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Is the Global Financial Crisis Aggravating Anti-Americanism in the MENA Region? What Arab Media Coverage Suggests

Issue 11, Summer 2010

By Diana Turecek

Cameras outside the Lehman Brothers building in New York at the start of the crisis

Cameras outside the Lehman Brothers building in New York at the start of the crisis

The global financial crisis has been a much discussed topic in Arab media in the past couple of years and in many blogs and discussion forums, in particular, it has been a magnet for criticism of US foreign policy. Coverage of the crisis in “traditional” outlets such as Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, and many domestic newspapers is often factual and focused on economic issues, but many commentators in blogs and discussion forums link the crisis to, among other things, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and to a perceived immorality with which the United States deals with the downtrodden and poor. Most of the arguments reinforce existing negative arguments about the United States and its role internationally and in the Middle East. Some say the global financial crisis represents the first concrete sign of the inevitable downfall of the United States, which the likes of Osama Bin Laden have been talking about for years.


 

Although it is not clear the extent to which criticisms of the United States over the global financial crisis in blogs, discussion forums, and to a lesser extent Arab media reflect or impact broader public opinion, the criticisms highlight the extent to which some in the region view even seemingly apolitical economic issues within the context of US foreign policy. They suggest a strong mistrust of US intentions and a continued decrease in respect for US power and influence. Many commentators say the financial crisis is further evidence that the United States has lost or is losing its ability to wage future wars, drive global economic growth and development, or promote its overall foreign policy goals. In response, the Arab world needs to identify ways to reduce or eliminate dependence on the United States and increase regional cooperation, many of them say.


 

Arab media generally have not linked the US economic crisis and the global spillover directly to the widespread problems of unemployment and poverty in many countries in the region. A March 2009 discussion on Al Jazeera’s The Economy and the People, suggests that one of the reasons for this is that Arab media in general have not addressed the effects of the crisis on the man on the street but have focused primarily on its impact on regional or local stock markets and investors. Guests on the Al Jazeera program indicated the reasons for this may include, among other factors: reporting on the financial crisis is new for many journalists and they are uncertain how they should cover it; in Morocco, most of the reporting on the financial crisis is in French, which may lead many poorer Moroccans to believe it involves only Europe and the United States; and Arab governments may be discouraging journalists from reporting on the effects of the crisis.1 Others suggest some Arab governments have not been entirely transparent about the crisis and have downplayed any impact on employment, possibly because it would antagonize students and others already discouraged by poor job prospects. 2 Aside from these points, the economic conditions of the many unemployed and poor in countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco have been extremely difficult for years, significantly reducing the possibility they would accept arguments that put much of the blame for these problems on the United States.


 

The most common criticisms of the US role in the global financial crisis revolve around four general themes: 1) capitalism has failed and the world needs to adopt a more just Islamic system 2) the United States has been and will continue to exploit countries in the Middle East to get itself out of the crisis and cannot be trusted 3) the Arab world should take advantage of the US weakness to enhance its own influence 4) The US empire and global hegemony are coming to an end. For the most part, the negative commentary on the crisis does not reflect broader Arab media coverage but represents the ways in which selected individuals—including in Arab media—have presented the crisis in public arguments. Details of these arguments include:


 

  1. Capitalism has failed and the world needs to adopt a more just Islamic system. This is perhaps the most widespread commentary related to the crisis. Al Jazeera in particular has had many discussions on the merits of an Islamic versus capitalist system but the issue also has been addressed in many traditional media outlets.3456

While much of the discussion of the merits of capitalism in traditional media outlets examines both the pros and cons of capitalism, commentators in blogs and discussion forums, in particular, focus on its moral shortcomings. They criticize capitalism for being based on greed, corruption, and deceit and say it aggravates tensions between rich and poor both within and among countries. In a report on a conference at Al Azhar University in Cairo, for example, kharajeh.com quotes the Director of the Saleh Kamel Center for Islamic Economy at Al Azhar as saying that usury and investments involving “deceit”, “gambling”, and speculation are the key sources of the crisis.7 At a similar conference at Cairo University, alnabanews.com cites Egyptian economist Ahmed al Najjar as arguing that the US financial crisis occurred in part because profit-seeking companies produced more than workers could consume with their limited incomes, forcing them to take out loans to finance purchases such as houses and cars.8 Finally, Tunisian author Khalid Tawari opines in a March 2009 article on AlJazeera.net that the stock market has diverged from its originally envisioned role of facilitating the provision of capital to become a 24-hour global casino in which investors are able to play with people’s lives and money for their own benefit. 9

Anti-capitalist arguments have also been integrated into public protests, particularly in Egypt. Extensive protests in recent months by a large variety of students and workers have called for the unraveling of the capitalist system and an increase in government involvement and supervision of the economy.10 A reader commenting on a May 2010 article in the Egyptian newspaper Al Masry al Youm on a sharp drop in the Egyptian stock market complained that “unsupervised” American and other foreign investors were responsible for the downturn in the market and for stealing the money of ordinary Egyptians.11 Intellectuals also have linked capitalism and neo-liberalism (but not the United States) directly to problems of poverty and unemployment. Hamdi Abedelazim, for example, economist and former president of the Sadat Academy for Administrative Sciences in Cairo, said in an 18 January 2010 article by the InterPress Service that “Egypt’s experiment with neo-liberal economics has resulted in soaring inflation, steadily increasing unemployment, and a reduction of the average citizen’s purchasing power.” Ibrahim El-Issawi, professor of economist at the Cairo-based Institute of National Planning, argued in a December 2009 article in al Ahram that a continuation of current neo-liberal policies would lead to a “bleak future” in which “underdevelopment and dependency” persisted. 12


