Marc Lynch of Foreign Policy recently published an article titled, “They Hate Us, They Really Hate Us.” This article discusses the various reasons why so much anti-Americanism exists in Egypt. In short, Lynch argues that the Egyptian population has a considerably anti-American opinion and Egyptian politicians seeking election base their political campaigns on this public opinion. He states, “The anti-American rhetoric that has always flowed freely through the Egyptian media has been mirrored in public opinion. Again, this long predates Egypt’s revolution or the election of a Muslim Brotherhood government.”
Because public opinion in Egypt is viewed by some politicians in Egypt as generally anti-American, it is popular for those politicians to use anti-American rhetoric. Lynch writes, “Denouncing the United States is politically useful to every Egyptian faction. The SCAF, like Mubarak, finds anti-Americanism useful in masking its strong relationship with Washington. Secular elites and felool (“remnants” of Mubarak’s regime) find it useful in deflecting attention from their own return to grace. The Muslim Brotherhood finds it useful in returning to the movement’s own anti-American comfort zone. Anti-Brotherhood activists find it useful as a way of appealing to nationalist public opinion to justify support for the coup.” The different factions within Egypt focus on anti-Americanism, using it in their own individual way.
This resentment towards the United States coming from portions of the Egyptian population presents a very difficult challenge for U.S. public diplomacy efforts. Lynch notes that much of the public diplomacy efforts in Egypt have not had their desired effect in shaping Egyptian public opinion. Regarding the need for a new public diplomacy approach in Egypt, Lynch writes,
“Public diplomacy isn’t going to solve America’s Egypt problem, I’m afraid. This emphatically does not mean that Washington should ignore Egyptian voices or give up on efforts at broader, deeper engagement, though. Washington should pay close attention to what it is hearing from the Egyptian public, even while recognizing the politics driving those messages. It is never a good idea for U.S. policy to hunker down, convinced by its own messaging or dismissive of widely circulating ideas or critiques.”
Lynch emphasizes listening because it is only through proper understanding of the Egyptian public that the U.S. can recognize why anti-Americanism appears so prevalent and properly craft strategies to address it. Lynch also argues that public diplomacy isn’t going to solve all of America’s issues in Egypt immediately. He suggests an approach that relies on crafting a more compelling narrative designed to better explain U.S. foreign policy in the region. This narrative should be undertaken with the knowledge that results will not be immediate and may take years before any tangible results are achieved.
Policy makers have a variety of tools at their disposal to achieve their policy objectives, public diplomacy outreach is just one of these tools that policy makers rely on. It is important to understand both the profound effects and limitations that public diplomacy can have in influencing foreign publics.
In general, the U.S. must make efforts to better understand how foreign public opinion affects long term strategy. This isn’t always so clear cut. But like in any question of foreign policy, the U.S. should seriously consider what that outcome it wants actually looks like, determine whether or not that outcome is feasible, thoroughly analyze its audience and then implement a comprehensive strategy with metrics to support it. Only after this grand strategy is set may public diplomacy efforts be instituted to help bring these goals to fruition and ultimately achieve the U.S.’ overall foreign policy objectives.