By Declan Walsh
March 6, 2017
Lighter, tighter and more carefully worded,
the reworked travel ban announced by the Trump administration on Monday aims to
pass legal muster in the United States while meeting its stated objective of
combating Islamist terrorism.
But in the Middle East, where its effects
will be most keenly felt, the executive order was seen as boiling down to the
same thing: a Muslim ban.
In Iraq, where the initial ban had drawn
the sharpest criticism, relieved officials welcomed President Trump’s decision
to drop their country from the list of nations whose citizens will be barred
from entering the United States for 90 days. That decision came after pressure
from the State Department and the Pentagon — and as American troops are working
closely with Iraqi soldiers in the battle for Mosul.
In a minor triumph, there were none of the
earlier chaotic scenes of travelers and refugees being turned back at airports.
Yet in the other six countries still on Mr.
Trump’s list, his decision to push ahead with the ban only stoked their sense
of grievance and discrimination. Regional experts repeated earlier warnings
that Mr. Trump’s order handed an easy propaganda victory to enemies and might
ultimately weaken American security.
“The idea that this is a Muslim ban has
been reinforced even further,” said Maha Yahya, the director of the Carnegie
Middle East Center in Beirut. “Islamic State will use this ban to say: ‘I told
you so. They only mean you harm. They only see you as the enemy.’”
The six countries left on the list are
among the poorest, most chaotic or most politically isolated in the Middle
East, so their inclusion carries ostensibly low costs for the Trump
administration. Libya has multiple competing governments. Aid officials warn
that Yemen, consumed by civil war, is on the verge of famine. Syria’s vicious
six-year conflict has left vast urban landscapes in ruins. Somalia has been in
a state of rolling chaos since 1991.
Iran does not suffer domestic upheaval, but
decades of diplomatic hostility with the West have left it political isolated.
Trump administration officials point out
that parts of the banned countries have become havens for Al Qaeda, the Islamic
State and other groups, largely as a result of war and chronic instability. But
by the same token, studies have shown that the citizens of those countries are
more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence, and have historically
not posed a major risk to security in the United States.
According to the New America Foundation,
all 13 jihadist terrorists who have killed people in the United States since
Sept. 11, 2001, were American citizens or permanent residents. None had ties to
the seven countries first singled out by Mr. Trump in January. A federal
appeals court, rejecting that order, said his administration had produced “no
evidence” linking citizens from the seven affected nations to terrorist acts in
the United States.
Among citizens in the banned countries, the
sense of injustice is compounded when they look at richer or more powerful
neighbours, like Egypt or Saudi Arabia, whose citizens have carried out major
attacks in the United States, yet which have escaped Mr. Trump’s censure
because their governments are harder to push around.
“You know what they say: When the wife
commits adultery, hit the maid,” said Abdel Bari Taher, a Yemeni political
analyst speaking by telephone from the war-ravaged country’s capital, Sana.
“They are punishing Yemen and others because they are the weak ones. Meanwhile,
all the Gulf states that funded terrorism carry on as usual.”
Mr. Taher said he had little doubt Mr.
Trump’s ban was driven by domestic political considerations. “He is going after
us just to please his right-wing supporters at home,” he said. Nonetheless, he
added, it stung.