show you that people have learned to exercise their opinion and power in a way that Arabs have.

  • 11:37:29

    REHMAbsolutely. Shibley Telhami, the book is titled, "The World Through Arab Eyes: Arab Public Opinion in the Reshaping of the Middle East." Short break, then your calls. I look forward to hearing from you.

  • 11:40:04

    REHMAnd welcome back to my conversation with Shibley Telhami talking about his new book, "The World Through Arab Eyes." He spent many years, many hours polling Arabs to understand their sentiments, not only about the U.S., but about themselves, their own changing worlds, their economic outlooks, their social changes going on within their own cultures. Let's go first to Louisville, Ky. and to Paul, good morning to you.

  • 11:40:50

    PAULGood morning, regular fan of the program.

  • 11:40:53

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:40:53

    PAULI want to just -- my main question has to do with how do you poll in war torn areas where there is an ethnic conflict like Syria. And I just want to say when this whole series of conflicts started all we got from our media, and kind of continue to get, is that nobody likes Assad, he's killing everyone and let's find out where he can go in exile. Now we find out most of the Christians support him, most of Alawites and even a good number of Sunnis still support him.

  • 11:41:21

    PAULAnd, in fact, I saw, and you can correct me if this is a bad study, but I saw a study from NATO that pointed out as much as 70 percent are behind him. Whatever you think of that study, this seems like once we get passed our own mainstream media and other media outlets that we're finding this thing is not one sided at all. And let me just say when you talk -- brought up the atrocities, you know, I'm a Christian. I love Muslim people of Sunni variety of Shiite, but it breaks my heart to see whole Christian villages massacred by some of these rebels.

  • 11:41:59

    REHMIndeed, Paul, thank you for your call and your very powerful sentiments.

  • 11:42:04

    TELHAMIYeah, first of all, on the polling we don't poll in war torn countries. I don't have confidence in polling in Syria. I never polled in Iraq even after the, you know, the war. I just think I could. And actually when we decided to select the countries we looked at countries, Syria was one of them even before the war, we actually thought we couldn't have reliable polling given that it was a police state. And we also thought that Algeria -- we couldn't do it in Algeria because it was unstable. And so, yeah, bottom line is, no. I think you're right to be suspicious when you have that kind of ongoing. So we polled only in countries where there was not live conflict of that sort.

  • 11:42:45

    REHMIndeed, but can you speak to his thoughts about the prevalence of support or lack thereof...

  • 11:42:53


  • 11:42:53

    REHM...For Bashar al-Assad?

  • 11:42:54

    TELHAMIYeah, I know that there are a lot of people who portrayed it initially as black and white, you know, this is just -- everybody wants Assad out. And I think those of us who followed this issue from the beginning said this was much more complicated. That Assad is not ruling just by his, you know, by himself or through some, you know, group of officers. He does have some reservoir of support among important segments of society. How much it was hard to know for sure. It's still hard to know for sure, but he does have -- he has enough.

  • 11:43:24

    TELHAMIYou don't keep a military intact. We're talking about a military with several hundred thousand soldiers. You don't keep it mostly intact. He's had some defections, but not major, without also having some reservoir of support. So, yes, I mean this is what makes Syria painful and complicated. It isn't that simple. There is an anti-authoritarian trend for sure, but there's also a sectarian trend and there's a foreign policy strategic conflict that is underway there as well.

  • 11:43:54

    REHMHere's an email from Peter who says he'd like to hear your thoughts on countries in the Middle East who still have a single ruler, specifically Jordan, and the state of their stability and if the Arab Spring will make its way to those countries, especially with Jordan and its tough economic times.

  • 11:44:22

    TELHAMIYes, I think that no government in our world is immune from the forces that generated the Arab uprisings.

  • 11:44:32

    REHMEven Saudi Arabia?

  • 11:44:34

    TELHAMINo government is immune even Saudi Arabia. Certainly economics matters and it can buffer the reaction, but it's all about empowerment. I mean think about economics matter no doubt. I mean everybody looks at it, but in the end look at who were the people who actually generated the uprisings in Egypt. They weren't the poorer segments of society. People want a -- they want a voice. They want empowerment. And in this era of the information revolution I think people are just not going to acquiesce.

  • 11:45:06

    REHMBut what is the economic situation in Jordan. How widespread are the earnings? What are those at the bottom of the economic scale doing?

  • 11:45:19

    TELHAMIThe Jordanian economy is in a very difficult position, undoubtedly, and in part they've always been dependent on the outside. At one point they were dependent on Iraq when Saddam Hussein was there. They were dependent on fusion from the Gulf that is not particularly reliable. They're dependent on foreign aid from the U.S. They're a small country with minimal resources and there is a gap between rich and poor and there's a lot of complaint about corruption.

