Monday,27 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1153, 20 - 26 June 2013
Monday,27 May, 2019
Issue 1153, 20 - 26 June 2013

Ahram Weekly

‘Look back in anger’

It is a love/hate relationship between Egypt and the US! In fact you can include the whole of the Middle East, except for Israel. Since the establishment of the state of Israel, the US has not been wildly popular in the region, but it has never suffered such an incredible loss of influence as it has at present. It is of some comfort that Israel is the fourth least popular country in the world, ranking ahead of only Iraq, North Korea and Pakistan. But what comfort does the US provide?

During the Bush years American popularity sank to under 10 per cent. Hopes were raised with the election of Obama, for the birth of an era of friendship and trust.

At his Cairo University speech, which I was privileged, or not so privileged to attend, Obama promised “a new beginning between the US and Muslims around the world based on common interests, respect and principles”. There he stood, this absolute master who could with one word change our destiny, make our fortunes or fulfil our dreams. The applause was deafening amidst cries of “we love you Obama”. There was no reason to love him, as there was no reason to award him the Nobel Prize for Peace, but there was this promise, this hope.

Without the truly divine gift of hope how could we cross the hideous desert of despair? Little by little our hope took flight.

Where do Obama and the US stand now? According to a new Pew and Zogby poll, American favourability rating is under 10 per cent in the Middle East, one per cent in Egypt. Given the calamitous consequences of the Muslim Brotherhood administration, ushered in with the aid of Obama and his secretary of state, it is one per cent too many. One should not fail to include the US ambassador in our capital.

What is wrong with US foreign policy? Whatever happened to such representatives as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin? Now they send no scholars, no men or women of wit, depth or understanding. They send amateurs who have not even the slightest idea of the significance of their mission. They usually dig themselves in their assigned capitals, inventing papers and reports which they send to their seniors that remain unread. They care little; officials in Washington care less. How else can you justify the debacle at Benghazi, which took the lives of four Americans? It is a scandal of mammoth proportions, and the cover-up was even worse. Ah, the pity of it!

After WWI, the world admired America, its principles of democracy, freedom and self-determination. When it led the Allies to victory in WWII, the world was in awe of its might and power. We fell in love with all things American, from movies to hamburgers and blue jeans.

A cold sorrowful contempt fills our hearts as we slowly realise that regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, US policy towards the Middle East remains static, stagnant and stupid. Its colossal mistake revolves around its blind support for the region’s number one enemy. There is also that small matter of oil. It is bewildering that with their desperate need for oil, they make no concessions to the Arabs. They can resort to war of course to protect their oil, above all to preserve and protect Israel.

Was the American determination to spread democracy in the region a bad joke? Do you see any democracies? Are the lofty principles of freedom of speech, freedom of worship, women’s rights, the rule of law reserved for first class citizens of the world?

History is replete with tragic blunders of American foreign policy. The novel by Eugene Burdick and William J. Lederer, The Ugly American (1958), begins with the fictional ambassador Sears viewing the Sarkhanese population as “strange little monkeys”. The book describes the indifference, arrogance and incompetence of US officials in Southeast Asia. It is easily applicable today not only here but around the world. Have they learned nothing?

Anti-Americanism is rampant and they only have themselves to blame. Americans sadly go on their way towards a desert they know they have traversed before, with a total loss of memory, and a persistent disregard of the negative image they constantly draw. Tourists and diplomats alienate the world with their offensive image of the ugly American. Their acts are tasteless, their jokes humourless. They have yet to learn that the greatest eloquence is knowing when to remain silent.

There is almost a conscious desire to forget. Psychologists believe that one of the reasons we forget is the failure to successfully transfer and store information to the realm of longtime memory. After long years in wielding influence around the world, Americans remain clueless. Is it a case of “not knowing” or “not storing” information about other cultures, or is it simply a case of not even wanting to know? If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, no knowledge can be drastic.

European anti-Americanism is as old as America itself. Many ideologists who migrated to the US believing it to be a bastion of liberty have found it a fraudulent image, and many have returned to their native lands. This may have led English writer Samuel Johnson to ask in 1775: “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?” Today there is a black man in the White House, but the blind policy remains unchanged.


“I am willing to love all mankind — except an American”.

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

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