Arab World Leans Towards the East
Indicators of public opinion point to growing dissatisfaction with the United States and, to a lesser extent, the European Union (EU), as major international powers continue to compete in the Middle East. On the other hand, Russia and China have gained acceptance throughout the region.
A BBC survey of Arab youth last year revealed a decline in American favorability, with a significant majority—roughly 57 percent—now viewing the country as an enemy rather than an ally. However, only 26% of the young people surveyed said Russia was an enemy, while 70% of them considered it to be a key ally.
The Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD)-affiliated Friedrich Ebert Foundation recently carried out a similar but more extensive public opinion poll that covered nine Arab nations in addition to Turkey, Iran, and Israel.
According to the survey, public opinion in five nations, including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Jordan—all of which are regarded as Washington’s traditional allies—showed greater confidence in Russia than in the United States. Instead of being a conflict between two nations, seven nations saw the conflict in Ukraine as one involving Russia and the West on a geopolitical level, and all nine nations believed that Washington stood to gain the most from it.
All of the nations surveyed agreed that the United States should withdraw its troops from the Arab world, and seven of them said that doing so would increase regional stability and improve relations within the region. Even the UAE and Qatar, two of Washington’s closest allies, expressed the public opinion that favored a Russian presence in the Arab world over a U.S. one.
Seven of the nine nations surveyed, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, opposed a greater European military presence in the region, and all nine agreed that Europe relies on the US for military protection. Six nations confirmed that the world is already multipolar and will only become more so, while three believed that there is still some unipolarity that will soon change.
China is viewed more favorably than the United States in eight out of nine Arab countries, some of which are regarded as longtime allies of Washington, according to a different opinion survey conducted by the Arab Barometer on behalf of the BBC.
The Propaganda War’s Success
Arab discontent with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is evident on social media. However, the Arab public holds the US and the EU primarily accountable for inciting Russia to start a war that has been economically damaging for their region.
Arab writers have charged the US and the EU with having “double standards” in a variety of publications, including both public and private newspapers. In contrast to their inaction in the face of numerous conflicts around the world, such as the ongoing Israeli attacks on Gaza, they highlight the US and EU’s proactive response to the Russian war in Ukraine. Many contend that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine isn’t any worse than President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
These growing Arab grievances against the West have deeper, additional causes as well. The long history of Western colonialism in the area, the persistent Western bias in favor of Israel, and the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have all not been forgotten by the Arab public. Furthermore, a large portion of the Arab Spring generation felt abandoned by the West, which shamelessly continued to support the authoritarian regimes in the region in exchange for economic and political advantages. All of these elements have recently contributed to the growth of nationalist currents that are both anti-Western and Islamist.
Russia has greatly increased in popularity in many Arab nations despite its direct involvement in Syria. Russian subsidies for fuel and grains to some Arab nations have helped Russia win over Arab hearts and minds. Russia is frequently seen as resisting U.S. unilateral dominance of the region.
On the other hand, a lot of Arabs view China as a non-colonial power that has prioritized developing economic ties without overt political aspirations over the recent years. The influence of these new ties was evident when Arab states unilaterally sided with Beijing against the recent official U.S. and European visits to Taiwan. China has grown to be the largest trading partner of Arab nations.
A Pragmatic Perspective
Despite this widespread support for China and Russia, which coincides with the policies of Arab governments, it is unlikely that there will be a strategic political shift anytime soon in favor of China and Russia at the expense of the United States and Europe.
The majority of Arab armies heavily rely on U.S.-made weapons, making it difficult for the US to easily give up the military and political protection it offers to Gulf nations. Arabs cannot ignore Western technological advancements or the multibillion-dollar trade balance between the Arab world, Europe, and the United States. Furthermore, they cannot disregard the substantial financial support that the EU and US give to Arab developing nations through the IMF.
Arab nations will nonetheless take a practical and realistic approach. They may seek to diversify their political, economic, and military alliances, whether with Russia and China or with nearby nations like Iran, Turkey, and even Israel, as they gradually lessen their reliance on the West. The multipolar Middle East will be “a new game with new rules,” as Henry Kissinger recently argued, following the China-mediated warming of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
The Saudi-Iranian peace accord and other significant regional changes are both examples of Kissinger’s analysis. Five Arab nations, including the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, and Bahrain, expressed interest in joining BRICS, a geopolitical bloc made up of China, Russia, India, Brazil, and South Africa. New relations have been established between Egypt, Turkey, and Iran. Given that it is anticipated that BRICS will soon surpass the G7 in economic size, some Europeans have expressed concern about this development.
Arab nations might keep strengthening their ties with Eastern nations to develop a Western model substitute. Their challenge will be to proceed cautiously to prevent upsetting the West.