Haneen Hegazi Professor Halil Ozen Middle Eastern Politics 11 December 2017OrientalismThroughout history, theMiddle Eastern region has been known to be backwards as compared to the WesternWorld.
Orientalism is the reform of this mentality. Orientalism is thedistinction between the West and the East. In addition, Orientalism is theWestern style of the reconstructing and the redeveloping of the Eastern region.This is usually done by Western involvement in the Middle East. Even though therecent Arab Uprisings that took place in the Middle East were seen as asymbol to democratize the region, unfortunately, the recent Arab Spring provedto the world that the Middle East upheld the form of orientalism. Specifically,the form that the East will always need the West and that the West will alwaysview the East as weak and vulnerable. In addition, the media plays a crucialrole in implementing the forms of Orientalism that we know of today. Forexample, many media forms broadcast certain news of the Middle East in anegative manner to reiterate this notion that the world has.
That is the notionthat the East is in a way backwards and barbaric. The Editors of EncyclopediaBritannica stated that the concept of Orientalism was founded by a PalestinianAmerican scholar and a political activist who had a specific interestliterature in social and cultural politics. His name was Edward W. Said. EdwardW. Said’s Orientalism is based on the concept of the way the West views theEast. Edward W.
Said specifically describes the concept of orientalism in hisbook by stating, “the basic distinction between East and West as the startingpoint for elaborate theories, epics, novels, social descriptions, and politicalaccounts concerning the Orient, its people, customs, ‘mind,’ destiny and soon.” Furthermore, Edward W. Said explains that, “Orientalism provided arationalization for European colonialism based on a self-serving history inwhich “the West” constructed “the East” as extremely different and inferior, andtherefore in need of Western intervention or “rescue””.
In other words,Orientalism displays the fragmented need that the East supposedly has for theWest. It was a way for the West to solidify their reasoning for redevelopingand constantly interfering in the East. In addition, it is also a way for theWest to implement a more modern way to live and govern in the Middle East. Eventhough it was not necessarily successful or admired by the people in the MENAregion it was essential for the West because of their false notions of theEast’s culture and political society. Historically, the Middle Easthas always been viewed as a backwards and uncivilized nations.
Even thoughthere are many reasons why the West views the East the way they do, many thingshave been seen as myths or stereotypes of the Middle East. For instance, therecent Arab Uprisings that have occurred over the last decade have shown theworld that the Middle East is capable of change and standing up againstauthoritarian regimes. However, many of these uprisings were not as successfulas hoped. Some have fallen into civil war, like Syria. While others had acomplete change in regime like Egypt and Tunisia. Part of why the Middle Easthas constant dilemmas and struggles in their political and social world isbecause of the world’s views of them. Specifically, if someone constantlyrefers to an individual as a failure, this individual will start to believe itand even act on it.
With this being said, the Western world’s constantinterference in the Middle East is what has the Middle East on edge andincapable of democratization and social change. The Arab Spring that occurredin 2010- 2011 has shown the world the lengths that the Middle East could go tofor change and democratization. It also points out the the Middle East is notjust prone to its own culture and political economy rather they are open to newopportunities and new ways of life. The Arab uprisings began inTunisia when a fruit vendor set himself on fire in protest in front of a government building. This act sparkedprotests across the country calling upon President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali andhis regime to step down.
Fortunately, the president stepped down from office amonth after the protests erupted (NPR Staff). Similarly, in Egyptprotests, demonstrations organized by youthgroups on various social media took hold in the capital and in cities aroundthe country. Protesters called for Hosni Mubarak to step down immediately,leading the country into the route to democratize. Since the protests werestrong in language and in numbers, the Mubarak regime fought back with weaponsand military tactics. Even though Mubarak attempted to calm down theprotesters with the idea of him stepping down at the end of his term and namingOmar Suleiman (his VP at the time) the new president, it did very little tocalm the unrest that was present within Egyptians at the time. Fortunately, after almost three weeks of mass protests in Egypt, Mubarakstepped down as president, leaving the Egyptian military in control of thecountry (Al Jazeera and Agencies).
As you can see, both Egypt and Tunisiaprotested successfully and were on the way to renew their nations after beingunder authoritarian regimes for so long. Despitethe fact that the Middle East progressed to democratize, the West found ways tointerfere with their revolutions. For example, Syria’s uprising was one of theones that turned into a traumatic situation because the country broke out in acivil war and civilians were forced to flee to other countries.
The Syriangovernment was backed with Russian forces and aid. In the article, Putin’sPower Play in Syria: How to Respond to Russia’s Intervention, Angela Stentstates, “…
Russia began conducting airstrikes in Syria ostensibly to combatterrorist groups. The strikes constitute Russia’s biggest intervention in theMiddle East in decades. It anticipated military foray into Syria hastransformed the civil war there into a proxy U.S.- Russia conflict and hasraised the stakes in the ongoing standoff between Moscow and Washington.”Furthermore, not only is Russia’s involvement in the Syrian crisis involved theentire Western world, it also added to the tensions and hate between the Westand the East.
