Voices from the Arab Press: The far right - a threat to US democracy

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world

RALLYING IN support of US president Donald Trump at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem on January 6.  (photo credit: TERRAY SYLVESTER/REUTERS)
RALLYING IN support of US president Donald Trump at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem on January 6.
Al-Qabas, Kuwait, February 14
The first two decades of the current century began with terrorism and ended with violence. They began with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which claimed the lives of nearly three thousand innocent people. They ended on January 6, 2021, with the storming of the US Capitol and the assault on US democracy. Despite the great difference between the two events, the damage caused by both was severe.
I’ve been a resident of Washington, DC, for over four decades, and none of the other events I’ve ever witnessed in the city had an impact on people’s lives as these two events have. In the aftermath of both attacks, we witnessed unprecedented security measures that left parts of Washington seemingly under military control. Both attacks left us feeling violated and vulnerable.
The biggest difference between the two attacks was the reaction of political leaders and lawmakers to each. The perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks were foreigners and the death toll was high, and so Americans generally united. In response to the attack, Democrats and Republicans came together to fight terrorism.
This often resulted in violation of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution, due to measures that contributed very little to protecting Americans from future attacks. Thousands of Arab and Muslim immigrants were unlawfully deported. Thousands of others were questioned and prevented from traveling by air, or lost their jobs and housing opportunities. The path was paved for an intrusive monitoring process that received support from both parties.
Following several investigations, a congressional commission concluded that the terrorists did not originate from inside the US, and that US intelligence agencies could have avoided the disaster, had they shared information with each other.
Instead of assigning responsibility to those who deserve it, Democrats and Republicans continued to support legislation and practices that targeted Arabs and Muslims, as though they were the cause of the attacks. As a result, many members of these communities lived in fear. Hate crimes and outright discrimination increased.
During the decade following the September 11 attacks, the Republican Party continued to exploit this fear of Arabs and Muslims, using it as a partisan issue in successive election cycles. This Republican approach accelerated after Barack Obama was elected president. Increasingly, this anti-Muslim sentiment fueled by the Republicans paved the way for Donald Trump’s xenophobic presidential campaign.
Unlike the 9/11 attacks, the January 6 insurgency and violence in Congress was a local affair in which a group of anti-government militias and far-right groups coordinated a homebred attack.
We know that law enforcement officials anticipated violence before Joe Biden’s inauguration, but they were apparently unprepared for such a large number of protesters. As crowds of rioters stormed the Capitol building, law enforcement’s response was slow, leaving unsupported Capitol police officers in front of a massive crowd. It was horrific to watch armed barbarians break into congressional halls, smash windows, vandalize offices, beat security personnel and terrorize members of Congress.
The most shocking fact was that this violent disobedience was instigated by the president, his son, his lawyers and members of Congress, with the aim of changing the election outcome. The attack resulted in the deaths of five people, dozens of injuries, major damage to property and shock to the nation. After this violent insurgency, members of the National Guard remained deployed to secure Congress and other federal sites.
Despite the shock at seeing one of the symbols of democracy come under attack, tentative signs of national solidarity emerged. Republicans who supported Trump’s claim of fraud in the elections were initially alarmed by the violence and condemned the behavior of the former president. A few days later, however, these same partisans endorsed Trump again. While the attacks of 9/11 united us, the January 6 rebellion seemed to do the opposite.
After the 9/11 attacks, I was struck by the claim by a large number of commentators and political leaders that the terrorist attacks represented an “existential threat” to our country. This claim was nonsense. The ideas promoted by al-Qaeda never truly challenged the guiding values of this nation. It was the discriminatory policies intended to combat terrorism, which drove our endless wars on terrorism, that posed an existential threat to the US.
What is most concerning is the Republican refusal to accept the January 6 events as an “existential threat” of equal caliber. With 70% of Trump supporters still believing that the election results were rigged, Americans are facing an existential crisis at a historic level. Our security and rights were in danger after the attacks of September 11, but with the disobedience of January 6, our democracy itself is in danger– James Zogby
Akhbar el-Yom, Egypt, February 13
Last week, news came out that an alleged poet who applied for membership in the Egyptian Writers Union had plagiarized a famous piece of work published by renowned Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani in his application.
What is worse than the actual act of plagiarism is that the applicant was actually approved as a member of the union. The man – Mustafa Abu Zaid – took an existing poem that is known across the entire Arab world, written by the person who is widely cited as Syria’s national poet, and published a verbatim copy of it under his name. Yet, the men and women sitting on the union’s review committee didn’t even notice the stolen work presented to them. They read it and approved the application. Yes, the very same people who claim to promote and protect our cultural national treasures couldn’t even recognize a famous piece of work published decades and decades ago.
It is true that the union is investigating the incident, in preparation for revoking Abu Zaid’s membership, after the incident was revealed. The union is also investigating how the review board approved the publication of Abu Zaid’s book. But the issue goes well beyond the issue of stealing a poem.
