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 PalestineChronicle.com. 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). 

November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey
November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”
November 23, 2015
Vijay Prashad
The Doctrine of 9/11 Anti-Immigration
John Wight
After Paris: Hypocrisy and Mendacity Writ Large
Joseph G. Ramsey
No Excuses, No Exceptions: the Moral Imperative to Offer Refuge
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS Thrives on the Disunity of Its Enemies
Andrew Moss
The Message of Montgomery: 60 Years Later
Jim Green
James Hansen’s Nuclear Fantasies
Robert Koehler
The Absence of History in the Aftermath of Paris
Dave Lindorff
The US Media and Propaganda
Dave Randle
France and Martial Law
Gilbert Mercier
If We Are at War, Let’s Bring Back the Draft!
Alexey Malashenko
Putin’s Syrian Gambit
Binoy Kampmark
Closing the Door: US Politics and the Refugee Debate