Rather than leaving the Syrians to deal with their president andforce out the authoritarian regime of Bashar Al Assad their way, Russiaworsened the condition by aiding this regime and forcing millions to leavetheir homes and flee. This is just another example of how the West constantlyintervenes in Middle Eastern affairs and then blames the Middle East for beinguncivilized and backwards. In addition, this is the perfect example that refersback to Edward W. Said’s Orientalism and his idea that the West constructed theEast as inferior. Thus, the East will always need the West to save them. As wasseen in the Syrian crisis, the Western world’s involvement constructed the needfor Western rescue from the traumatic conditions that Syria is in as of rightnow. On theother hand of the spectrum, the West discusses the Arab uprisings in multiplemedia outlets as an awakening or a final realization that the Arab world iscoming into, after so long.
However, many of these Western leaders have alliedthemselves with these authoritarian regime leaders only when it had benefitedthem and their nation. We also see this when Joseph Massad in Al Jazeera Newspoints out:As for the larger Arab context, those who callwhat has unfolded in the last year in the Arab World as an Arab”awakening” are not only ignorant of the history of the last century,but also deploy Orientalist arguments in their depiction of Arabs as aquiescent people who put up with dictatorship for decades and are finallywaking up from their torpor. Across the Arab world, Arabs have revolted againstcolonial and local tyranny every decade since World War I. It has been theEuropean colonial powers and their American heir who have stood in their wayevery step of the way and allied themselves with local dictators and theirfamilies (and in many cases handpicking such dictators and putting them on thethrone) (134). With this being said, not only does the Westoccasionally get involved because the East needs “rescuing” as Edward W. Saidhas stated earlier, but the West is actually the main factor for the manyproblems that the Middle East has been facing. Furthermore, Joseph Massad’sremark is crucial because it points out that despite the fact that the MiddleEast has been fighting unjust regimes for many years, it has gone unnoticedbecause the West is only interested in what is best for them.
Inaddition to Western involvement in the Eastern world, the media has played animportant role in shaping the way the East is viewed. For instance, the waythat the Arab Spring was broadcasted speaks a lot of the way they are portrayedand seen as. Specifically, there seemed to be a lack of consistent mediacoverage regarding various regions in the Middle East. For instance, variousmedia outlets have covered stories that only convey interests of the Americangovernment.
The New York Times, for instance, devoted intense coverageto unrest in Syria, an enemy of the United States (though such alliances arenever as clear-cut as government officials would have it). If we compare thecoverage of unrest in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, strong American allies, duringthe same period, we see that the two countries, which brutalized protest, werevirtually ignored beyond their diplomatic roles in the Arab World. Repression in Bahrain was comparable in brutality to that of Syria, yetSyrian violence against civilians received disproportionate coverage. In otherwords, news media only broadcasted negative news that were from nations theywere on bad terms with or nations they had not allied benefit from.
Since SaudiArabia has always been a beneficial factor to the Western world, Saudi Arabialacks any form of negative media coverage. Inconclusion, media plays a crucial role in implementing the orientalist ideaswithin the Western world. Specifically, Orientalism has shaped the relationshipthat the Middle East has with the West. Orientalism, asdiscussed above, is the distinction between the West and the East. In addition,Orientalism developed into this idea and notion where the East needs the Westto rescue them from any specific problems they were facing at the time. Thisnotion became crucial in history because as media presented itself, the worldonly saw negative coverage from nations that were unfavorable to the West.
However, when it came to countries that were in good relations with the West,the media either had little to no coverage or presented them in an honorableway. Lastly, throughout my paper the discussion of the Arab Spring and what itsignifies only further explained the idea that the East has always been viewedas uncivilized and barbaric and only now are they standing up against unjustforms of government. Despite the fact thatthey have been in constant war with regimes that were originally caused by theWestern leaders, the blame always falls on the shoulders of the Easternleaders. Afterall, Recep Tayyip Erdogan once said, “The Muslim world and itssubset the countries of the Middle East have been left behind in the marathonof political, economic and human development. For that, there is a tendency toblame others as the primary source.” With thisbeing said, the Middle East and The Western world have a long way to go to beable to work together for world peace.
However, who knows what the future hasin stakes for us. WorksCitedJoseph Massad, “Arab Revolts—Pastand Present,” Al-Jazeera English.
2011. Said, Edward. 1981. Covering Islam,New York: Vintage.Said, Edward.
Orientalism. 1978,1995, 2003Salaita, Steven. 2009. TheUncultured Wars: Arabs, Muslims, and the Poverty of Liberal Thought, London:Zed Books. Stent, Angela.
“Putin’s Power Playin Syria.” HeinOnline,heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?handle=hein.journals%2Ffora95=15==.
The Editors of EncyclopædiaBritannica. “Edward Said.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica,Inc., 19 July 2017, www.