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The virus of the 'others'? Corona and discursive othering in Arab media.

  • Aliraqia University


This is the accepted version only. For the final version please refer to: Abstract: The spread of fear of the coronavirus and related insecurities around the pandemic have fueled nationalist and increased exclusionary tendencies in countries all over the world. In North America, for instance, anti-Asian racism increased when former U.S. president Donald Trump dubbed the virus the "Chinese virus." A nationalist agenda has been strengthened in many places, including the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and hateful narratives blaming "others" for the pandemic, legitimizing a retreat to the protection of national borders and policies, are being spread in different media outlets. This article comparatively investigates processes of othering with regard to COVID-19 in four MENA countries-Egypt, Iraq, Oman, and Yemen-and asks: Who is held responsible for the coronavirus crisis in different countries? How is othering revealed in media coverage related to COVID-19? and What (in)sensitive language can be identified? The study looks at mass media coverage at the peak of the global lockdown during the spring of 2020. The media analysis reveals a strong emphasis on mostly national identities as articulated lines of demarcation in all four cases. A homogenizing and demonizing othering was detected in particular in the cases of Yemen and Egypt, but also Iraq, when blame was attributed to political adversaries. The Omani case was characterized by a more subtle othering that focused strongly on the importance of citizenship.
The virus of the “others”? Corona and discursive othering in Arab media
Carola Richter, Freie Universitaet Berlin
Abdulrahman Al-Shami, Qatar University
Soheir Osman, Cairo University
Sahar Khalifa, Al Iraqia University
Samuel Mundua, Bayan College
This is the accepted version only. For the final version please refer to:
Citation of the published version:
Richter, Carola; Al-Shami, Abdulrahman; Khalifa, Sahar; Osman, Soheir & Mundua, Samuel
(2021). The virus of the ‘others’? Corona and discursive othering in Arab media. Journal of
Arab and Muslim Media Research, 14(1), 3-24. DOI:10.1386/jammr_00022_1
The spread of fear of the coronavirus and related insecurities around the pandemic have
fueled nationalist and increased exclusionary tendencies in countries all over the world. In
North America, for instance, anti-Asian racism increased when former U.S. president Donald
Trump dubbed the virus the “Chinese virus.” A nationalist agenda has been strengthened in
many places, including the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, and hateful
narratives blaming “others” for the pandemic, legitimizing a retreat to the protection of
national borders and policies, are being spread in different media outlets. This article
comparatively investigates processes of othering with regard to COVID-19 in four MENA
countries – Egypt, Iraq, Oman, and Yemen – and asks: Who is held responsible for the
coronavirus crisis in different countries? How is othering revealed in media coverage related
to COVID-19? and What (in)sensitive language can be identified? The study looks at mass
media coverage at the peak of the global lockdown during the spring of 2020. The media
analysis reveals a strong emphasis on mostly national identities as articulated lines of
demarcation in all four cases. A homogenizing and demonizing othering was detected in
particular in the cases of Yemen and Egypt, but also Iraq, when blame was attributed to
political adversaries. The Omani case was characterized by a more subtle othering that
focused strongly on the importance of citizenship.
Keywords: othering, media coverage, nationalism, discourse, Arab, COVID-19
A pandemic is by its nature a transnational phenomenon. It does not stop at land borders
drawn by humans. It affects humanity as a whole, not only a particular group. It could thus
stimulate global solidarity and empathy. However, with regard to the COVID-19 pandemic,
we can observe completely different reactions: a discursive and real rebordering in an attempt
to protect a nationally defined group and an attribution of guilt toward certain groups or
countries. On an individual level, the aim to protect oneself can be explained with what
psychologists call the “behavioral immune system,” which is “an unconscious psychological
process that constantly scans environments for harmful pathogens” (Reny & Barreto 2020: 5).
On a societal level, however, applying a discursive nationalism and blaming of specific
groups can stimulate xenophobia, racism, and social fragmentation (Ahmed 2004). For
example, in the U.S., former President Trump’s rhetoric on the “Chinese virus” or the
seemingly funny pun “Kung Flu” has created an atmosphere in which anti-Chinese or anti-
Asian attitudes grew in U.S. society (Reny & Barreto 2020). In Hungary, Prime Minister
Viktor Orbán linked the spread of the virus to migrants and refugees to reinforce the fear of
immigration among the Hungarian population (Inotai 2020). In general, worldwide travel
restrictions and the closing of borders were accompanied by a nationalist rhetoric
characterized by the fear of and protection from the foreign “other” (Bieber 2020).
