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Opinion: Thanks to Hollywood, Arabs have an inflated sense of US power | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A man walks past a ‘No Crossing’ street sign covered with stickers in Hollywood, California on August 14, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Frederic J. BROWN

In the 1960s, Mutiny on the Bounty was screened in Egyptian cinemas. It was jokingly rumored that the then-president, Gamal Abel Nasser, told his PR manager to send a telegram in support of the rebels. The joke is not only cruel, but also bitter. It indirectly mocks Nasser’s readiness to support any “rebellion,” on the assumption that all rebels have experienced injustice.

It appears that history is repeating itself. The political forces in the Arab region have failed to realize that the main catalyst of the events has been internal, not external, and that outside players offer nothing more than verbal condemnation.

Both sides of the conflict in Egypt claim that the US supports the other side. There is no need to cite examples given that anyone overseeing the media, whether written or audiovisual, can hear and see the accusations both sides exchange.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s slogans and stances are clear. They not only condemn the US for siding with what they call the “Putschists,” they also adopt delusory slogans like “Down with America” and “Down with Israel.” At the same time, the Brotherhood praises the stance of Senator John McCain and his colleagues to the extent that they claim that US politicians are on the side of Mohamed Mursi.

In contrast, many media outlets and politicians in Egypt accuse the US of supporting and empowering the Brotherhood in Egypt, while still expecting them to establish friendly relations with Israel on the other. Nevertheless, wise viewers will realize that politicians twist facts in order to win supporters and tarnish the reputation of their rivals.

It is widely believed in the Arab world that the power and determination of the US are invincible and that Washington is the main player in the region. This belief has been fostered by Hollywood since the end of the Second World War. Almost all of the films that tackled the US war with Germany depicted Nazis as cruel, brutal and naïve compared to the Americans, whose heroic deeds always prove to be witty, dynamic and creative—even when they are behind enemy lines.

Movies about the US’s various wars—Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, and elsewhere—always end with the inevitable victory of the American troops, who prove to be heroes even when they are taken as prisoners by their enemy. This image of the invincible American spurred voices from the Arab world to write about the exaggerated role of the US in Arab affairs.

Such stereotypes propagated by Hollywood, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency, led ordinary Arabs to believe that the US is invincible. Even Al-Qaeda—whose power, I believe, has been exaggerated—found inspiration from Hollywood. Years before 9/11, there were several movies about some terrorist attacks carried out against US.

In reality, in its wars after 1945 the US either failed to secure victory or did not manage to achieve its declared goals. To those interested in this subject, I recommend Richard Lebow’s Why Nations Fight: Past and Future Motives for War. The book documents the US’s failuresto achieve its desired or declared goals in its main five wars after World War II.

US ability to intervene is much less than what Arabs have thought in the past. In fact, the US takes advantage of the others’ mistakes in the same way Clark Gable, the handsome protagonist in Mutiny on the Bounty, rebelled against the ship’s captain.

In an article in the Washington Post, “Egypt’s Path to a Better Future,” written by John McCain and Lindsey Graham last week after their visit to Egypt, one can see McCain’s fear over what is happening in Egypt. McCain does not sympathize with the Brotherhood. In fact, he is afraid that if the Brotherhood is removed from power, the group will turn into a “jihadist” organization that will attack widespread US interests. McCain is evidently also worried about the huge impact unrest in the region might have on the US economy, regardless of who will eventually rule the country.

In reality, politicians in Washington are under pressure take into account the interests of the US. The US formulates its stances based on its interests, rather than the facts on the ground or other peoples’ interests.

The majority of the Arab population is Muslim, and as a courageous Tunisian said: “We have been and will be Muslims before, during and after the Ennahda Movement.” The exact same remark applies to the Brotherhood in Egypt. The problem lies in the Brotherhood’s attempt to politicize Islam, and in their claims to be the exclusive representative of Islam that are motivated only by politics. Such measures go against the zeitgeist, as well as against politics in its practical sense. What’s more, the US assumption that terrorism and chaos will be the alternative to Islamism is illogical.

Many independent analysts used to think that talk about the clash between Islamism and the civil state was premature. Although I hate to rewrite my ideas, I will remind the reader of an article I wrote for Asharq Al-Awsat on December 11, 2012. I wrote: “Governments and empires have fallen only because they did not promote freedom in its full and modern sense.” I added: “The Muslim Brotherhood, throughout their long history has not shown care for freedom, whether within the organization or regarding their view of the other.” My view, like others, is that the Brotherhood is based on metaphysical rather than political discourse. Thus, I thought it would fall—and it did fall—in Egypt, and it must fall in other countries.

The Brotherhood’s failure was fully expected. If the US always takes advantage of the mistakes of the others and protects its interests, it sides with nobody but itself.