U.S. Entry Ban Shocks the Region

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Views from the Region

The executive order issued by President Donald Trump barring entry into the United States by nationals from seven Muslim-majority countries—Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen—has drawn sharp reactions from around the region. Some think that the ban is a worrying signal in terms of what the United States is becoming in the age of Trump. However, not everyone believes the dire predictions are warranted, with some coming, albeit indirectly, to the defense of Mr. Trump.

Reaction from Iran, as reported by Tehran Times, has been swift, with the country’s foreign minister denouncing the announced refugee ban “as a ‘clear insult’ to the whole Islamic world including Iran, characterizing it as a ‘great gift to extremists and their supporters.’ …To ensure respect for the dignity of all members of the great Iranian nation at home and abroad, the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran will engage in a careful assessment of the short- and medium-term impact of the decision of the U.S. Government on Iranian nationals, and will take proportionate legal, consular and political action and while respecting the American people and differentiating between them and the hostile policies of the U.S. Government – will take reciprocal measures in order to safeguard the rights of its citizens until the time of the removal of the insulting restrictions of the Government of the United States against Iranian nationals.”

Nesrine Malik, a Sudanese writer and commentator, in an op-ed for Gulf News, has argued that the temporary refugee ban has turned Muslims into, as she puts it in her title, “America’s untouchables”: “The Islamophobia that we have witnessed rise over the past decade has finally burst its banks. The first thought was that surely common sense would prevail, surely there would be some grace period, surely there would eventually be a challenge from some sensible authority that would stop the madness. None of these things came to pass….The arbitrariness of the ban is brazen. No Sudanese citizen has ever perpetrated an attack in the U.S. But Sudan is poor and has no strategic importance to Trump….The entire premise of the executive order — that it would facilitate more thorough checks on those entering the U.S. — is a lie. Applying for a U.S. visa from any of the seven countries is already an exercise in extreme vetting.”

Similarly, the Times of Oman’s Mohamed El-Erian characterizes the ban as “blunt and counterproductive,” though, in his view, the situation did merit some attention from the U.S. administration: “Some bold and simple policies have merit; Friday’s executive order that temporarily bans the citizens of certain countries from coming to the U.S., and stops indefinitely the entry of Syrian refugees, is not one of them….This is an extremely blunt approach to an important issue. Early reports on its application suggest that even long-time holders of multiyear visas for the US, together with green-card holders and dual nationals, are being refused entry at airports or being prevented from boarding planes destined for America….The ban could have other harmful consequences. Some have noted that it applies to people who fought alongside American troops in dangerous situations, and includes some who acted heroically, saving our men and women in uniform. This is but one of the adverse signals that the executive order transmits to the many supporters and fans of the US living in the named countries.”

In an op-ed for The National, Faisal Al Yafai sees the development as deeply troubling, especially what it says about the present and future of the United States: “The utter chaos of the past few days; the awful symbolism of banning Muslims from the United States on the same day as International Holocaust Remembrance Day; the astonishing vision of a country that explicitly styles itself as offering a ‘golden door’ to those fleeing persecution shutting that door on every single one of those affected by the greatest humanitarian disaster of this century.… – all of this leaves the overwhelming impression that America has entered a new era….This ban, then, is just the start of things to come. There is a great unravelling taking place across the world. … [S]ystems, rules and norms that have held sway for decades are collapsing….[T]he fabric of civilization, of laws and rules, of norms and words and facts is just that: a fabric. It is thin. As long as it covers us all, it works, but once tears appear in it, the whole edifice can rapidly collapse. We are living through one of the most dramatic periods of the past decades. And we are nowhere near the peak.”

The refugee ban notably excluded Saudi Arabia and Egypt, a fact that has put some observers, including Asharq Alawsat’s Tariq Alhomayed, in the uncomfortable position of defending the exclusions while condemning the ban: “The truth is that you can’t defend the president’s decision, but this is not the issue here. What should concern us as Muslims, Arabs, journalists, and politicians is the fact that Trump’s decision to ban citizens of certain Muslim countries from entering the U.S., including Iran, Iraq and Yemen, is an indication [of] the failure of those states….Isn’t Trump’s ban an indication that our region had failed to become attractive?… This shows the chaotic and not [the] racist state of the coming U.S. foreign policy…. Our concern is what is being said in our region and the west, especially [by] those who claim [to be] human rights supporters and concerned with fighting racism….Those who wonder why seven countries have been banned, while other countries, whose citizens were involved in the September 11 attacks, were not banned….Are they defending principles? Declaring their rejection for racism? Or do they simply hate Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE? This means they are just like Trump, whom they describe as racist and bigoted. This is not right.”

Finally, Arutz Sheva’s Jeff Dunetz comes to the defense of the Trump administration by pushing back against accusations that his executive order banning refugees from entering the United States echoed the ban on Holocaust victims at the height of World War II: “Liberals of course are going crazy. They say that Trump created this order because he is Islamophobic. They’ve even come up with a ridiculous comparison, ‘Anne Frank was a refugee also.’ Indeed she was, but the reason for Trump’s action was totally different from the reason Anne Frank and many like her were prevented from coming to the U.S. Trump’s executive action was made to prevent terrorists from coming into the United States. FDR prevented refugees from coming into this country because they were Jewish and he thought America didn’t need any more Jews….Bottom line: it is pure nonsense, and intellectually dishonest — or at least ignorant — argument to compare the two groups of refugees or the belief systems of the two presidents.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.


  • 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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