James Zogby, who describes his recent book “Arab Voices” as an effort to explain the Arab world to the American public, and policy makers continues to demonstrate his appalling ignorance of Arab people and politics. Speaking about the reaction of Arab-Americans to the uprising in Egypt he said the following:
Many in the Arab emigre community “just don’t know enough” about the protesters, said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, a Washington-based group that often polls Arab public opinion.
“They know the people in leadership roles in Lebanon … and they know the government party in Egypt, and they have dealt with the embassies here,” Mr. Zogby said. “But they don’t know the groups who are in opposition, and they don’t know what direction they want to move in.”
Zogby is just plain wrong, and not only is he uninformed about Egypt, and the rest of the Arab world, he also knows very little about Arab immigrants in the United States who live outside of Washinton DC. It’s not surprising that Zogby wouldn’t know anything about Egypt, which segments of society, movements, and groups, are involved in the current uprising, or the organized political opposition he is alluding to which, incidentally, is NOT behind the current Intifada.
Zogby is an American-born descendant of an earlier wave of Arab immigrants from what later came to be known as Lebanon. He grew up in New York, and has been cocooned up in Washington DC since the 70s. He also does not speak or understand the Arabic language, and his trips to the Arab world consist of visits to staffers at American embassies or the children and servants of oil-“Shakes” in the Gulf.
Ironically, Zogby’s statement is a precise description of his own elite, sub-set of Arab-Americans with very limited knowledge of one small region of the Arab world, and has spent more time in Washington’s Arab embassies than it has in Arab countries. Zogby’s Arab-America is made up of others who share his background and experiences like John Sununu, Jean Abinader, Donna Shalala, Darrel Issa, Ray Lahood, Spencer Abraham, and others who don’t know anything about the Arab world, but often present themselves as experts on their ancestors homeland because they remember eating tabouleh (or as Jim says “taawbooleee”) at their late, great grandmother’s house in North America.
Zogby is right, his Arab-America doesn’t know much about Egyptian political life. He’s also correct in saying they couldn’t identify anyone in the Arab world other than a few thugs and warlords posing as Lebanese politicians. That does not mean, however, that Egyptian-Americans “don’t know enough” about what’s happening in Egypt, what’s driving the uprising, or what the Egyptian people hope to achieve. Many Egyptian-Americans are recent immigrants with family members and friends still in Egypt, and they have an intimate knowledge of their country. Many other Arab-Americans and non-Arab-Americans are also well aware of what is happening in Egypt.
Zogby may enjoy touring the US explaining “Arab voices” to America, but despite his recurring references to a Levantine salad dish and Gibran Khalil Gibran, his recent comments on Tunisia and Egypt have served as an embarassing reminder he is no expert on “Arab voices.” Since he’s now chiming in on Egypt we think its time for him to learn the disctinctly Egyptian word for Ikhras: Inkitim ya Jim!