The 9/11 Anniversary Through Arab Eyes

One decade later, has anything changed? This question was asked over and over during the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. While American and Western news media, especially prominent newspapers such as The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Telegraph, published series of articles describing and analyzing the decade that followed the September attacks, I was surprised that the Arab news media, on the other side of the spectrum, did nothing but post descriptive reports and articles on how the 10th anniversary was seen by Western media and how the attacks were remembered in New York. Few analytical articles were posted by Arab news media, but the majority of them were merely readings or analysis based on articles published by Western newspapers.

However, my surprise quickly faded when I remembered that the Arab world is currently going through a turbulent phase of political and social transition. The world witnessed a number of unprecedented revolutions that have been sweeping through the region since the beginning of this year. Right now, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and, to a lesser extent, Bahrain are at the center of attention of the large Arab audiences. Contrary to the West, it appears the Arab people were too busy to take an extended moment to reflect on the 10th Anniversary of the September attacks.

Right now, the Arab countries can be divided into three categories: countries that are trying very hard to put their house in order after the revolutions, countries that are still fighting against repressive regimes and bleeding to achieve a revolution, and countries that are racing against time to introduce tangible reforms to appease the growing anger of their citizens before it is too late. In the midst of these conditions, it will be very hard for anyone in the Arab world to go back 10 years in time and ask what happened and why, and what has been achieved since then.

Yet, it would be a mistake to think that the Arab world does not care about the anniversary of the September 11 attacks—it’s just that the anniversary is not the top priority in the Arab region at the moment. However, I do consider that the current Arab revolutions were a reaction to the 10 years of ‘the War on Terror,’ which began after the 9/11 attacks, and to the setbacks that were brought on the region as a result of this war. When the Bush Administration started ‘the War on Terror,’ the Arab world entered a harsher phase of political and social order. Many Arab leaders found in this war an opportunity to consolidate their oppressive regimes through killing opposition voices and eliminating any chance for political or social reforms. The oppressive regimes had the green light and the financial support from the Western democracies to use all possible means to combat Islamic extremism even if this involved, violating human rights and taking away freedoms. In the middle of this raging war the leaders forgot to address the economic and social well being of their citizens, which transformed the Arab streets into a ticking bomb that was triggered by the Tunisians.

The low popularity rates of Western democracies—especially the United States—in Arab countries should not come as a surprise. These rates are a logical outcome of the events that took place over the decade following the September attacks, beginning with the war in Afghanistan, the Iraq invasion, housing prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the stagnant Israeli-Palestinian peace process and ending with the endorsement of oppressive regimes through the region.  The Cairo speech delivered in 2009 by President Obama harmed the U.S. reputation more than anything else because Obama held himself, in front Arab masses, to big promises he never delivered on.

Obviously the American foreign policy toward the Arab world should undergo deep revisions as it has proved to be highly ineffective. Maybe the solution will be in adopting more soft power strategies that aim at constructing better socio-economic conditions in the Arab region. Unfortunately, this might be hard to accomplish, as the U.S. must first solve its internal economic issues before taking care of other businesses especially those related to foreign policy.   

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