Arab disappointment with Obama: The Musings of an Unconscious Demopath

The New York Times offers its op-ed pages to Alaa al Aswany, an Egyptian writer, author of The Yacoubian Building and Chicago. He voices his profound disappointment at Obama’s silence on Gaza. What we get is the musings of a (possibly) unconscious demopath, whose lack of self-awareness transpires in almost every complaint to which he gives voice.

We hear the voice of a self-identified moderate, who would like Egypt and the Arab world to have democracies, and a good relationship with the US and Obama, but when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, continues to pursue the zero-sum politics that have given the Arab world its current unfortunate contours. As the Fable de la Fontaine goes, “celui-ci ne voyait pas plus loin que son nez” [he doesn't see farther than his nose].

As a result, he vehiculates (to translate from the French) a message that says, “side with me on the Israeli-Arab issue, or you’ll never have any purchase in the Arab street.” It’s only a slightly milder version of what long-term hard-line advocates for the Palestinian cause are saying. The result — the classic invitation (à la Walt-Mearsheimer) to a Eurabian foreign policy.

Why the Muslim World Can’t Hear Obama

By ALAA AL ASWANY
Published: February 7, 2009
Cairo

PRESIDENT OBAMA is clearly trying to reach out to the Muslim world. I watched his Inaugural Address on television, and was most struck by the line: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers.” He gave his first televised interview from the White House to Al Arabiya, an Arabic-language television channel.

But have these efforts reached the streets of Cairo?

One would have expected them to. Mr. Obama had substantial support among Egyptians — more than any other American presidential candidate that I can remember. I traveled to America several days before the election. The Egyptians I met in the United States told me — without exception — that they backed Mr. Obama. Many Egyptians I know went to his Web site and signed up as campaign supporters.

In Cairo, which is seven hours ahead of Washington, some people I know stayed up practically all night waiting for the election results. When Mr. Obama won, newspapers here described Nubians — southerners whose dark skin stands out in Cairo — dancing in victory.

The implication here is that this Egyptian support for Obama represented the awakening of democratic forces in the Arab world which Obama would be a fool to waste by not responding. But what if the hopes he aroused had nothing to do with democratic sentiments, but rather everything from “Nubian pride” [which one imagines must be charged emotions in a society as racist as Egypt] to Arab hopes that the Obama would help them with their Israel hang-up by siding with them and pressure Israel to weaken itself. Disappointing these hopes is hardly Obama’s responsibility, and the implication that he’s to blame suggests that for Mr. al Aswany, Egyptians don’t have to mature, Obama has to indulge their passions.

Our admiration for Mr. Obama is grounded in what he represents: fairness. He is the product of a just, democratic system that respects equal opportunity for education and work. This system allowed a black man, after centuries of racial discrimination, to become president.

This fairness is precisely what we are missing in Egypt.

That is why the image of President-elect Obama meeting with his predecessors in the White House was so touching. Here in Egypt, we don’t have previous or future presidents, only the present head of state who seized power through sham elections and keeps it by force, and who will probably remain in power until the end of his days. Accordingly, Egypt lacks a fair system that bases advancement on qualifications. Young people often get good jobs because they have connections. Ministers are not elected, but appointed by the president. Not surprisingly, this inequitable system often leads young people to frustration or religious extremism. Others flee the country at any cost, hoping to find justice elsewhere.

Now there’s a fair piece of self-criticism, but apparently what is sauce for the goose (Mubarak) is not sauce for the gander (Hamas). His sense of fairness, apparently so rudely violated by his own president, has profound limits when applied outside the tribe to either to Israel or to Obama for not condemning her. So behind the “fairness” talk, actually lies a demopathic demand for the opposite — side with the people whose attitude towards the Israeli “other” could not conceivably be more unfair.

We saw Mr. Obama as a symbol of this justice. We welcomed him with almost total enthusiasm until he underwent his first real test: Gaza. Even before he officially took office, we expected him to take a stand against Israel’s war on Gaza. We still hope that he will condemn, if only with simple words, this massacre that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, many of them civilians. (I don’t know what you call it in other languages, but in Egypt we call this a massacre.)