  • 11:45:47

    TELHAMIAnd so you find that -- and then layered over that you have the Palestinian/Jordanian issue where, you know, more than half the population is of Palestinian origin and you have that issues as well. So, yeah, I think Jordan -- in some ways, if you ask me about Jordan, I say it's a miracle because if you look at a small country with all the difficulties -- and it has absorbed refuges, not only Palestinian refugees, it has absorbed Iraqi refugees, now absorbing Syrian refugees.

  • 11:46:12

    TELHAMIEconomically dependent on the outside world, involved in wars and the monarchy stayed, that's really quite remarkable, but if you listen to that interview between King Abdullah of Jordan with the Atlantic Monthly just not too long ago he said I can't expect my son to be ruling, you know, in the same way.

  • 11:46:35

    REHMInteresting, yes.

  • 11:46:37

    TELHAMIBecause they can see -- they can read the tea leaves.

  • 11:46:38

    REHMOf course, and watching the kinds lifestyles in which those at the top live must undermine that feeling of loyalty to any kind of monarchy. Let's go to New Bern, N.C. good morning, Brandon.

  • 11:46:58

    BRANDONGood morning, Ms. Rehm. I had a question for your guest today. With the -- a lot of people's view of what's going on today and I wondered if this is a fair assessment. The stuff going on in the Middle East is this something that can be compared to a lot of the revolutions that went on in European countries and, of course, in America, you know, back in the 1700s and 1800s or is -- do a lot of people see it as, sort of, a build up to a Middle Eastern or Arab world war whereas the first two were more European, pretty much all European players. So are those two assessments fair? And if one of them is true, I guess we're leading up towards revolutions in the Middle East?

  • 11:47:50

    TELHAMII don't really think those are particularly helpful comparisons. As I said I think what I find is that you have an Arab public empowerment with changing identities that are reflective of something that has aspirations that have been throughout. In fact, I think the way people choose their identities is -- they settled that on the one that helps them meet their own aspirations over time. And I see that empowerment out of the information revolution as the key element. I don't see a profound change in the nature of politics per se because it's always about politics. And it just -- I see that the new players in politics that can't be ignored.

  • 11:48:37

    REHMThere were a great many Arabs whom you polled who talked about Israel. And I'm sure people within Israel talked about the Palestinians and vice versa.

  • 11:48:52

    TELHAMIYes, this is really, you know, I have a chapter called in the book called the "Prism of Pain." And I -- by the prism of pain I refer to the policy in Israel, the conflict specifically. And I think it's not very understood what the role of it is in the Arab world. And there's a lot of data that shows how central it is, not so much because people, you know, care about the policy and wake up in the morning thinking Palestinians. They're waking up in the morning they think about bread for the family and jobs and everything else.

  • 11:49:20

    TELHAMIIt is that in terms of who they are this is a conflict that represents their utter sense of humiliation over decades. It is an open wound that they have no control over. And in a period where they are seeking dignity, it is really dignity's antithesis in some ways, this particular conflict to them. And we see that it is the prism through which they make an evaluation.

  • 11:49:41

    TELHAMIFor example, over the decade when you ask them whom among world leaders do you admire most every single leader they choose would depend somehow on their role on the Arab's relationship. The first one was Jacque Chirac in 2003 and 2004 in large part because he ousted Palestinian leader Arafat when he was dying. In 2006 it was Shiite leader Hassan Nasrallah because he was seen to have stood up to Israel.

  • 11:50:09

    TELHAMIIn 2008 it was -- and 2009 it was Hugo Chavez because he cut off diplomatic relations with Israel. So if you look at, sort of, what the prism is and what we measure in relations to, particularly the attitude toward the U.S. have been mostly made by this issue, but despite all of this before and after the Arab uprisings it is remarkable that a majority of the Arabs still in principle support of a two-state solution just like you have in Israel. And I polled in Israel on this one among Jews and among Arabs.

  • 11:50:40

    TELHAMIBut here is the problem and this is the problem that, I think, Secretary Kerry is going to have to contend with which is that a majority of both don't believe a two-state solution will ever happen. So they've lost faith. That's the difference between now and the 1990s. In the 1990s a huge majority of both sides thought it was going to happen. Now a huge majority thinks it's not going to happen. And when you think it's not going to happen it doesn't matter whether you return to negotiations, you'd be an idiot to make a concession if you think it's going to lead to conflict.

  • 11:51:13

    TELHAMIWhy give up something when you know you're going to face -- and we see this assessment of conflict even influences their ability to empathize or not empathize. When they think they're going to be in conflict they're less ready to empathize because they want to be hardened enough to fight the conflict. Incitement becomes a tool to mobilize people to fight the conflict that they see inevitable. So we can't -- we're finding symptoms. We're finding symptoms. What we need to do is deal with the core issue which is transform the perceptions. And that can't be done through going back to a negotiating thing.

