Middle East

Wary of ‘the ugly American’, the Arab world is leaning towards China and Russia

The deepening of China-Russia economic cooperation and the growing diplomatic influence of Beijing and Moscow in the Arab world are, however, raising eyebrows in the West. Russophobia and Sinophobia are increasing in the Western media, with commentaries often demonising Beijing and Moscow.

This is pushing many of us who were educated and worked in the West to turn our eyes away from the Western media and seek news from media outlets in the East.

Since the Cold War ended, the US’ relationships with Arab countries have been defined by its imperial ambitions and intervention in their internal affairs. The bloodshed in Gaza and Washington’s exploitative policy in the Middle East have caused Arabs to further distance themselves from the West and to deepen their ties with the East. Arabs now see Beijing and Moscow as genuine mediators in the Middle East.


Where China stands on the Israel-Gaza war

Where China stands on the Israel-Gaza war

As rising military and economic superpowers, China and Russia have gained the respect of Arabs. It has become axiomatic among Arabs today that Beijing and Moscow, unlike Washington, have no political aspirations in their dealings with Middle Eastern countries – that is, they do not seek to meddle in these nations’ internal affairs – and that their ties with Arab states are mainly founded on trade and diplomatic cooperation.

For example, a recent survey conducted by an Arab news platform showed that most Arab youth trust China and Russia more than the US and the UK, with Beijing and Moscow described as an “ally”, and Washington and London denounced as an “enemy”.

US President Joe Biden’s resolute military backing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline government and its atrocities against the Palestinians has compelled Arabs to look for more ways to counter US dictates. The Gaza war is indeed a clear example of US imperialism and has reinforced anti-American sentiment.
Throughout the Arab world, people have been shouting in anger that the US is an accomplice in the crime of genocide, which Israel has been accused of at the International Court of Justice.
A truck that has been loaded with humanitarian aid for Gaza provided by China awaits departure from Cairo, Egypt, on November 27, 2023. Photo: Xinhua
Washington’s blind support of Netanyahu has revived the “ugly American” image – one captured by the classic 1958 novel of the same name – in the hearts and minds of Arabs. Meanwhile, China’s popularity is rising in the consciousness of Arabs, many of whom are now warmly welcoming China’s rise as a global power that has no imperial ambitions but can counter US hegemony in the region.

From my Cairene suburban abode, I often hear Arabs praise the rise of China and Russia and joyfully proclaim that the age of the American empire has ended. It has become common to hear Egyptians shout anti-American slogans and denounce the Biden administration as the “great evil”.

Alas, observing Biden’s policy in the Middle East is like watching a bad horror film. It is haunted by the US’ policy mistakes in Southeast Asia during the 1950s. In the 1970s, the US ultimately lost its battle against communism in Vietnam. Likewise, it is losing it today in the Middle East with Arabs choosing to look to China and admonish the West.

This brings back memories of the time when I lived in the US from 1988 to 2002. I was often denounced as a communist when I applauded the Russians for helping liberate the world from the evils of Nazism and fascism in the 1940s.

Several dozen graduates and supporters paint messages for victims of the war in Gaza after walking out in protest during Northwestern University’s commencement in Chicago on June 9. Photo: AP

Every time I expressed admiration for socialism and Confucianism, or called for the taming of capitalism and the implementation of a fairer distribution of wealth, I was deplored as anti-Western, anti-democratic and even an outcast Arab not welcome in the “land of the free”. The reality is that not enough Americans know what the true principles of socialism and Confucianism are.

China’s ascendance as a powerful state should not come as a surprise. I still remember that in his 1963 masterpiece, Africa Must Unite, Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah prognosticated that because of its “huge population and massive land extent”, China would rise as a superpower and successful socialist economy. He attributed US opposition to Beijing joining the United Nations to fears of being challenged by its eventual rise.

Other African leaders, such as former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, have recently declared that the Western model of liberal democracy does not work as a system of governance in Africa.

Trade, energy and military cooperation is growing between Arab countries, China and Russia. Moscow and Beijing can truly work with Arabs and Africans on economic development, modernisation and technological advancement.

China is the sub-Saharan African region’s largest trading partner and a major aid donor to the entire African continent. Chinese policy in the Arab world and throughout Africa is not creating debt traps as some in the Western media claim. After all, the brutal history of colonialism which Arabs and Africans experienced was not a Chinese or Russian product but a Western one.

Mohamed El-Bendary, an independent researcher based in Egypt, taught journalism in the United States and New Zealand


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