Attack on U.S. Capitol a Clarion Call for Change

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region


The strength of the US democracy and its institutional safeguards has come under scrutiny after last week’s attack on the US Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump. The violent insurrection cast in stark relief the longstanding political and social divisions that propelled him into the White House in 2016. For many in the region, the violence served as a warning of the need for immediate action to stem the populist tide in both the US and their own countries. Some, unsurprisingly, have instrumentalized the shocking events in Washington to score political points.

Reflecting on the events of January 6, Khaleej Times’ Anamika Chatterjee argues that the “born in the USA” Capitol violence is a symptom of a deep-seated malaise that has gripped the United States for some time now:The riot caused by Trump supporters is a malaise that has seeped way too deep into American consciousness. The world is stunned. But should it really be? After all, this is a presidential term marked and marred by paranoia — about facts versus alternate facts, news versus fake news, state versus deep state, Americans versus non-Americans among several other binaries…. What transpired at the Capitol is a reminder that the era of healthy rivalries, where political opponents ultimately had the same vision for the country and largely played by the rulebook, has now been replaced by crass rhetoric and intimidation.”

Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington and a columnist for The National, considers the mob violence witnessed last Wednesday as Trump’s Waterloo, a last desperate, but ultimately failed, attempt to retain political power: “On Wednesday, the Donald Trump era in US politics crashed and burned irreparably, with near-simultaneous catastrophes in Georgia and, especially, Washington…. America projected a split-screen image contrasting Mr. Trump’s imaginary world, in which he’s the election winner and still politically potent, with reality, and between the rule of law versus its furious, violent enemies. For now, reality and the rule of law are prevailing…. There’s nothing Mr. Trump fears more than being a ‘loser’. Yet he has lost both houses of Congress, the White House, his crucial social media platforms, political viability and whatever was left of his already-tattered reputation. Yet rarely has an American politician lost so much and been so thoroughly defeated, repudiated and reviled.”

A recent Gulf News editorial calls on US politicians and voters to take stock and move fast to address the underlying drivers of the violence leading to what it characterizes as a “day of infamy”:The events beamed live to a disbelieving world were not in some banana republic. The acts of this mob, the lies and false claims on social media, the incitement have delivered a deep and lasting wound to the image of America…. This is now a time for soul-searching. Yes, those responsible for policing the Capitol building complex have many questions to answer. But so too do Americans about the very nature of their society…. Americans, regardless of their political beliefs, can take no comfort or solace from Wednesday’s events. Instead, they must mend what is wrong, willful and malicious — and do so with haste.”

To do so, according to this Jerusalem Post editorial, one of the first steps to be taken is to banish Trump from the political arena, before his tactics and rhetoric have an even greater divisive effect at home and abroad and other populist leaders emulate him: “The last four years of this administration have threatened the very essence of the rule of law in America, with US President Donald Trump’s repeated attempts to delegitimize long-standing norms and institutions and divide Americans through hatred and mistrust. It is similar to the tactics employed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his ongoing efforts to quash his court case for bribery, and those watching the unbelievable scenes from Washington and thinking it could never happen in Jerusalem are naïve…. We believe it is possible for the US to recover from this unprecedented challenge to its democratic values. But for that healing to begin and for America’s place in the world to be restored, the most important move right now is for Donald Trump to leave the picture – quietly and forever.”

Seen through a national lens, last week’s events serve also as a useful tool for some observers to push back against US political interference in their own countries. For example, Turkish columnist Burhanettin Duran, writing for The Daily Sabah, is keen to draw parallels between the July 2016 attempted coup in Turkey and last week’s events: “The United States, with its history of (mostly futile) efforts to promote democracy, cannot seem to cope with the challenges facing its own democracy today. Washington is dealing with the weakness of its own democracy – rather than exporting it. A superpower does not get to blame its problems on meddling foreign powers…. Let us hope that the Capitol storming reminded Washington that democracies have a right to protect themselves, and also how irresponsibly it responded to the attempted coup in Turkey. If you are against armed fanatics forcibly entering the Capitol, then here’s a piece of trivia: the ringleader of the criminal group that bombed Turkey’s Parliament from the air continues to live his life as a free man in rural Pennsylvania.”

Iranian observer, M.A. Saki, likewise connects the violence in Washington D.C. with Mr. Trump’s foreign policy, which, according to this Tehran Times Saki op-ed are just an extension of the US president’s disregard for the law:Trump’s entire presidency was filled with numerous lies. He has no principles. In addition, the self-centered president shows no respect to democracy, freedom of expression, human rights, etc…. His unprecedented sanctions against Iran under the name of the ‘maximum pressure’ campaign are in violation of international law. The sanctions have pushed millions of Iranian citizens to the verge of poverty and instead made a small percentage of Iranians millionaires because of skyrocketing inflation…. His reckless order [for] assassinating Iran’s Major General Qassem Soleimani in Iraq in January 2020 reminded the people of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, which ignited the First World War. Also, his move in recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the stolen Golan Heights and moving the U.S. capital to Jerusalem in violation of UN Security Council resolutions are some other examples of the illegal moves that the Trump administration should be ashamed of.”

Finally, several Israeli observers and academics have expressed concern that the violent acts witnessed last week may be repeated at home. Writing for Yedioth Ahronoth, Ron Ben-Yishai calls on Israeli politicians to draw the relevant lessons and avoid leading the country into a self-made vicious cycle of political and social instability and conflict: The violent mob and its attack on the United States Congress on Wednesday was the direct result of a union between a populist president suffering from a severe personality disorder and tens of thousands of angry followers who, like him, believe their country was stolen from them. But what made this union so explosive was the use of social media, spreading incitement, fake news and conspiracy theories at the speed of light…. Not only America’s political system should learn from the events that unfolded before the eyes of the entire world. Populists and unruly masses, nursing feelings of disfranchisement, exist elsewhere. They too are attentive to the tweets and video clips posted by their leaders…. Our own politicians in Jerusalem should take note. They should understand how slippery the slope can be. It can happen here too.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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