The first major piece of nonsense. At least in English, the word massacre has the distinct meaning of deliberate murder of civilian populations, like the 685 civilians deliberately murdered in Congo over the last weeks. That‘s a massacre.

He’s talking about 1300 dead in four weeks of intense urban warfare against an elected, belligerent government that hides among its own civilians even as it provokes attacks by gratuitously targeting civilians on the other side. Given the media coverage — especially on Arab TV — it’s understandable that Egyptians would believe that the civilian casualties were high, and Israel targeted them. But even so, by the region’s standards, this is not a massacre.

When Syria had trouble with the Muslim Brotherhood (of which Hamas is a branch), they deliberately killed 10-20,000 inhabitants of Hama one week of indiscriminate bombing of a city. What Arab Muslims are doing in Darfur, and previously in the south of Sudan, that’s massacres, indeed genocide. Has Mr. al Aswany protested this, or is Darfur a Zionist plot? Do Egyptians call these massacres? Or is it only when Israelis kill civilians, not matter what the numbers or the circumstances, that it’s a massacre.

Indeed, Egyptians have been known to brag about their intention to commit massacres when it’s them doing it to Israelis:

    Two weeks pre-invasion, on May 1, 1948, Arab League secretary-general Abdul-Rahman Azzam Pasha declared: “If the Zionists dare establish a state, the massacres we would unleash would dwarf anything which Genghis Khan and Hitler perpetrated.”I do believe that the Egyptian head of the Arab League, Azzam Pasha in 1948 promised massacres of Israelis that would put Genghis Kahn to shame.

In 1967, Nassar and the crowds in the “Arab Street” promised the same. Coming from an Egyptian, I’d think this outrage of a massacre is blowing smoke in our eyes.

We expected him to address the reports that the Israeli military illegally used white phosphorus against the people of Gaza.

And if, they didn’t use it illegally? Would you accept that? Or is it necessary to condemn Israel no matter what the evidence. And if Obama, who may have more gravitas in these matters than you, and therefore loathe to launch into a diatribe against Israel based purely on Palestinian sources (and their halo-bearing NGO and UN allies)… is that a betrayal of fairness, or, in fact the decidedly fair practice of withholding judgment until one has firm evidence?

We also wanted Mr. Obama, who studied law and political science at the greatest American universities, to recognize what we see as a simple, essential truth: the right of people in an occupied territory to resist military occupation.

Here we get to the core of the Arab delusion. This is “simple, essential truth” only to people so overwhelmingly committed to the Palestinian cause that they have no sense of any other side. If it’s freedom the Palestinians want, then bombing Israeli cities from their Judenrein Gaza is trying to smash down open doors. If it’s the destruction of Israel they want — the only context in which Hamas’ behavior makes any “rational” sense, then it’s not resistance, it’s aggression. Indeed, it’s an effort to finish the job that the Arabs promised and failed so catastrophically and humiliatingly to carry out in 1948 and 1967.

Is our author aware of the earnest, and religiously inspired call to massacre every last Jew in an apocalyptic war that moves Hamas to “resist”? Does he care? Wouldn’t that mean that, out of fairness, he hold off on calling this a massacre? Of is this all just one more compilation of grievances that Arabs nurse against Israel for having the nerve to defend their existence?

But Mr. Obama has been silent. So his brilliantly written Inaugural Speech did not leave a big impression on Egyptians. We had already begun to tune out. We were beginning to recognize how far the distance is between the great American values that Mr. Obama embodies, and what can actually be accomplished in a country where support for Israel seems to transcend human rights and international law.

Master of human-rights talk with minimal understanding of what it involves. The “resistance” he supports violates not only the human rights of Israelis but of Palestinians. So does our author care about Palestinians, or about damaging Israelis? Is this a vendetta masquarading as a human rights campaign?