Those favoring an Islamic system argue that such a system is both more moral and secure.13 In the alnabanews.com report from the symposium on the global financial crisis at the University of Cairo, Abdul Hamid al Ghazali, Professor of Economics at the University of Cairo, argued that an Islamic system helps promote the good of the nation and the humanity of workers.14 Another participant at the conference said the benefits of an Islamic system were clear from the fact that the United States has 40 Islamic financial institutions that have not been affected by the crisis. In the conference at Al Azhar reported by alnabanews.com, Dr. Youssef Ibrahim Youssef, Director of the Saleh Kamel center for Islamic economy at Azhar, said the decline in interest rates in the United States to close to zero proves that the Islamic financial system is the natural way to manage an economy.15


  1. Another common argument is that The United States has been and will continue to exploit countries in the Middle East to get itself out of the crisis and cannot be trusted. Commentaries along this line question the morality of the United States and reinforce arguments such as that the United States invaded Iraq to exploit its oil. It is similar to the criticism of capitalism in that the United States is charged with enriching itself at the expense of others. In a moderated discussion of the crisis on Al Arab al Youm.com, a Jordanian who describes himself as a member of the Anti-Normalization Committee of the Jordanian Writer’s League argues that wars and plunder are one of the key ways capitalist systems get out of crises and that the United States has used and will continue to use wars for this purpose. 16 In an article on alhewaraat.com on the dangers of the American financial crisis, an Iraqi economist in France indicates that the United States will exploit the resources of the countries it is occupying to get out of its crisis because higher oil prices and increased investments from the Gulf and Asia will not be enough to address its financial imbalance.17 Finally, in response to an online discussion initiated by the Euro Arab Center for Studies in Paris on the role of Saudi Arabia at the 2009 G20 summit, several discussants thought that while the Saudi involvement in the summit was a positive sign of its perceived importance to the global economy, they did not trust US intentions and thought the United States might use Saudi Arabia in ways that were not in the Kingdom’s or the region’s best interests.18

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    1 “The Role of Arab Economic Media in Reporting on the Financial Crisis”, 16

    March 2009, Al Jazeera The Economy and the People

    2 “Arab Dialogue: How to Overcome the Economic Crisis and Counteract It?” 31 January 2009 Al Arabiya

    3 “The Reality of the Islamic Solution to the Global Economic Crisis,” 13 April

    2009, Al Jazeera.net

    4 “The Financial Crisis and the Future of the Capitalist System,” 5 January 2009,

    Al Jazeera.net

    5 “After The Global Financial System: Is This the End of Globalization?”, 12

    January 2010, daralhayat.com

    6 The Global Financial Crisis is Not the End or Fall of Capitalism”, 26 October

    2008, moheet.com

    7 “The Financial Crisis From an Islamic Perspective,” 16 May 2009,

    alkharajeh.com

    8 Alnabanews.com “America has been stealing the world’s economic resources

    since 2002”. 12 May 2010

    9 Khaled Tawari, “The Stock Market Crisis and The Islamic Approach” 10

    March 2009, AlJazeera.net

    10 “400 Demonstrations in Cairo to Increase Wages”, 3 April 2010, Al Jazeera.net

    11 “Black Tuesday Hits the World…The Egyptian Stock Market Falls 3 Percent

    Amidst Downturn in Global Markets” 23 May 2010, Al Masry Al Youm

    12 “Egypt: Economists Blame Neo-Liberalism for Region’s Woes”, 18 January

    2010, Inter Press Service

    13 “Arab Dialogue: How to Overcome the Economic Crisis and Counteract It?”

    31 January 2009 Al Arabiya

    14 “The Financial Crisis From an Islamic Perspective,” 16 May 2009,

    alkharajeh.com

    15 Alnabanews.com “America has been stealing the world’s economic resources

    since 2002”. 12 May 2010

    16 Discussion in response to the following question: “What do you think are some

    solutions to the global financial crisis?” 24 May 2009 alarabalyawn.net

    17 “The Seriousness of the US financial crisis For the Global Economy” 4/4/2008.

    www.hewaraat.com.

    18“How do you evaluate the role of Saudi Arabia at the Group of 20 Summit?”

    www.ceea.com 31 May 2009

    19 “Obama Renews His Commitment to the Arab World” 13 May 2010, Al

    Jazeera.net (examples of reader  comments that the US held the summit to attract

    Arab funds to bail the US out of its financial crisis). See also “Mahmoud Jooma “The

    Summit of Entrepreneurs…Extortion and Acquiescence”, Al Jazeera.net 12 May

    2010.

    20 “The New American Prank”, 29 April 2010, Fahmy Howeidy,

    Maktoobblog.com

    21 10 May 2010 poll open to respondents through the Middle East and conducted

    through Yahoo! Maktoob’s online research panel.

    22 “Foreign Policy of the United States of America.” “elaph.com/blog Hassam

    Digni 2/17/2010.

    23 “The Islamic World Between Dependence and Independence” 10 April

    2010 www.shareah.com

    24 “Where Are We in the Raging War Between the United States and China?” 8

    February 2010, www.aleqt.com

    25 “The United States Economy Declines: Stop Squandering Money” 17 January

    2010 Mutawassitonline.com

    26 “Arab Dialogue: How to Overcome the Economic Crisis and Counteract It?”

    31 January 2009 Al Arabiya

    27 “Accountability is Key to Reform,” 15 May 2010, The Daily Star

    28 “The United States Economy Declines: Stop Squandering Money” 17 January

    2010 Mutawassitonline.com

    29 Ali, Issam. “The Financial Crisis: Risks and Opportunities. 13 September 2009,

    Ikwahnonline.com

    30 “Financial Crisis of 2009, The Important America”, mbc.net