Mass media play an important role in constructing the “other” and reinforcing discourses of
othering. There are two main reasons for this in the context of the coronavirus crisis. First,
and because of the media’s typical focus on political elites, they help in circulating
problematic political statements. Second, and particularly in times of crisis and alleged threats
to the nation, according to Nossek (2004: 347–48), journalists function as “local gatekeepers”
and are supposed to “handle any tensions between their journalistic values and the need to
meet national ends by having a belief system such as patriotism.” Thus, a nationalist focus
and discursive othering can be the result. However, Nossek also argued that the media or
journalists’ “behavior is actually context dependent” (2004: 348). Turning our focus away
from Europe and the U.S. to Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), we
have to indeed acknowledge different political and media system contexts through which
othering may take specific shapes.
COVID-19 has provided many regimes in the MENA region with a justification to restrict
critical media and investigative reporting against the pretext of saving the public from false
information spread by the media (Farmanfarmaian 2020: 855). At the same time, most media
in the MENA region have never been as independent from regime influences as would be
wished from a libertarian point of view. In fact, media have often been actively
instrumentalized to reinforce the regimes’ official discourses. Even media that are not in the
hands of the incumbents are often considered loyalist, a term coined by William Rugh (2004),
hinting at the fact that media licenses are often given to businessmen close to the regime
which then do not bite the hand that fed them. Thus, looking at the media discourse not only
helps us to understand how journalists have dealt with the pandemic, but also allows us on a
broader scale to learn more about political and societal discourse as it is reflected in the
media. Since the focus on media discourse concerning the COVID-19 pandemic has been
mainly on the Global North so far, we aim to fill the gap by looking at different MENA
countries. Thus, this article comparatively investigates processes of “othering” with regard to
COVID-19 in four MENA countries, including Egypt, Iraq, Oman, and Yemen, and asks:
Who is held responsible for the coronavirus crisis in different countries? How is othering
revealed in media coverage related to COVID-19? What (in)sensitive language can be
In the following, we will first provide a theoretical framework by looking at what othering is
and how it is constructed through the media. Second, we will provide some contextual
information about the political and media systems in the four countries under investigation.
Third, we explain our methodology of doing qualitative content analysis, and fourth, we will
present the results country by country.
Theoretical framework: Othering in the media
While the concept of othering is said to go back to the master-slave dialectic of German
philosopher Hegel, it has taken a post-colonial turn through the writings of Gayatri Spivak
(1985) and Edward Said in his book “Orientalism” (1995, first published in 1978). By
analyzing the Western perception of the “East” or the “Orient,” they determined that a
discursive construction of the other as inferior dominates both fictional and non-fictional
writing, reinforcing a societal discourse of superiority in the Western hemisphere. While
Spivak, Said, and other post-colonial scholars particularly focused on the ways colonial power
relations are upheld through discourse, the concept of othering is not bound to a certain part of
the world. It ultimately refers to the fact that power relations can be discursively constructed
and reinforced. Jensen (2011: 65) argued that othering describes “discursive processes by
which powerful groups, which may or may not make up a numerical majority, define
subordinate groups into existence in a reductionist way which ascribe problematic and/or
inferior characteristics to these subordinate groups.” She also referred to Lister (2004: 101)
who provided a more general definition of othering as a “process of differentiation and
demarcation, by which the line is drawn between ‘us’ and ‘them’ . . . and through which
social distance is established and maintained.”
