Do Arab views on white nationalism hide more than they reveal?

A man gestures the OK sign that is now seen as a symbol of white supremacy, as hundreds gathered during a Proud Boys rally at Delta Park in Portland, Oregon on September 26, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 27 October 2020

Do Arab views on white nationalism hide more than they reveal?

  • Arab News/YouGov survey asked residents of 18 Arab countries about their idea of the three biggest threats facing the US
  • Complex set of sentiments and emotions cited behind Arab views on racial strife abroad given the divisions closer to home

NEW YORK CITY: When George Floyd drew his last breath under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer on May 25 this year, footage of his death flooded television screens and social media platforms around the world.

Months later, civil unrest continues to rage across the US. Americans from all walks of life are marching to demand equality, justice and the abolition of institutional racism, especially among the police, under the flag of Black Lives Matter.

Floyd’s death also struck a painful chord in the Arab world. From Cairo to Beirut, vigils were held for this African-American victim of police brutality — another “one too many.”

Arab empathy, however, appears to be mitigated by a complex set of sentiments and emotions in response to racial strife in America.

When a recent Arab News/YouGov survey asked Arabs across 18 Middle East and North African countries what they believe are the three biggest threats facing America, white nationalism came out first with 32 percent.

Emad El-Hady, Washington-based author and political analyst, believes there is an element of schadenfreude in the way Arabs view the US race protests as highlighting the chronic inequality between whites and ethnic minorities.


“Part of the Arab reaction was: ‘Look at America! This is the country that is lecturing us day and night about human rights! Now, look at how they treat their people!’” he said.

“But also, to a certain extent, (survey participants) are right in singling out white nationalism. There is a lot of talk today that America is on the verge of a civil war, because the tension is really high. But I think this could only happen if the election results are disputed, and more likely so if Trump loses.”

Donald Trump, the White House incumbent, has been accused by his critics of flirting with the white nationalist vote and refusing to condemn ‘alt-right’ movements. This stance has been interpreted by groups such as the far-right Proud Boys as a rallying cry for them to prepare to fight a “fraudulent” election on Nov. 3, “rigged by the far-left.”

Beyond the ghost of “civil war” brandished by US media commentators on both sides of the partisan divide, El-Hady believes America has reached a reckoning. “Let’s not forget that racism is 400 years old and cannot be overcome overnight. But now, a lot of white people are looking back and saying, ‘What have we done to these people?’”

However, El-Hady says his own views are in closer alignment with the 22 percent of participants in the Arab News/YouGov survey who identified China as the biggest threat to the US.

“White nationalism is containable and contained. But who can beat China? It is the biggest threat because it has beaten the West at its own game. Beijing played into the hands of market capitalism but with an advantage of being a one-man show. Here in the US, we fight every election over immigration, healthcare, arms possession. In China, the guy just has to press a button and the problem is solved.”

It could be that those Arabs who say white nationalism is America’s greatest peril are in fact exposing their own anxieties about ethnicity, sectarianism and violent extremism.

“Islamic extremism, be it in its Salafist or Muslim Brotherhood versions, uses force to change the world view, starting in their own country, and expanding to include infidels of other nations. Look what just happened in France,” El-Hady said, referring to Samuel Paty, a teacher who was beheaded near his school on Oct. 6 for showing cartoons of Prophet Muhammad in class.

The perpetrator, an 18-year-old ethnic Chechen named as Abdullakh Anzorov, is alleged to have had ties to Islamic extremist groups abroad.

A supporter of US President Donald Trump wears a "Proud Boys" shirt prior to his arrival for NBC News town hall event at the Perez Art Museum in Miami on October 15, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

“These terrorist organizations that have plagued the Arab world are much more dangerous than white nationalism,” said El-Hady.

Arabs also appear to relate to the inequality suffered by ethnic minorities in America, with 35 percent of them identifying inequality is the biggest woe for average Americans.

“When Egyptians took to the streets they chanted: ‘Bread. Freedom. Social justice.’ Iraqis rose in anger against corruption, the lack of opportunity, and inequality. And it took Algerians three months to unseat a government amid high unemployment. Libya is tearing itself apart. Sudan’s deprivation is unrivaled. And Yemen is a poor country by definition,” El-Hady said.

“It is all about a fair share of the wealth and opportunity. This is a very American term upon which the whole American model is based — that everybody should have a shot at wealth, success, and education. If America is failing at this, what do you expect from the Arab world?”


Twitter: @EphremKossaify

Egyptian festival celebrates Aragouz traditions

Updated 25 November 2020

Egyptian festival celebrates Aragouz traditions

  • The festival this year sheds light on the creative icons that inspired the aragouz

CAIRO: The second Egyptian Aragouz Festival has opened on Nov. 24, at the ancient Bayt Al-Sinnari, in Cairo. The aragouz is a traditional puppet figure dressed in red invented by Egyptians to ridicule situations comically.

Khaled Bahgat, a professor of theater at Helwan University and the founder of the festival and the Wamda Troupe for Aragouz and Shadow Puppets, said the festival is part of the initiative to preserve the Egyptian aragouz, after it was recognized by UNESCO in 2018 as one of the most important Egyptian artistic elements. He said that he wants the Egyptian art of aragouz to reach the world because it is an ancient Egyptian art.

The festival this year sheds light on the creative icons that inspired the aragouz.

The festival opened with a tribute to the great Egyptian creator Abu Al-Saud Al-Abyari in a reading of his story “Aragouz, Author and Idea,” which he published in 1953. Al-Aragouz was an important source of creativity for Al-Abyari.

The reading was followed by entries exploring how the art of aragouz shaped Egyptian comedy in the twentieth century.

The day closed with puppet performances of “The social media aragouz,” which reflected the impact of social media, directed by Ali Abu Zeid, and “The aragouz in the city,” directed by Nabil Bahgat.

On the second day, Reem Heggab will honor her father the late Egyptian poet Said Heggab, reciting one of his poems on the aragouz. This will be followed by two aragouz shows, “The Take Away,” directed by Mahmoud Sayed Hanafi, and “Aragouz, the Land of Myths.”

On Thursday, the theater department of the University of Alexandria will celebrate the aragouz with a lecture by Hany Abou El-Hassan, the head of the department, a workshop and a performance titled “Lorca and the aragouz,” directed by Nabil Bahgat and presented by the Wamda Troupe.

The performance honors the creativity of the Spanish poet and innovator Federico García Lorca, and will be held in the presence of the Spanish cultural attache.

The fourth day of the festival will honor the poet Fouad Haddad, whose son Amin Haddad will recite several poems from his father’s book of poetry entitiled Al-Aragouz. The poetry reading will be followed by a discussion.

Then there will be performances of “Aragouz Al Sima,” directed by Mustafa Al-Sabbagh, and “Al-Aragouz in Danger,” which deals with the greatest challenges facing the art of aragouz.

On the last day, the Faculty of Arts at Helwan University and the Department of Theater Sciences’ troupe will hold an open seminar with the department’s students to discuss ways to preserve the Egyptian aragouz.