Mr. Obama’s interview with Al Arabiya on Jan. 27 was an event that was widely portrayed in the Western news media as an olive branch to the Muslim world. But while most of my Egyptian friends knew about the interview, by then they were so frustrated by Mr. Obama’s silence that they weren’t particularly interested in watching it. I didn’t see it myself, but I went back and read the transcript. Again, his elegant words did not challenge America’s support of Israel, right or wrong, or its alliances with Arab dictators in the interest of pragmatism.

When the choice the US has is between dictators in the Arab world who promise stability, or “democratic reforms” offered to populations so immature in their understanding of democratic principles and fairness that they elect insanely destructive leaders — as in Gaza, for example, and as most likely in an Egypt were there free elections — it’s hardly surprising Western leaders are less than eager to jump on the Arab/Muslim democracy train.

I then enlisted the help of my two teenage daughters, May and Nada, to guide me through the world of Egyptian blogs, where young Egyptian men and women can express themselves with relative freedom. There I found a combination of glowing enthusiasm for Mr. Obama, a comparison between the democratic system in America and the tyranny in Egypt, the expectation of a fairer American policy in the Middle East, and then severe disappointment after Mr. Obama’s failure to intercede in Gaza. I thus concluded that no matter how many envoys, speeches or interviews Mr. Obama offers to us, he will not win the hearts and minds of Egyptians until he takes up the injustice in the Middle East. I imagine the same holds true for much of the greater Muslim world.

I imagine you are correct. But rather than read that as the hearts and minds of Egyptians driven towards justice, I see it sooner as a reflection of how profoundly immature Egyptian hearts and minds are, how driven by the need for honor — defined as the punishment/destruction of Israel for “justice’s sake” — and how, even if you got your way, you’d still wallow in captivity to elites surely more ferocious than Mubarak.

The real test of an Arab moderate is: does he think that the existence of Israel prevents democracy in the Arab world? Or that the Arab hang-up on Israel prevents democracy in the Arab world? The Arab world is full of false and superficial moderates who have yet to wake up.

Have Egyptians irreversibly gone off Mr. Obama? No. Egyptians still think that this one-of-a-kind American president can do great things. Young Egyptians’ admiration for America is offset by frustration with American foreign policy. Perhaps the most eloquent expression of this came from one Egyptian blogger: “I love America. It’s the country of dreams … but I wonder if I will ever be able someday to declare my love.”

I’d say that depends on what happens a) to your fear of peer-group disapproval, and b) to your peer group. As long as Egyptians, Arabs, Muslims, define fairness as siding with Palestinian irredentism, as long as anything short of condemning Israel and promoting Palestinian demands is considered betrayal, as long as they cannot imagine what “an other’s perspective” might be like, and temper their feelings accordingly, they condemn themselves — and the Palestinians — to misery whether they get their way or not.

So the Grey Lady has once again treated its reading public to demopathic discourse, full of human rights talk with a nod to semi-self-critical comments about Arab dictators, but nothing even remotely resembling Arab self-criticism about the way they have shamelessly exploited Palestinian suffering for sixty years now.

And the overall message sounds remarkably like a call to Eurabia: abandon Israel, take our side, and we’ll like you. But whatever you do, don’t expect us to be fair to Israel… or, for that matter, to the Palestinian people.

8 Responses to Arab disappointment with Obama: The Musings of an Unconscious Demopath

  1. You know, I have to tell you, I really enjoy this blog and the insight from everyone who participates. I find it to be refreshing and very informative. I wish there were more blogs like it. Anyway, I felt it was about time I posted, Ive spent most of my time here just lurking and reading, but today for some reason I just felt compelled to say this.

  2. JD says:

    Delusional. I guess an Arab saying he speaks for the “Muslim World” is Arab Hubris, but Obama seems to think one is the same.

    “we expected him to take a stand against Israel’s war on Gaza.”

    Why should he? Almost all the Euro and Arab governments did not. I doubt he is unaware of Iran and Hamas making this point, but knows his NYT audience is unknowledgeable.

    “We expected him to address the reports that the Israeli military illegally used white phosphorus against the people of Gaza.”

    That’s what you get when you believe the left wing Western anti-semites trying to frame the Jews with any conceivable crime on the books. I recall some tried to revive the “depleted uranium” canard, but that flopped.

