U.S. policies in the Arab world must be seen to resonate with its values

Nussaibah Younis writes: Secretary of state John Kerry tried to suppress publication of the CIA torture report, citing fears of a blowback against US targets in the Middle East. But the truth is that the region barely flinched in response to the publication of the 528-page document.

Almost all state-run media in the region ignored the report entirely, keen to play down their complicity in rendition programmes and their own rampant use of torture in domestic prisons. And the public in Arab countries took the revelations simply as confirmation of facts that they had long believed to be true. That the report has prompted such uproar in the US is comic to a region that expects dastardly behaviour from the US. If anything, many in the Arab world suspect that these admissions are just a small part of a much wider set of abuses yet to be exposed.

Despite the muted reaction, the revelations of the CIA’s extensive use of torture are extremely damaging to the US and to the west in general. The details are already being used as ammunition by Islamic State (Isis) to discredit the coalition intervention in Syria and Iraq, and will also severely undermine US efforts to prevent the use of torture in the Middle East.

The fact remains, however, that for those in the Middle East, the US lost its moral authority long before the publication of this report, largely because of its interventions in the Arab-Israeli conflict and its support of authoritarian governments. US partiality on the Israel-Palestine conflict has been shown to undercut its moral legitimacy in the region, with more than 80% of Jordanians, Moroccans, Saudis and Lebanese believing that the US has not been even-handed in its efforts to negotiate a solution.

Continued US support for repressive governments has also undermined confidence in the country. In September, President Obama gave a speech at the Clinton Global Initiative declaring: “Partnering and protecting civil society groups around the world is now a mission across the US government.” At the same time, his administration has fought to bypass pro-democracy conditions on military aid to Egypt, and last week achieved its goal by inserting a “national security” waiver into the spending bill expected to be passed by Congress soon. This is despite the fact that the government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has mounted a fierce attack against civil society organisations in Egypt, forcing many of them to suspend their operations or leave the country. [Continue reading…]

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