Home The Arab Street Is Still Angry
Home The Arab Street Is Still Angry

The Arab Street Is Still Angry

Much like Festivus, American diplomacy to the Middle East usually begins with an airing of grievances. These are not the American grievances over decades of terrorism and acts of violent hatred. These are the grievances that are supposedly infuriating the Arab Street. The list begins with Israel, continues on to the “Arab Dictators” supported by America and concludes with warnings to respect Mohammed by not making any cartoons or movies about him.

During his first term, Obama kept his distance from Israel, locked up a Christian who made a movie about Mohammed and withdrew his support from the Arab Dictators. The street should have been happy, but now it's angrier than ever. And much of that anger is directed at America.

Mohamed El Baradei, once the administration's choice to take over Egypt, has refused to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry. Joining him in this boycott is much of Egypt's liberal opposition.

When Mubarak was in power, the "Arab Street" of Islamists and Egyptian leftists was angry at America for supporting him. Now the "Arab Street" of Egyptian leftists, Mubarak supporters and some Anti-Brotherhood Islamists is angry at America for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

The American foreign policy error was to assume that the political grievances of the Arab Street could be appeased with democracy. They can't be. The various factions are not truly interested in open elections. What they want is for America to elevate their faction and only their faction to power. When that doesn't happen, they denounce the government as an American puppet and warn of the great and terrible anger of the Arab Street if America doesn't make them its puppet instead.

Democracy is no solution, because none of the factions really wanted democracy for its own sake. They wanted it only as a tool to help them win. Now that the tool has failed most of them, they don't care for it anymore. And the Islamists who benefited from democracy have no enduring commitment to it. Like all the other factions, they see it as a tool. A means, not an end.

While the West views democracy as an end, the East sees it as only a means. The West believes in a system of populist power rotation. The East however is caught between a variety of totalitarian ideologies, including Islamists and local flavors of the left, who have no interest in power rotation except as a temporary strategy for total victory.

There is no actual solution to the Arab Street that will please all sides and keep their hatred of America down to a dull roar. Whichever side the United States of America backs will leave the others full of fury. If the United States doesn't back a side but maintains good relations with the government, it will still be accused of backing that government.

The only way to disprove that accusation is for the winning side to demonstrate its hostility to the United States. Accordingly even governments that are in theory friendly to the United States must demonstrate their unfriendliness as a defense against accusations that they are puppets of the infidels. And as a result, no matter whom the United States supports, all the factions, including those we support, will continue to engage in ritual displays of hostility against us.

Trying to appease the fictional construct of an Arab Street that has clear and simple demands is a hopeless scenario. It's a Catch 22 mess where every move is ultimately a losing move, no matter how promising it initially appears to be.

There is no Arab Street. The real Arab Street is the overcrowded cities full of angry men with no jobs and lots of bigotry. Their hostility to the United States has nothing to do with the sordid politics that experts insist on bringing up to prove that the Muslim world hates us with good reason. Even if this history did not exist, the United States would be just as hated. The best evidence of that is that most of the accusations that enjoy popularity on the Arab Street are entirely imaginary.

Demagogues can lead the street from bread riots to toppling governments, but what they cannot do is fix the underlying problems, let alone change the bigotry of people who blame all their problems on the foreigners, rather than on themselves. Each faction promises that the anger will subside and stability will return when it comes to power, but the anger will never go away because it's too convenient to blame America for everything. As long as America is around, no one in the Muslim world ever has to take responsibility for anything.

The United States has supported different factions in the Muslim world for the sake of stability. The latest of these is the Muslim Brotherhood. With terrorism from the religion whose name none dare speak running rampant across the world, the Muslim Brotherhood was supposed to pacify the violence by showing that Islamists could come to power without flying planes into buildings.

While Washington was culpable in supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian opposition was far more culpable for forming an alliance with the Brotherhood to overthrow Mubarak. The same Egyptian leftists who are warring with the Brotherhood now were assuring us two years ago that the Brotherhood would never come to power. They gave American policymakers and diplomats those same assurances and now they are condemning them for taking them at their word.

El Baradei was entirely willing to ride the Muslim Brotherhood's numbers to the presidency. Instead the Muslim Brotherhood rode him and then rode over him. Now El Baradei, who applied eagerly for the job of being America's puppet, is denouncing America for supporting a puppet government. America is, if anything, more the puppet of the Muslim Brotherhood than the other way around, but accusations of evil puppetry are as common a theme in the politics of the Middle East as giant puppet displays are at leftist protests in America.

