Having lived in the Arab World for some years I'm sympathetic to the views of many Arabs about the attitude of the West toward their countries. This article, that featured in Politico Magazine, sums up the ways in which America is similar to the Arab World.
America, you look like an Arab country right now. Welcome to the Club.
by Karl Sharro in Politico Magazine- 22 January 2017
We have been watching the drama of your presidential elections with much interest and curiosity for some time now. It’s hard not to notice the many similarities between our own countries and yours. From fiery inauguration protests and bitter disputes about crowd size, to the intelligence service’s forays into politics and the rise of right-wing extremists, it appears that you are traveling very much in our direction—and at the same time, like us, becoming a curiosity for foreign correspondents trying to explain what’s happening in your region to the world. You might be distraught about where you are headed, but we aren’t! Perhaps this will be an opportunity to put our differences aside and recognize how similar we are.
On top of that, we started to hear reports of foreign meddling in your elections, which some say may have influenced the result. Of course, we are quite familiar with that situation, too, not least because of the efforts of your own administrations over the decades. Yet it came as a surprise to hear talk of “foreign hands” and “secret agendas” in a country like America. We sympathize.
On the bright side, this was also the moment that the conspiracy theories started to spread. You know us; we’re quite fond of conspiracy theories—particularly when they involve plots by external powers—and consider ourselves connoisseurs of the genre. Your plots are a bit rough around the edges, we have to admit, but top marks for creativity. Was the election of Trump a Russian conspiracy? Was talk of the Russian conspiracy a liberal conspiracy to undermine Trump? Did the mukhabarat leak information to help Trump? Did the mukhabarat leak information to hurt Trump? Was media coverage of Trump’s mukhabarat conspiracy theories part of a liberal conspiracy theory to bring him down? They’re all so deliciously complex and open-ended, much like our own.
Things started to get even more interesting when your liberals started to rally around the heroic CIA branch of the mukhabarat in order to fend off the threat of extremists in power and external meddling from Russia. You will recall that we have had similar experiences in recent years in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria, and we were disappointed when the world didn’t understand our position. Nonetheless, it was moving to see these public displays of affinity for state security, the enlightened guardians of the nation.
Lately, we have even started to hear rumblings about the American “deep state.” Now that’s also something we’re familiar with, and it raises so many interesting prospects. Will the deep state try to unseat the new president? Will the judiciary try to block his political program? Which side will the Army take? Will foreign correspondents start talking about the “shadow organs of the American state”? How will Hollywood, the entertainment arm of the deep state, use its power to oppose the president? We’re getting dizzy with excitement.
And by the way, speaking of the Army, while we were a little bit disappointed at first that the president doesn’t have a military background, he quickly moved to remedy that by appointing a number of generals to high-level positions within the administration. We are hoping that they will attend Cabinet meetings in their uniforms; there’s something quite reassuring about the leader of the nation being surrounded by military outfits—just consider Saddam Hussein.
Trump is clearly into big military displays. The military marching down Pennsylvania Avenue. The military flying over New York City and Washington D.C. during parades. Here’s someone who really understands how great leaders think. (We can also recommend excellent tailors to make him his own exquisite military uniforms.) Thanks to the news president, we can now use the term “American regime”; your country has fully earned the honor.
Of course, another crucial aspect to this transformation is the president’s contemptuous attitude towards the media. My, the delightful similarities. From blaming the press for engaging in secret conspiracies to undermine him to threatening their access to his White House palace to refusing to take questions from certain reporters, President Trump reminds us of several of our own leaders. In fact, an Arab leader complaining about CNN coverage is pretty much a staple of our political life.
This took an interesting turn on Saturday when the president accused the media of manufacturing his feud with the mukhabarat and his Minister of Information Mr. Sean Spicer castigated the media for reporting the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd. The not-so-veiled threats by the president and Mr. Spicer to the media are very much in the spirit of Arab governance.
We are waiting to see how exactly President Trump plans to deal with the intrusions of the meddling and irksome press. So far, he reminds us of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who perhaps more than any other leader has been leading the movement to put the press back in its place. Will he continue to follow Mr. Erdogan’s example of gradually diluting the freedom of the press or will he choose the Arab approach and replace the entire media with one or two state media organs?
The moment at which we felt real solidarity with the American people, though, was when we started hearing BBC reporters talking to your citizens with the patronizing tone they normally reserve for the Middle East. Correspondents were sent to far-flung corners of the United States to talk to farmers and factory workers to try to understand how they feel and to ask condescending questions. I’m from the British Broadcasting Corporation, are you familiar with the BBC? Where do you get your news from? Do you feel angry? Does religion play a role in how you are voting?. (The only thing missing were pictures of people with blue ink on their thumbs; please consider introducing that practice in the future.)
There was talk, too, of rural strongholds and urban bastions. Deep social and geographic divisions whose origins go back in time. They’re not quite tribal divisions, but there was more than enough religious and political sectarianism to ignite our interest. Who are the liberals and the conservatives and how did their disagreement begin? What’s the difference between alt-right and the Tea Party? What’s the origin of the schism between the neo-conservatives and paleoconservatives? Watching foreign correspondents trying to explain the differences was mesmerizing.
And then there’s the unrest. In the lead up to the inauguration, we started to hear about youth protests against the new regime. Come on! This is bordering on plagiarism now. Please write your own plots and stop borrowing ours. Although, we usually wait for leaders to take power before we start protesting; we like your preemptive revolution approach.
And the inauguration, what a spectacular show: protests, riots, tear gas—it had all the necessary ingredients of an Arab revolution. We saw pictures of broken windows at Bank of America, and a limo engulphed in flames. The Black Block apparently made an appearance. Someone burned an effigy of Mr. Trump and an American flag. (OK that was in Canada, but still). We look forward to more of those moments being captured on camera and turned into photo essays in the foreign press.
If you want these protests to be successful spectacles, though, here are a few crucial tips: Use social media and talk about the importance of Twitter and Facebook in spreading the protest movement. Make sure to highlight that your movement is leaderless and organic. Emphasize the fact that you don’t belong to any traditional political parties or have established ideologies. Come up with catchy slogans. And above all, make sure you stress that you are the moderates. Journalists and analysts like to hear this stuff, as we discovered during our own protests.
And be careful about receiving help from external powers. We hear that both Canada and Mexico might try to interfere in your internal politics. With the Russians already involved, this is promising to shape up into an international confrontation. Be prepared for a flood of think-pieces about whether intervention in America is right or wrong, whether regime change can come quickly or whether it will become a protracted conflict, whether a proxy war is in the cards.
A word of warning though, before embarking on this path. We tried the revolution thing ourselves, and it didn’t work out so well. Maybe you should just adapt to living in the new regime. We were always told that having a strongman in charge is the best solution for Arab countries, otherwise there would be chaos. Perhaps the American people are not ready for democracy after all. Let’s face it America, you look like an Arab country now.
The Arab World
Ps. We have taken the liberty of re-designing your flag; do you like it? Also, we’re attaching an application form to the Arab League, consider joining.