The media are part and parcel of this process of differentiation and demarcation. Typically,
media use stereotypes to reduce the complexity of the world in its coverage (Kleinsteuber
1991). Stereotypes are used to attribute certain characteristics to groups or people, which
ultimately creates an ingroup and an outgroup. The consequence of stereotyping is often the
devaluation of the outgroup and therewith an overestimation of the ingroup. According to
Lippman (2012), stereotypes are thus used to maintain a specific view of the world and form
the basis of a specific moral system. Especially in the case of reporting on distant countries,
regions, and societies, stereotypical representations in the media may have a strong impact on
public opinion and may increase social stratification because personal experiences with the
other are missing (Hafez 2002). The media’s impact on othering may also be stronger during
times of perceived crises, in which media become an important source of information. One of
the rare studies on public trust during the early time of the pandemic in the MENA region in
the spring of 2020––a study done by Open Think Tank in Iraqi-Kurdistan—revealed that trust
among people in mass media, in particular TV, is higher than trust in news spread through
social media and even information from friends and family (Beaujouan et al. 2020: 10). While
this finding may not be representative of the region as a whole, we can conclude that it is
important to look at the media discourse to get an impression on what shapes public opinion
regarding processes of othering.
Processes of othering in the media are often characterized by stereotypical dichotomic
attributions such as own/alien, good/bad, or morally superior/inferior that ultimately create an
‘us vs. them logic’. A vocabulary of dehumanization and homogenization of the respective
other is characteristic in this context (Said 1995). The bond of belonging that is discursively
created in such a manner may refer to a variety of ingroups, such as a certain political group
or a religious current or a class, race, or ethnicity. However, Bieber (2020: 3) detected over
the past couple of years a global rise of “exclusionary nationalism.” He has defined
nationalism as a “narrow ideology that values membership in a nation more than belonging to
other groups” (Bieber 2020: 2). Othering is an essential part of nationalism, because the
formation of a national identity requires the demarcation of others through the self-attribution
of certain values and a drawing of borders. During the pandemic, Bieber noticed that the
“importance of citizenship” (2020: 8) has been reemphasized as well as the “primacy of the
state” (2020: 8). Thus, the discursive line that is drawn between the self and the other in the
context of nationalism may firstly result in a homogenized view of the own and the other
nation, but secondly also draw a line between citizens and foreigners, privileging the former
against the latter.
Othering can easily be instrumentalized to blame specific groups for phenomena that are
threatening the status of the self. The other is seen as if they were jeopardizing a particular
order of which the self is part. Castro Varela and Mecheril (2016) have spoken of the
“demonization of the imagined other” as a typical consequence of this construction and
detected racial, religious, or nationalistic discrimination in media, politics, and society as a
possible result. Referring to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bieber pointed out that there is a
“long-established pattern of linking minorities, racial groups, and specific communities to
disease” (2020: 6). Given the rise of nationalism, the blaming and shaming of national
outgroups has become common. Anti-Chinese and nationalist rhetoric has not only shaped the
U.S. discourse, but also public opinion in the MENA region. A study on the level of public
awareness conducted by scientists from Al-Ain University in the UAE, among respondents of
six Arab countries in February and March 2020, revealed that the closing of borders was
strongly supported. A huge majority (95.5%) of the respondents agreed on the survey item
“Travel bans to/from areas of the disease should be implemented by the government to
prevent COVID-19 spreading.” At that time, China was seen as the dangerous other: in the
same study, 95.1% considered traveling to China a risk, and 47.2% even considered Chinese
goods as a source of exposure to the virus (Bonyan et al. 2020: 6). Blaming a national other
became mainstream, and has continued as such, underpinning Bieber’s observation that
“exclusionary nationalists shift the agenda and change acceptable public discourse” (2020: 3).
In our own study, it has thus been important to look at the manifestations of othering in the
media and to see which ingroups and outgroups are being constructed and if and how the
latter are being blamed for spreading the virus. It is also of interest to identify what kind of
language is used to create a logic of ‘us vs. them’ and to intentionally demonize the respective
Cases of investigation: Egypt, Iraq, Oman, and Yemen
We examined four different country cases in the MENA region, aiming to include a variety of
different forms of government, media control and affectedness by the pandemic. Even though
all countries can be considered to have an authoritarian political system, they are not
homogeneous and represent a wide spectrum of dealing discursively with such a crisis. In
order to understand the specific results for each country, it was important to learn more about
a) the general political approach of the country, which we assumed would shape decision-
making processes and discourses during the pandemic; b) the degrees of freedom and
(governmental) control in the media system; and c) the respective situation regarding COVID-
19 cases and measures discussed and taken during the spring of 2020. In the following, we
will review these three elements briefly for each case.