Every faction in the game understands that America's goal is to achieve regional stability while ending the anger and hatred directed at it. Stating a vulnerable goal in the region is a piece of tactical clumsiness that leads the opposition to promote instability and spread anger toward America because they know that is what it fears. And so the very act of defining a "love and peace" goal not only makes attaining it completely and utterly impossible, but actually leads to the very opposite result.

Much as respecting human shields actually promotes the use of that tactic by terrorists, aiming for stability leads to instability. And so every American diplomatic initiative ends with an angry Arab Street and no peace in sight. Every American diplomatic visit leads to a choice that is bound to make America unpopular with everyone no matter what choice it makes.

The United States withdrew its support from Mubarak because it did not want to support a leader whom the proverbial Arab Street hated, but now it is stuck supporting another leader whom the Street hates. After all that effort and the sacrifice of national interests, the United States finds itself right back where it started in terms of the angry Arab Street, even while its strategic interests have taken a beating.

Washington should never have withdrawn its support from Mubarak and now that the tactic of appeasing the Arab Street has proven futile, it should stop supporting the Muslim Brotherhood out of some misplaced commitment to Muslim democracy, a mythical creature that no one in the Muslim world actually believes in, and the even more misplaced notion that the Muslim Brotherhood can restore stability to the region.

As the past year has shown us, the Muslim Brotherhood is not capable of bringing stability to Egypt, let alone the region. It is a violent sectarian organization incapable of running the country without resorting to violence. And while that alone does not distinguish it, its inherent Islamist tendencies do. Refusing to support the Muslim Brotherhood should not however lead to any further fallacies about freedom and democracy. These two attributes are not about to arrive in Egypt in any enduring form.

A chaotic Egypt will likely drift into one kind of tyranny or another. The United States should stay out of the process, providing no support to any of the factions, until a stable non-Islamist government that is willing to cooperate with the United States on security issues arises. That should be the only American criteria with respect to who rules or misrules Egypt.

The Arab Street is not America's problem. It is the problem of those who wish to rule it. If the Egyptian people truly wish democracy, then they will fight for it and obtain it without our support. If they do not, that is also their business.

America's interests in Egypt do not involve waging a democracy crusade, but keeping heavy firepower, a large population and nuclear technology out of the hands of our enemies.


  1. Daniel: Not all your readers ever watched enough "Seinfield" to know what "Festivus" refers to. A clarifying interjection that explained the term would have helped and not detracted from the flow of the sentence.

  2. semperfi4/3/13

    "Each faction promises that the anger will subsidize ...."

    I think you mean "subside".

  3. Anonymous4/3/13

    “Being a Muslim today means to be always aware that something, somewhere, is somehow offensive to Islam,” said a report issued by WHO, a specialized agency of the UN that acts as a coordinating authority on international public health. “It is a shame to see the wealthiest nations of the world stingily hold on to their pockets in the face of the largest epidemic of reality-induced psychological disorder in human history.”

    The WHO report provides a list of symptoms of the Offended Muslim Syndrome, suggesting that the condition be officially recognized as a disability, with the ensuing costs covered by Western governments. The report also includes advice and recommendations by leading UN-affiliated health professionals:

    Symptoms of Offended Muslim Syndrome (OMS)

    Irritability, agitation, anxiety at the sight of women who are not fully covered

    Prolonged rage or unexplained killing sprees

    Significant changes in immigration patterns

    Brooding about the past glory of the Caliphate

    Decreased effectiveness and minimal work productivity

    Difficulty in understanding new information without a trial lawyer

    Feelings of despair or hopelessness about the existence of Israel

    Recurring thoughts of death to the infidels


    Great stuff. Read it all.


  4. Anonymous4/3/13

    DG wrote: What they want is for America to elevate their faction and only their faction to power.

    How true. All they want is to be puppets of America, gets lots of Jizya, while claiming they are Islamic and independent of the Great Satan. If they cant get that, then they want a Green card.


