Dubai: The Arab world killed Osama Bin Laden months before the US did, according the director of the Brookings Doha Centre. He was referring to the Arab Spring which began with the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia in December 2010 and spread like wild fire to Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria and other Arab countries in the region. "Al Qaida ideology is officially dead in the Arab world as the pursuit of freedom and justice is prevailing," Salman Shaikh told Gulf News.
"I lived in New York, so I understand the profound effect the twin tower attacks had on the national psyche of Americans, but unfortunately the US policies that were pursued by the Bush administration post 911 had an immensely negative impact in the region and for the US, and it has taken them nearly a decade to understand the grave mistakes that were committed," he said.
Shaikh said the unilateral military approach proved ineffective. Ten years after 9/11, US troops remain in Afghanistan and Iraq, although reduced significantly. "American standing in the Arab world reached new lows during the Bush administration, so when Obama came to power, the American public was anxious to get fresh ideas," he said.
According to Shaikh, Obama seems to be following through on his campaign pledges with the majority of its troops already pulled out from Iraq. Also, the US backed revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria and Yemen, albeit each country has been given varying degrees of support. In the case of Libya, the US also assisted militarily, but it was careful to bring in international support as well so as not to appear to the Arab world that it was acting in its own selfish interest because of Libya's oil reserves.
However supportive the US has been of revolutions taking place in the Middle East, the Arab public remains sceptical over US intentions in the region. It's true that US foreign policy in the region has caused a lot of damage to the region, such as its unlimited support for Israel at the expense of Palestinians and well as its invasion of Iraq in 2003. However, Arabs need not always look at the US as the "bad guy" according to Shaikh.
"I give the West a lot of credit for their positions during the Arab Spring. Sure countries pursue their interests, but it is not necessarily always at the expense of the Arab world," he explained. For example, in the case of Libya, it is widely believed that had not the West interfered militarily, Gaddafi would have massacred his own people. In fact, it was because of 9/11 that former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was able to reinvent himself as an important leader to the West by hiding behind the rhetoric of "fighting terrorism".
Gaddafi as well as Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh were able to present themselves as fighters of terrorism, which gained them favour with the West. With the Arab Spring however, this has changed. However, it remains unclear with the emerging opposition movements in the Arab world coming to power how exactly their relationships with the West will be.
According to Shaikh it is a mixed bag. "Some countries are more welcoming of the US than others as was the case with Libya," he said. "US action in Syria however is very slow, and its clear the US has a double standard when it comes to backing Arab revolutions," he said.
According to Shaikh the US has a golden opportunity this month in proving to the Arab world that its actions match its rhetoric when it comes to the pursuit of justice and freedom. The Palestinians are seeking recognition for statehood at the UN on September 20 and if the US blocks this from happening, it will be a huge setback for US standing in the region.