Since 2013, Egypt has been ruled by a military regime under formally elected president Abdel
Fattah El-Sisi. Egypt has returned to hard authoritarian rule after an interrupted transition
(Roll 2016). The regime is known for its heavy grip on the media, limiting oppositional and
independent media to a minimum. Only in the press is there a bit of a variety of ownership
models and opinions to be detected, while the broadcasting media is in the hands of loyalist
businessmen or the secret service (Badr 2021).
The first coronavirus case was reported on February 14, 2020, in the Cairo airport in relation
to a tourist from Asia. During March and early April, according to Joffé (2020: 518), the
regime downplayed the crisis and even sent two planeloads of health supplies to the then
strongly hit Italy. Even after many countries reported that tourists who had traveled to Egypt
had been tested positive for the coronavirus, Egyptian officials continued to downplay the
pandemic in Egypt, and only referred to foreign nationals and tourists as being infected. Only
after two generals died of COVID-19 did the government start to act, and schools and
universities as well as mosques were closed in April (Joffé 2020). In early April, not more
than 2,000 cases in a country of 100 million inhabitants were officially reported—a peak
would only be reached with more than 40,000 cases in June 2020 (Johns Hopkins Coronavirus
Resource Center 2020).
Since 2003, Iraq has been a federal republic in which elections play a significant role in the
distribution of power. The country is characterized by strong confessional and ethnicity-based
parties, with different Shiite, Sunni, and Kurdish parties struggling for power (Wimmen
2014). The beginning of the coronavirus epidemic in Iraq coincided with a period of political
instability after the resignation of the former government. The various parties were busy
choosing candidates for the prime minister, and the media was busy covering this political
struggle. The media system itself is characterized by strong political parallelism with most of
the media aligned with one or the other political party (Khalifa 2021). However, there is a
small number of media still in the hands of the government. Several media outlets are also in
the hands of private entrepreneurs, thus making the Iraqi media system comparatively diverse.
In Iraq, COVID-19 was first detected on February 24, 2020, in Najaf, and it involved an
Iranian student. The confirmed cases remained rather low, with 2,480 cases and 102 deaths
reported by May 10 (Beaujouan et al. 2020: 3). But neighboring Iran at that time was in the
spotlight for having the highest number of coronavirus-related deaths outside of China. The
Iraqi government officially closed its borders to Iran by March 8. The central government
imposed several measures, including partial or local lockdowns, after mid-March. This also
affected the work of media—many newspapers have been appearing only irregularly since
then. Nevertheless, the number of cases kept rising significantly. According to the Johns
Hopkins Coronavirus Research Center (2020), the peak of coronavirus infections only hit Iraq
in September 2020, with more than 120,000 new cases per month in a country of 40 million
Oman is a unitary absolute monarchy ruled by Sultan Haitham bin Tariq, who succeeded his
cousin Qaboos, who had ruled Oman for almost 50 years, as of January of 2020. Through its
petroleum and gas reserves, it has created wealth that is being carefully distributed among the
citizens. Due to late modernization and a limited indigenous workforce, like many other Gulf
countries, it heavily relies on guest workers from abroad. Around 42% of the population are
expatriates, mainly coming from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines (Oman
News Agency 2020).
The media are considered part of the modernization plan of the country and are supposed to
follow a conflict-avoiding political line, even though many media outlets are not directly
owned by the government. The government considers it extremely important not to offend
any of its international partners, mainly for economic reasons (Al-Kindi 2021).
Oman had its first COVID-19 cases reported on February 24, 2020, when two of its citizens
returned from Iran. Starting in mid-April, the government imposed a number of local
lockdowns. Already in March, cruise ships were not allowed to dock in Oman, and schools
and universities went to online teaching. However, the number of infected kept steadily rising
until reaching a peak in July 2020, with around 40,000 newly infected in a country of roughly
5 million inhabitants (Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center 2020). It was reported
that, in the early stages of the pandemic, the expat community was disproportionally affected
by the virus, while the ratio changed later (Times of Oman, May 20, 2020).
