Thug for a Day

When I was a kid, there was an early Reality TV show called “Queen for a Day.” Host Jack Bailey introduced the studio audience (all or nearly all women) to the contestants. They were a set of middle class women who came to describe the recent emotional, financial or physical woe they experienced. Bailey interviewed them without evident empathy. The women often broke down talking of children’s illnesses, financial reversals, deprivation of basic necessities. Sometimes the women were simply unable to maintain their composure—the golden age of television. Bailey always had a handkerchief, ready for any emotional outburst. At the end of the presentations, the audience members were asked to evaluate each contestants by applause. An analog device, the Applause-O-Meter, measured the loudness of the applause. The “winner,” that is, the contestant voted to have the most miserable life, was awarded the title of “Queen for a Day,” and crowned and enthroned to the music of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstances.” She was then told what prizes she would receive, like a washing machine, carpet cleaner, etc. (In those days, even a queen was expected to do housework,) The show finished with the new queen smiling and waving through her tears, until the next day when another set of contestants would try to elicit sympathetic applause from the studio audience.

Yesterday a more recent Reality TV host was in the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh meeting with a collection of medieval Middle Eastern royals and nobles as well as a modern military despot, who together with Saudi royalty seemed to make up a modern game show much like “Queen for a Day.” But instead of finding the stories of heartbreak and disappointment told so our hearts would near break with sympathy, these men came to flaunt their brutality, cruelty, offensiveness, greed and backwardness; in short, their personal likeness to the Reality Show’s host. So instead of vying for the title of “Queen for a Day,” they were more likely looking to become “Thug for a Day” before their genial host, Donald J. Trump.

We met the Saudis on Saturday. Yesterday, we met the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. What can we say about these Big Men?

Let’s start with Qatar: The current dynasty has reigned since 1825. That kind of family stability has got to impress our Host. Trump is so family-minded that he has had three so far, and he delights in promoting the projects of his children. Qatar is a Law and Order country. Our president would be impressed by the legal provisions for flogging and stoning. Capital punishment is available for apostasy and homosexuality. Blasphemy is punishable by prison terms. Like our President, Qatar strictly supervises its immigrant worker population, not allowing them to become the rapists and murderers that the immigrants here before the Trump administration became. Bribery and corruption also seems part of the culture, because Qatar, despite inhuman playing conditions and never having qualified to host a World Cup, in 2012 was awarded the 2022 World Cup by the supremely corrupt FIFA. All in all, Qatar made a strong case for Thug of the Day.

What about Bahrain? Bahrain is a monarchy with a vengeance. The King is not only supreme executive, he chairs the supreme judiciary, heads the military, appoints the higher house of parliament, has complete veto power and is uncle of the prime minister. Half of the government is composed of by his family. But nepotism, attractive as that is to the Trumps and Kushners, is not all. This monarchy is known for a history of arbitrary arrests, detention without trial, torture and forced exile. Although homosexuality is technically legal in Bahrain, don’t count on it: Given the lack of due process gays are routinely arrested. The press is cowed and self-censors. It looks like the complete package for our host and only audience member!

Egypt of course is a long-time favorite in all thug competitions. After a brief respite of a popularly elected president, he turned out a bit too Islamy for the military which swooped in to arrest him, re-installed a brutal dictatorship and engaged in mass arrests, show trials (with murder trials involving hundreds of defendants taking a day and accused having no lawyer) and best of all trumped up charges against foreign reporters. Torture, of course, goes without saying. As always, Egypt puts together an impeccable presentation.

But unfortunately for Egypt it seems our host was in a Medieval frame of mind and, in my view, inordinately swayed by conspicuous consumption. And that really did Egypt in. Nobody does plutocracy, gluttony, greed and disregard for the less fortunate like the Gulf States with their in-door ski-ing in the middle of a blistering desert, world-class hotels and artificial islands in the Persian Gulf. Water pumped in from god know where. Everything you could possible want, including booze (as long as you are a foreigner or member of the Family). Almost as classy as Mar-a-Logo. And of course Donald Trump just has to love how these people treat their women. They simply love women, just like he does. And that’s why they put them on a pedestal. Of sorts.

So of course, the winner had to be Saudi Arabia. Their violent reactionary Wahhabism goes back a century and was the basis for the country and their current hope against hope from being swept out of office into the dustbin of history. It is reactionary politics and religion par excellence. And god knows there is no talk of climate change in front of the Saudis. So after the big sword-dancing ceremony, the Saudi king was crowned Thug of the Day and given the prize of $100 billion of American weapons. This he can use to kill Yemeni women and children, or against his own people to stay on the throne, or just stored so that when the family is ultimately deposed, they can be used by Wahhabi-inspired fanatics against, guess who?, the Great Satan.

This trip to the Middle East has so far been extremely educational for Donald Trump. During the campaign he saw Islam as at heart evil. But now he realizes that one can practice Islam and still be fundamentally corrupt, greedy, ruthless and without morals. And still they will give him steak and ketchup! And personally, these guys are just fun to be with. General Sisti wore identical shoes to the President. Imagine that! And the President really got a kick out of that. Trump told Qatar’s emir to expect a shiny something for his Ramadam stocking, “beautiful” American hardware. What religiously-obsessed, reactionary plutocrat couldn’t use a fleet of fighter jets, I ask you? And he told the King of Bahrain that there would no longer be that “strain” in relations between his sovereign self and the United States that existed before the glorious present. Who needs human rights anyway?

So with all this education, Trump no longer had to use the term “Radical Islamic Terrorism,” which he told his followers was the single most important reason he, not Hillary Clinton, was qualified for the Presidency: He would use the term to their face; she would not. But it seems that not all Moslems are dirty, turban-headed, stinking terrorists. Some wear long flowing white robes and act like any other person you might meet in exclusive men’s clubs: corrupt, self-dealing, and willing to help other members of the club. So when our President took the podium to give his anti-Obama speech today, no mention of “Radical Islamic Terrorism” escaped his lips. I’m sure his supporters will understand.

And so, as they say in the Kushner family, “Next week in Jerusalem!”

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  1. For the record: I like the writing, not the content. Why does Bahrain even have a parliament?
    This is a sad start to the week.

    • It’s a start that you are able to divide time into units like weeks. Since November for me it has been one undifferentiated, endless night.

  2. A fascinating parody of “Queen for a Day,” DK, and an important overview of Middle East political leadership. Let’s hope “Thug for a Day” meets the same fate and fades into an embarrassing past along with it’s host.

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