Abu Zaid chose a poem written by Qabbani in 1970. This poem was composed and sung by famous Iraqi singer and songwriter Kadim Al Sahir, doubling the poem’s prominence and spread. Yet Abu Zaid somehow managed to “steal” a notable poem written by one of the most famous Arab poets and sung by one of the most prolific Arab singers, and publish it in his own book titled Letters of Love, which was submitted to the union to obtain membership. There, the book passed the examination of the review committee and the registration committee without a single person noticing the theft and raising a red flag. Consequently, Abu Zaid was accredited as poet and welcomed into the union’s ranks.
This is a case of both extreme ignorance and extreme corruption. Above all, it raises the question of how many other cases of plagiarized works passed the union’s review committee undetected. Indeed, a thorough investigation of all members and all applicants must be carried out immediately, in order to ensure that all work submitted to the union is legitimate and authentic. – Abla al-Ruwaini
Asharq al-Awsat, London, February 9
One of the gravest problems that faced Saudi Arabia and other US allies during Barack Obama’s presidency was the US strategy of a “new phase.” Obama often talked about it, but it was a reflection of the vision of a large team of senior policy-makers that surrounded him.
In short, these individuals believed that the US’s strategic interests dramatically changed since the Second World War. China, not Russia, became America’s largest economic and political adversary, and the Middle East lost its importance with the increased American reliance on its own production of shale oil. Under Obama, the American military began its withdrawal from the region and, along with that, reduced its political activity in the Middle East.
But the proceeding years showed us that things weren’t that simple. The Iranian nuclear threat emerged as a clear global threat. Terrorism could return and threaten the US at home. And China itself has been advancing toward Asia and Africa and exerting control over territories included in its Belt and Road Initiative – including in Asia, Oceania, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
These changes have sent American policy-makers back to the drawing board, where they are required to reevaluate their assessment and strategy of international politics. For example, the US doesn’t want to leave Yemen a failed state that becomes a hotbed for the Houthi militias and al-Qaeda to grow and prosper under Iran’s control. However, it also doesn’t want to fight there, and therefore has no choice but to support the Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia.
On the one hand, Washington wants to satisfy the organizations that call to stop the war for humanitarian reasons. Therefore, Biden has no choice but to support the coalition and strengthen his country’s influence without direct military involvement in Yemen. Biden’s decision to reverse Trump’s decision and remove the Houthis from the list of international terrorist organizations reflects his desire to find a peaceful solution for Yemen. It would be impossible for his administration to negotiate with the Houthis if they are listed on the terrorist list.
As for Washington’s statements and calls on Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the countries of the region to improve their handling of human rights issues and the release of political detainees, this is primarily lip service coming out of the White House. The US cannot force these governments to change their laws or release those whom they consider a threat to their national security. In fact, these calls are inconsistent with Biden’s strategy of placing America before the interests of any single individual.
Arab states must realize that this is a two-way street. Ultimately, the US looks after its own interests in dealing with the Middle East. If no interest is to be found, then it will not remain involved in the region. – Abdulrahman al-Rashed
El-Watan, Egypt, February 12
We are no longer in the era of digital transformation. Rather, we’re in the midst of the digital age. The digital age is not merely a shift from writing a newspaper article on the computer instead of on paper, or requesting a government document via a web portal rather than standing in line. It is also not merely about taking exams remotely rather than doing so in person, in a traditional classroom. Yes, it is true that all of these changes increased the prevalence of technology in our everyday life and made it much easier to perform otherwise laborious tasks, but the truth is that the digital age is much greater than that. The digital age is about the way in which digital platforms have redefined our system of principles and rules. It is about using a digital army instead of a physical army. It is about changing ideas and beliefs with a simple click of a keyboard button.
I think that cabinet spokesman Nader Saad summed this up best in an interview he gave last week, in which he said “the Egyptian government doesn’t make its decisions through Twitter and Facebook. Decisions are made in accordance with the public interest.”
The public interest in the digital age has become blurred and muffled. “Open schools,” “close schools,” “take the vaccine,” “beware of the vaccine” are just some of the slogans spreading online faster than the speed of light. Over the course of a single hour, I read reports claiming that the government will demolish slums to build new roads, alongside others claiming that the government passed laws protecting the rights of slum dwellers. We might be living in an era of digital empowerment, but it is also an era of cognitive emptiness.
The digital era gave rise to popular movements that have been barred from the public stage in the past. But no one can guarantee that these movements are based on reason and logic. While technology has grown and spread around us at an exponential rate, we must make sure that our culture is still protected. Granted, technology has lifted us above the age in which information was centralized and owned only by a powerful few. But we must also treat information in the digital age with prudence and suspicion. Otherwise, we will find ourselves living in an era of post-truth, in which we lack any shared standard of what is real and what isn’t. That would be akin to a digital mass suicide. – Amina Khairy
Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.