How did the Arabic Twittersphere react to Obama’s speech outlining his strategy against IS?

By: Albrecht Hofheinz, University of Oslo.

I woke up this morning to a stream of satirical comments on Obama’s strategy speech, comments that were retweeted by Ḥusām al-Ḥamalāwī, the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialist star blogger. Here’s the speech as reflected on Ḥusām’s timeline:

Screen Shot 2014 09 11 at 21 30 12We’ll bomb some folks and give guns to some other folks

Obama: We need to stop flow of foreign fighters to Middle East. Obama: We are sending foreign fighters to Middle East

#Obama: “We stand with people who fight for their own freedom”

#World: “BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAAHA

lol Obama basically said: we’re gonna get rid of ISIS by doing all the shit we did that allowed them to thrive.

“We stand for freedom, justice, dignity.” I wish we had a live feed of Guantanamo prisoners (not) watching this speech

Obama’s war speeches tend to sound like they were mainly written for blithering idiot John McCain.

Ḥusām was sharing a view that was not only dismissing Obama’s strategy as ineffective, but as ultimately counterproductive: this is the same strategy that produced the al-Qāʿida phenomenon in the first place, and later the Zarqāwī phenomenon in Iraq, to name only two examples. It may not be coincidental that Ḥusām, who usually tweets in Arabic, chose to forward English-language comments on the speech here – perhaps to mark his point vis-a-vis a Western audience.

Did Ḥusām, the Marxist activist, stand alone in his appraisal? To find out, I headed over to Topsy to see what the rest of the Arabic Twittersphere was thinking. And lo and behold, it was more of the same – whether it came from positions supporting the current Arab regimes in the Gulf and Egypt, or from voices in opposition to them.

As reflected on Twitter, Gulf regimes and those in their camp (most importantly, Egypt) do not like to be seen openly to support American/Western intervention against IS, since they fear this would merely reinforce the impression that they are lackeys of the US. Yes to fighting terrorism; but on our own premises. The US have refused to take decisive action against the Asad regime in Syria; doing so now against IS will only fuel Sunni resentment against the US-Gulf/regime alliance, and thus drive more people into the arms of extremist Sunni militants fighting the current regimes. Supporting what continues to be regarded as the Shiite sectarian government in Baghdad will only put oil on the fire, and starting to cooperate with Iran is causing even more concern in the the “Arab capitals” where fear is that the West will de-demonise Iran and that as a consequence, Iran will rise again as a regional superpower threatening the position of the Arab Gulf monarchies.

There are plenty of voices all too happy to whip up anti-Shia sentiment and pointing out Western hypocrisy; witness this picture allegedly showing a Sunni boy having been burnt to death by Shias. The commentary says: “Shia social media sites are spreading this picture – where is the West?!?”

More regime-critical voices may not share the rulers’ concern for the stability of their thrones, but they share the same basic worry: that the ‘militant’ reaction by the West will merely continue the familiar pattern of driving up ever more anti-Western sentiment and thus fuel militant resistance against it even more.

Did the Twittersphere suggest any alternative? No. A more transparent look into the financial dealings of Gulf Arabs, for example, does not appear highest on the priority list of those who drive the Gulf Twittersphere.

Is anyone surprised at all of this?