Hey Team Trump: The Middle East is on your ban-wagon!
President Trump, you’re not wrong here! The Middle East was controlling its borders in the name of security long before you came along and called a spade a spade.
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Albawaba would like to clarify the circumstances surrounding our republishing of a story that first appeared in The New Arab (Al-Araby Al-Jadeed). Our piece titled "Kuwait issues its own Trump-esque visa ban for five Muslim-majority countries" was published on Feb. 1 and picked up by President Donald Trump. Once President Trump had endorsed it with a "smart" seal of approval, the media rushed to sound the F word, that ultimate death knell on any story, running counter-claims based on Kuwait's state-issued refutation of the allegations. But this story was not ‘fake’ news, just old news – not newsworthy in the Middle East.
As a media aggregator and news provider operating out of the Middle East, Albawaba.com has been publishing real news - not 'alternative facts'- for seventeen years. Our titles include The New Arab, who published the original story, and KUNA (Kuwait’s state news agency) who refuted the story, as well as other state-owned and privately-owned titles that reflect the spectrum of regional issues and opinions.
With our sister company Syndigate, the largest distributor of Middle East news in the region, we aim to provide Arab and Muslim perspectives to mainstream narratives through Albawaba.com and do not shy away from controversy in a staid and conservative, albeit rich news, environment. As such, we featured this story to highlight a widely-known form of 'at home' immigration control or extreme vetting that pre-dated Trump.
While we appreciate the drive to publish news at Twitter speed, the Western media - CNN, Politicus USA, Buzzfeed, The Independent and Reuters in particular - were quick to write us off as purveyors of ‘fake news’ without taking the journalistic time to contact us (with the sole exception the New York Times who reached out to us). As a result, reporting was fraught with ‘Trump typos,’ as some have coined them: notably the spelling of our name Albawaba (which means gateway or door in Arabic) and the overlooked detail that we signposted the piece to its original source, The New Arab.
Given the sensitive geopolitical nature of regional population movements, it comes as no surprise to Albawaba that KUNA would categorically deny this story. We are conversant with our local media, from government mouthpieces through to quasi-independent voices, and we are familiar with the rumors, the image versus reality, and the government denials. Would readers and media watchdogs have us trust the Arab forces-that-be, who got away unscathed by the so-called Arab Spring, over independent news outlets who call out the Arab world’s dishwater democracy?
The piece that found its way to team Trump’s Twitter fodder shines a light on an uncomfortable reality that there are de facto visa bans in place in the Middle East, and many other unmentioned Arab states have been upholding them since 2011. This is not fake news, especially not to those on the receiving end of the extreme visa vetting that has long been in practice.
As one social media user Ziad Khalifeh put it:
"The ban on those six countries (sic) has been applicable since 2011, but the new thing is that it is now reinforced following new visa plan that allows Kuwaiti embassies to issue visas in accordance with new regulations, but these new regulations do not apply on citizens of the barred six countries. That's the whole story. It is not that Kuwait followed Trump, it preceded him. Only the new regulations are what were issued recently. Kuwait can't deny these facts and their statements are actually the fake ones.”
Arab wrought bans on fellow Arab or majority Muslim countries are either politically motivated or Trump-style security driven to keep religious extremism and terrorists at arms length. The UAE effectively banned Egyptians on political grounds in 2014, and since has as good as banned Lebanese and Syrians. Shia Lebanese were expelled from the UAE, as recently as 2015, while Israel has been banning dual-nationality Palestinians arbitrarily. Likewise, many Arab states ban visitors with Israeli visa stamps on their passports. Qatar even banned Jordanians until recently over a royal spat.
In keeping with the narrative, notwithstanding post-truth temptations, the original article in The New Arab has been updated to reflect the fact that Kuwait’s alleged ban came into force in 2011 and was not a reaction to Donald Trump's recent executive order.
Denizens of the majority-Muslim Middle East simply live with these home truths and rarely challenge or publicise these common border patrol practices, out of a long set-in defeatism; and we’ve witnessed where the so-called Arab Spring got us.
President Trump, you’re not wrong here! The Middle East was controlling its borders in the name of security (not to mention discriminatory politics) long before you came along and called a spade a spade. Our only fault was to call it a visa ban when it would behove us to call it extreme vetting, or maybe even a ban with few exceptions.
We challenge some of the swift assumptions and allegations that have ridden roughshod over Mr. Trump’s tweeting tide (and Albawaba’s credibility with it) and also challenge the Kuwaiti government to reveal how many visas it issued to applicants from the five countries listed in the story – Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians, Pakistanis and Afghans – in 2016.
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