    “We also wanted Mr. Obama, who studied law and political science at the greatest American universities, to recognize what we see as a simple, essential truth: the right of people in an occupied territory to resist military occupation.”

    The West Bank is occupied, Gaza is not. If a blockade is the same, Egypt is not just as guilty, but maybe more. People should study how they handled the Gazans when they were part of Egypt! Very little transit allowed.

    Of course he knows this. I would not say he is milking it, I think he is within the ambit of Western discourse over the dispute.

  3. [...] admin wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptWe hear the voice of a self-identified moderate, who would like Egypt and the Arab world to have democracies, and a good relationship with the US and Obama, but when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, continues to pursue the …. launch into a diatribe against Israel based purely on Palestinian sources (and their halo-bearing NGO and UN allies)… is that a betrayal of fairness, or, in fact the decidedly fair practice of withholding judgment until one has firm evidence? … [...]

  4. E.G. says:

    Heh, La Fontaine’s 17th century short-sighted goat swore by its beard.
    By the Enlightenment of the 18th century, one of Mozart’s characters swears by the Prophet’s beard.

    The Abduction from the Seraglio, Act I
    THIRD SCENE
    Osmin, Belmonte, Pedrillo

    Dialogue

    OSMIN
    alone
    I could just do with another rascal like Pedrillo. If only he had not got into the Pasha’s good books the way he has, he’d have been strung up long ago.

    PEDRILLO
    Is the barometer pointing to «stormy weather» again? Why can we not make peace for once?

    OSMIN
    Make peace with you? I’d like to wring your neck!

    PEDRILLO
    But tell me: why? why?

    OSMIN
    Why? Because I can’t stand you.

    No. 3 – Aria

    OSMIN
    Popinjays sprung up from nowhere
    Who do nothing but ogle women,
    I can’t put up with them.
    All they ever do
    Is to watch our every step,
    But I’m not duped by types like that!

    Your deceipt and your plots,
    Your schemes and your tricks,
    I know them all.
    If you’d get the better of me
    You’d have to be cunning indeed.
    I’ve got some sense too.

    Therefore, by the Prophet’s beard,
    By day and by night I rack my brains,
    And I won’t rest until I see you killed,
    No matter how much care you take.

    PEDRILLO
    You really are a wicked old fellow, and I have done you no harm at all.

    OSMIN
    You’ve got the face of a gallows, and that is enough for me.

    First you’ll be beheaded,
    Then you’ll be hanged,
    Then impaled
    On red hot spikes,
    Then burned,
    Then manacled
    And drowned;
    Finally flayed alive.

    off into the house

  5. Cynic says:

    Perhaps the most eloquent expression of this came from one Egyptian blogger: “I love America. It’s the country of dreams …

    The America of today, you love?
    It is a country of infidels without sharia? So where do you stand, Muslim?
    You would put America above Islam?
    There are so many questions to put to you to find where your honour would end and where your shame would begin to see if it is just the ease of putting those words into a browser window or if you truly understand the meaning of loving America.

  6. Cynic says:

    RL,

    Don’t forget the Egyptian massacres of Yeminis in the 1960s using gas and chemical weapons to get a regime change.
    At one stage he had over 50,000 troops in Yemen.
    Nasser was a big hero.

  7. JD says:

    I change my opinion.

    This guy is very clever. Perhaps it shows the most where he signals the “we will like you if…” dilemma. A dilemma, because, many American chatterers are susceptible to those appeals. Indeed, Obama manipulates (or believes in) the sentiment when he talks about “the world”, “liking us again.”

  8. oao says:

    or if you truly understand the meaning of loving America.

    take a wild guess. if americans today don’t understand, would a muslim?

    JD,

    you got it.

    Indeed, Obama manipulates (or believes in) the sentiment when he talks about “the world”, “liking us again.”

    i don’t think he really knows what he’s talking about. he’s just trying to be loved and he uses language which he knows the gullible will swallow.

    the best piece on alibama is:

    http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Front_Page/KA22Aa01.html

    that’s all you need to know.

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