President Donald Trump’s edict banning from the US citizens from seven Muslim countries has deepened popular Arab and Muslim animosity towards the US at a time when he seeks allies in the war against radicals.
The edict coincided with Trump’s circulation of a memorandum to senior administration members and the military calling for the drafting of a plan to defeat Islamic State (also known as Isis) and with the revelation that US efforts to counter the group’s online propaganda have failed.
The exclusion from the ban of Saudis and Qataris, the chief financiers and armourers of jihadi groups adhering to Saudi Arabia's puritan ideology and fighting in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Egypt and Libya, could encourage Riyadh and Doha to continue their support for Islamic State and al-Qaeda, prolonging the campaign to eradicate jihadis.
While there has been deafening silence on the ban from Gulf rulers, Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey and Afghanistan, critics elsewhere point out that there have been zero US fatalities in four decades caused by nationals of the seven countries on the blacklist – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya. Militants from some countries excluded from the ban have killed a number of US citizens.
For US ally Iraq, the banning order compounded outrage generated when Trump, on the day after his inauguration, complained the US had not “taken” Iraq’s oil during the 2003-11 occupation and said “maybe we’ll have another chance”. Iraqi prime minister Haidar al-Abadi replied that “Iraq’s oil is only for Iraqis.” Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation, comprised mainly of powerful pro-Iranian Shia militias, has called for the expulsion of the thousands of US citizens in the country.
Trump's declaration could put at risk the 5,000 US troops involved in the offensive to drive Islamic State from Iraq's northern city of Mosul, where US soldiers could be in danger of attack from Iraqi militiamen or soldiers. In Afghanistan, dozens of US and allied troops have been killed by Afghan security forces.
Regional rival Iran is divided over the ban, with hardliners celebrating and moderates arguing the targeting of Iranians can only reverse the thaw in relations, beginning with the signing of the agreement providing for the dismantling of Tehran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting of sanctions. Iran’s government has ceased issuing visas to US citizens, inhibiting trade, tourism, investment and academic exchanges.
Iranian-American activist Trita Parsi said that since Iran is the most populous country targeted, 48 per cent of those affected by the ban are Iranians. He warned that tensions arising from the ban could undermine the nuclear deal.
Even a short-term ban on Muslims is likely to exacerbate alienation among Turks who demand the US pull out of Turkey's strategic Incirlik air base, as well as Egyptians angered by Washington's alleged support for the Muslim Brotherhood before it was ousted in 2013 by the military following mass protests.
Majority approval in the US of the controversial ban could encourage Trump to expand the measure to include citizens of other Muslim countries, or use “extreme vetting” procedures to strictly limit visas. If the US asks governments to provide documentation, loyalists could benefit while dissidents seeking sanctuary could be put at risk of arrest.
On a human level, even the temporary ban creates major problems for affected visa holders with limited means who have prepared for the move to the US by selling homes, quitting jobs, and taking children out of school. They have no place to go and no money to spare.