Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

US / Arab Disconnect


As the Arab Spring continues to challenge dictators, demolish old structures and ponder roadmaps for a better future, the US remains committed to its failed policies, misconceptions and selfish interests.

Arabs may disagree on many things, but few disagree on the fact that there is now no turning back. The age of the dictator, the Mubaraks and Ben Alis is fading.

A new dawn with a whole new set of challenges is upon us. Debates in the region are now concerned with democracy, civil society and citizenship.

The only Arab intellectuals who still speak of terrorism and nuclear weapons are those commissioned by Washington-based think tanks or a few desperate to appear on Fox News.

Put simply, Arab priorities are no longer US priorities, as they may have been when Hosni Mubarak was still president of Egypt.

Leading a group of “Arab moderates,” Mubarak’s main responsibility was portraying US foreign policy as if it was at the core of Egypt’s national interest as well.

Meanwhile, in Syria, Bashar al-Assad was caught in the realm of contradiction. While desperate to receive high marks on his performance in the so-called war on terror, he still sold himself as a guardian of Arab resistance.

When the US took on Afghanistan in late 2001, the term “war on terror” became a staple in Arab culture.

Ordinary Arabs were forced to take stances on issues that mattered little to them but which served as the backbone of US military and political strategy in the region.

The Arab man and woman – both denied rights, dignity and even a semblance of hope – were mere subjects of opinion polls concerning Osama bin Laden, al-Qaida and other issues that hardly registered on their daily radar of suffering and humiliation.

The Arab dictator exploited the US obsession with its security. Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh had to choose between a hostile takeover by the US – to “defeat al-Qaida” – or carrying out the dirty war himself.

He opted for the latter and was soon to discover the perks of such a role.

When the Yemeni people took to the streets demanding freedom and democracy, Saleh sent a loyal army and republican guards units to kill al-Qaida fighters, whose numbers suddenly exploded, and also to kill unarmed democracy protesters.

The straightforward but shrewd act was the equivalent of an unspoken bargain with the US – I will fight your bad guys, as long as I am allowed to destroy mine.

Libya’s Muammar Gadaffi exploited US priorities as well. His regime’s constant emphasis on the presence of al-Qaida fighters in the rank of the opposition received a fair amount of validation in Western media.

Gadaffi went for the jugular in his desperate attempts at wowing the West, even suggesting that his war against the rebels was no different to Israel’s war against Palestinian “extremists.”

The strange thing is that the language spoken by the US and that by Arab dictators is largely absent from the lexicon of oppressed, ordinary Arabs aspiring for their long-denied basic rights.

Arabs are not unified by the narratives of al-Qaida or the US. They are united by other factors that often escape Western commentators and officials.

Aside from shared histories, religions, language and a collective sense of belonging, they also have in common their experiences of oppression, alienation, injustice and inequality.

The third UN Arab Development Report, published in 2005, surmised that in a modern Arab state “the executive apparatus resembles a black hole which converts its surrounding social environment into a setting in which nothing moves and from which nothing escapes.”

Things didn’t fare much better for Arab states in 2009, when the fifth volume in the series stated: “While the state is expected to guarantee human security, it has been, in several Arab countries, a source of threat undermining both international charters and national constitutional provisions.”

A Time magazine story published in May was entitled How The Arab Spring Made Bin Laden An Afterthought. It seemed to celebrate the collective, secular nature of Arab revolutions when it reminded readers that “there were no banners hailing Osama bin Laden in Egypt’s Tahrir Square, no photos of his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri at anti-government protests in Tunisia, Libya or even Yemen.”

The truthful depiction, reproduced in hundreds of reports throughout Western media, is still deceitful at best.

The fact is that the al-Qaida model never captured the imagination of mainstream Arab society.

Arab revolutions didn’t challenge Arab society’s perception of al-Qaida, for the latter had barely occupied even a tiny space of the collective Arab imagination.

However, these revolutions are yet to truly challenge the official US perception of the Arabs.

An Arab Attitudes 2011 survey was published last July by Zogby International. It communicated unsurprising views of six Arab nations, including the fact that Barack Obama’s popularity among Arabs had sunk to a new low of 10 per cent.

When Obama delivered his famous Cairo University speech in 2009, many Arabs saw that US-Arab priorities were finally meeting at some points.

But the fact that US policy didn’t go on to shift an iota in any favourable direction made Arabs realise that US policies were fixed.

The US continued with its wars, its support of Israel, and its old alliance with the most corrupt Arab elites.

Arabs discovered – or rediscovered – that not only were there no meeting points between their aspirations and US policy, the two were actually on a collision course.

It is normal for the US to conduct its policies in an oil-rich region like the Middle East based on a set of clear interests and objectives.

But what has in fact been taking place is the complete hijacking of Arab aspirations and the national interests of most Arab countries to fit US priorities.

With the help of Arab dictators, Washington’s unclear, misguided policies brought untold harm to Arab nations. Now millions of ordinary Arabs, whose priorities and expectations were so completely discounted, are showing they are no longer willing to accept that reality.

Ramzy Baroud is editor of His work has been published in many newspapers and journals worldwide. His latest book isThe Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto Press, London). His newbook is, “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London). 

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is:

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Qaddafi
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Winslow Myers
Christopher Brauchli
Wonder Woman at the UN
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
Lee Ballinger
Tupac: Holler If You Hear Him
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”
October 20, 2016
Eric Draitser
Syria and the Left: Time to Break the Silence
Jeffrey St. Clair
Extreme Unction: Illusions of Democracy in Vegas
Binoy Kampmark
Digital Information Warfare: WikiLeaks, Assange and the US Presidential Elections
Jonathan Cook
Israel’s Bogus History Lesson
Bruce Mastron
Killing the Messenger, Again
Anthony DiMaggio
Lesser Evil Voting and Prospects for a Progressive Third Party
Ramzy Baroud
The Many ‘Truths’ on Syria: How Our Rivalry Has Destroyed a Country
David Rosen
Was Bill Clinton the Most Sexist President?
Laura Carlsen
Plan Colombia, Permanent War and the No Vote
Aidan O'Brien
Mao: Monster or Model?