  5. Anonymous4/3/13

    Egypt particularly is a mess, David Goldman has written extensively about the totally intractable problems they face. All their problems are self inflicted, they insist on adherence to a religion that condemns its followers to ignorance and poverty. What politics they have outside of islam is largely a national socialist nanny state where innovation and initiative are discouraged. A time traveler from biblical times would find Egyptian agriculture very familiar: Peasants occupying small tracts of fertile land and barely making enough to survive. The only solution is that THEY have to change, otherwise the catastrophe will unfold. It would not surprise me if 30 million Egyptians died of starvation/malnutrition and entirely treatable diseases over the next decade. The tragedy is that they are entirely typical of the Arab world.
    All the best and thank you for a wonderful blog.
    roger in florida

  6. Anonymous4/3/13

    If you are a patriotic American, the policy of the US toward Egypt is, as you say, confused, feckless, counterproductive, fraught with contradictions and doomed to perpetual chaos.
    IF, on the other hand, you are a Muslim in the White House, then American policy toward Egypt is working like a well oiled machine.

    Patriotic Americans, if they understood Islam ( in other words, if they would take the time to read the Koran from cover to cover ) would subscribe to the following:

    The US government, at the highest levels, should declare it to be the policy of the US that Islam is not a religion but an evil, alien, enemy ideology.
    Islam is an aggressive power that seeks world domination by violence, intimidation and terror.
    Islam has proven itself to be an existential threat to the US and all of Western Civilization.
    Islam is implacable, as long as it exists, it will never live at peace with it's neighbors but will always seek eventual and ultimate destruction of it's neighbors.
    Therefore, it should be the policy of the US at the highest level, to dedicate itself to the eradication of Islam from the face of the earth.

    And the first step in implementing this policy should be to Seize Islamic Oil.

    The fundamental problem in Egypt was it's conversion to Islam after the Muslim conquest of 641.
    Until that fundamental problem is solved, no politically correct American policy of half measures is going to save Egypt from itself.

  7. I disagree with a lot of what you write but I agree with this piece wholeheartedly.

    The fundamental problem as far as people in the West not understanding the Arab Street, if you ask me, is cognitive egocentrism. People just naturally assume that others think similar to, and are motivated by the same things, as they are. So when an American sees that Muslims are shouting and rioting in the streets, or strapping on a suicide vest, they think, even sub-consciously "wow, those people must have some serious, real grievances, because for me to do those extreme things I would have to have some serious, real grievances."

    What that American is not recognizing is that in the Muslim world anger and injustice are not correlated at all. In fact, they are usually anti-correlated. It is indeed usually the more well-off, middle class people that become suicide bombers, for instance. Those countries are largely hierarchical honor/shame societies, where the notions of public engagement that are familiar to us don't really apply.

  8. What a traveler's nightmare: they were trying to navigate the Arab street and than discovered there is no Arab street. Time to change their navigation method.

  9. There has always been one solution to the Arab Street, namely, use force to make them chuck Islam and forget Muhammad. It could have been done a century ago, but instead the West gave Islam a pass and tore itself apart with two world wars, giving sick Islam time to get well and begin the first stages of relaunching the Great Jihad, only this time with nukes.

    So it must still be done, but this time we have to bite the bullet and make power-sharing deals with China and India, giving them more power in the new Islam-free world.

    Only I have a working plan on the table, the Winslow Plan. Study it and hope one day the non-Muslim world will wake up and do it:


  10. Anonymous4/3/13

    Democracy and human rights are impossible in the Muslim Middle East. Until people accept that truth, the only way to stop the terrorist's is to render the entire area, except Israel, a war zone and use any and all means to eliminate them. Of course this will never happen until Christ returns to earth who is the only one that will bring peace. Unfortunately, most of the world's population will be gone because most of the world's population doesn't believe in Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.


  11. Anonymous6/3/13

    The "Arab street" is always angry and always will be as long as better ways of living are known to them.

    The problem is cultural (or social), bone-deep, and will never change so long as Islam rules their world.

    A long time ago it became apparent to me that Islam is just Arab tribal patriarchy made sacred. If a Muslim takes that religion seriously and literally — and I'll assume the Arab street does — then it imposes limits and views towards others that are incompatible with the modern world.

    Frankly, I don't see any way out of this situation until Islam's theological opposition to modernity reaches a resolution.

    Call me Skeptic.

  12. Anonymous9/3/13

    If we could turn Arab street anger into electricity, we would have a long term sustainable energy source. The only disadvantage would be the burning and smoke - not quite CO2 free.



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