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Comparing Washington with Arab unrest is insulting

Aya Ibrahim
January 8, 2021

Comparisons making the rounds of the rioting in front of Capitol Hill with the Arab world uprisings have gone viral on media outlets. That's not just stupid, but offensive, says Aya Ibrahim.

Protesters storming Capitol Hill
Some commentators have lumped together the protests in Washington with the Arab Spring uprisingsImage: Shannon Stapleton/REUTERS

 As the world woke up to barbaric images of Donald Trump supporters storming Congress, some US observers were quick to draw parallels between what they saw at home and so-called Third World countries. An ABC reporter exclaimed that she felt like she was in Baghdad. One CNN commentator said: "Where we're headed looks more like Syria than the United States of America."

I understand the temptation to make these comparisons. After all, we are more used to government buildings being raided, riots and states of emergency coming from my part of the world than from the land of the free and home of the brave. But what is happening in the US is the antithesis of what has been happening in the Arab region over the past decade. Making that comparison, regardless of intent, is insulting to us.

Protesting for freedom and the right to vote

DW's Aya Ibrahim
DW's Aya IbrahimImage: Robert Richter/DW

When my fellow Egyptians took to the streets in 2011, storming a couple of government buildings along the way, they did not do so to overturn the results of a legitimate election. In fact, they did it for the right to vote in fair elections. They did not cause violence to take away the presidency from someone who has legally earned it. They did so in rebellion against an autocrat, Hosni Mubarak, who was ironically in power for so long, at least in part, thanks to US foreign policy in the Middle East.

The same applies to Iraq. For over a year, young people there have risked their lives on the streets for a chance to end the decadeslong cycle of violence perpetrated, in part, by the US invasion in 2003. The comparison to Syria is just as tone deaf. As activist Omar Alshogre points out, when people in his home country started protesting there it was for freedom. In my reporting for DW, I have met many protesters from my generation in places like Sudan and Lebanon. My conversations with them could not be more distant from what we have heard Trump supporters say over the past couple of days.

America should take a long, hard look at itself

These comparisons also falsely suggest that violence is somehow exclusive to the Middle East. They frame unrest as an inherent quality to these sad, distant, troubled people in that sad, distant troubled part of the world. The reality is, this unrest is sadly very American and utterly unsurprising.

This is a country that still suffers from racism, endemic inequality and voter suppression. This is a country that has been marinating in hateful rhetoric coming from its highest office for the past four years. Drawing comparisons to the Middle East is an inappropriate and infuriating distraction from where America is right now.

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