  • 11:51:46

    REHMAll right to Cal in Medina, Ohio good morning, you're on the air.

  • 11:51:53

    CALHi, good morning, how are you?

  • 11:51:54

    REHMFine, thanks.

  • 11:51:55

    CALHey, yeah, I really, you see, you know, I was seeing that coming 25 years ago, you know. I was saying to my colleagues back home -- and I traveled to Tunisia, to Syria, everywhere and I saw it coming. The Arab -- sitting on a volcano. When you wake up in the morning as an American would you like to see Russian soldiers in your face? Would you like to see Chinese soldiers in your face? And that's what we face. I was waking up 25 years ago and seeing Israeli soldiers with their guns. Fifteen years ago, you know, you see American soldiers with their guns.

  • 11:52:32

    CALAnd it's not really a religious war, it's just about dignity, you know what I'm saying. It's, you know, in America is it's the best country in the world. We're living with dignity and everybody in the world wants to live the same way. So it's not really, as I said, it's not just economic, it's not, you know, about the politics, it's not just about dictators. You know, then it just adds more salt to injury when you see the dictator of a country is a puppet to the U.S. or to Israel or to Europe or to whatever.

  • 11:53:08

    REHMAll right, sir, thank you for your call. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." He certainly supports your sense that what people want is dignity.

  • 11:53:21

    TELHAMIYes, and I do want to say one thing, though. I mean it is true that there are minorities in the Arab world that are determined to push an ideological point of view. There are some religious fanatics. There is, Al-Qaeda, I think is at this point fanatical, whatever the causes were. There are a lot of other groups like that, but they don't represent the overwhelming majority of the public.

  • 11:53:46

    TELHAMIAnd even those who identify themselves as Muslim we haven't really grasped that. For example, over the decade, we see an increase in the number of people who identify themselves as Muslim first. This is not necessarily about religiosity or Islam as groups. It's about a lot of things. One of it is obviously the organizational ability of Islamics, but more than that I think, to use somebody else's words, you are what you have to defend. And I think a lot of people in the Middle East felt that Islam was under assault and they rallied behind it.

  • 11:54:17

    REHMAnd this question from Aaron in Pittsboro, N.C. follows on that point. He says, "You mentioned that Arabs in the Middle East did not believe the Bush Administration was really trying to foster democracy. I'm curious what did they believe?"

  • 11:54:40

    TELHAMIYes, we asked multiple questions on that. And they say, number one, is to control and help Israel. Those are the two that are dominant throughout. I mean the overwhelming majority. I mean, like, 80 percent say it's those two are the two most important things. And then you have maybe the weapons of mass destruction comes in, but very distant, but the advocacy of democracy was always less than ten percent of people believing that that was a priority of American foreign policy.

  • 11:55:09

    REHMAll right. And a final point from Danny in Ventura, Fla. good morning.

  • 11:55:14

    DANNYOh, good morning, Diane, I have to say for the umpteenth time we just love you out here.

  • 11:55:21

    REHMThank you.

  • 11:55:21

    DANNYWe all do. Thank you so much for your guest. I was telling the call screener that I, like so many others, my version of the "Arab world" is people shooting rifles in the air when they're happy or unhappy. And your guest said it is so -- so -- it's not just what he says, it's how he says it. It's just so wonderful, so -- he just seems like a normal, healthy, happy guy who feels that he just wants to spread that word around. And I think it's terrific. I know by hearing him and you that I really need to open my eyes more and listen to what he says.

  • 11:55:58

    REHMI think, Shibley Telhami, there are many, many people who seek a better understanding of the Arab world rather than seeing it through the prism of 9/11, the awful situation in Syria, far, far broader.

  • 11:56:25

    TELHAMIYes, and thank you for doing your part on that as well, not just now, but it's interesting I end the book with a chapter called, "From 9/11 to Tahrir Square, American Perception of the Arab World." And it does tell you how Americans in principle are fair people trying to learn more. And the images of Tahrir Square began changing the assumptions of 9/11 because they saw these ordinary people seeking freedom. Now the Islamic factor is still a big one.

  • 11:56:59

    REHMOf course.

  • 11:57:00

    TELHAMIAnd it hasn't gone in American perception, but there is more certainly an openness.

  • 11:57:05

    REHMShibley Telhami. He is the Anwar Sadat professor for peace and development at the University of Maryland. He's also senior fellow at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution. His new book is titled, "The World Through Arab Eyes: Arab Public Opinion and the Reshaping of the Middle East." Thank you for being here.

  • 11:57:36

    TELHAMIAlways a pleasure.

  • 11:57:37

    REHMThank you. And thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.

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