Yemen has been embroiled in a devastating war since 2015. It started with violent conflicts
between the Houthi movement that conquered the northern part of Yemen, including the
capital Sana’a (Transfeld 2015). The internationally recognized government under President
Abdrabboh Mansour Hadi finally fled to exile to Saudi Arabia. A Saudi-led coalition,
including the UAE, has since launched airstrikes and sent troops to reconquer northern
Yemen. Meanwhile, another anti-Houthi transitional council was installed in the southern city
of Aden. Due to the war, in the spring of 2020, 24 million people required humanitarian
assistance (International Crisis Group 2020: 4) of a population of 30 million. The de facto
authorities in Sana’a and Aden banned international flights to prevent the spread of the virus,
but this also affected the possibilities of receiving help from international human assistance
organizations. Confirmed cases, however, were not more than 3,000 by the end of 2020,
which is most likely related to a very low testing rate. On April 10, 2020, the first infection
was reported in the south. In the Houthi-controlled north, no casualties were reported, and this
was described by the Houthi-owned media as a “divine miracle” (Al-Thawrah, Sana’a
version, April 5, 2020a), a blessing from God who “singled out Yemen for many of its
worshipers around the globe for not spreading the Corona epidemic inside it” (Al-Thawrah,
Sana’a version, May 18, 2020), until May 3, 2020 when a Somali migrant was found dead in
one of the hotels in Sana’a.
The Yemeni media system has also suffered from the war, and the fragmentation of the
country into different interest groups has led to extremely high political parallelism in the
media. The two main conflict actors, the Houthis and the exiled government in Saudi Arabia,
operate their own media, while other conflict actors such as the Muslim Brotherhood or the
Southern Transitional Council in Aden also use media as instruments to disseminate their
respective propaganda.
These four cases will allow us to gain insights into how, in the MENA region, different
political preconditions and differing politics–media relations result in a variety of forms of
othering mirrored in the media discourse.
In our study, we were interested in answering the following questions:
Are “others” held responsible for the coronavirus crisis in the countries under study?
Who are those “others”?
Which forms and manifestations of “othering” can be detected in media discourse?
What language and terminologies are being used that stimulate xenophobic and
nationalistic feelings?
To answer these questions, we conducted a qualitative content analysis of newspapers (in
print or their respective online versions) in the four different Arab countries described above.
With regard to qualitative content analysis, we refer to Kuckartz (2016), who has suggested as
a first step an in-depth reading of the material and an initial coding of relevant phrases that
pertain to the research questions, which can be seen as abstract deductive categories. In a
second step, these initial codes are reviewed, systematized, and summarized so as to find
distinct patterns of argumentation that can be related to the three categories: (1) who is held
responsible, (2) forms of othering, and (3) language used. At the same time, this method is not
meant to employ rigid categories, but leaves room for the identification of specific arguments
and statements that help to underpin the general findings.
The time period investigated covers the first two months during which COVID-19 first hit the
respective countries and during which the virus could still be seen as an external threat. Thus,
we opted in three cases for March and April 2020, while in the case of Yemen, we chose
April and May 2020. In all media outlets we searched for articles with the search terms
Corona and Covid-19. This added up to several hundred articles in each country case. From
this initial sample, all articles were selected that were suitable for a qualitative content
analysis with our focus, meaning that in particular longer news stories, opinion and analytical
pieces were included.
For Egypt, 194 articles from three different types of newspapers were qualitatively analyzed:
the state-owned Al-Ahram, Al-Wafd, the only remaining daily partisan newspaper, but which
no longer has an oppositional political profile, and Al-Shorouk, a privately owned newspaper
that can be considered the most autonomous from regime control in the Egyptian sample.
For Iraq, we examined Al-Sabah, which is the only state-owned newspaper in Iraq, Al-Bayna
Al-Jadeeda, a party newspaper, and the privately owned Al-Mustaqbal Al-Iraqi newspaper. In
the two months of investigation, in particular the two latter newspapers have only been
published unregularly because of the lockdown, leading to fewer articles being published on
the topic. The number of qualitatively analyzed articles added up to 120.
For Oman, the online editions of the three daily English-language newspapers, Times of
Oman, Muscat Daily, and Oman Daily Observer, were analyzed. Stories that only reproduced
articles from international news agencies were excluded. After examining a total of 183 daily
editions only 30 articles qualified for a qualitative content analysis. The Oman Daily Observer
is government-owned, while the Muscat Daily and Times of Oman are privately owned. In the
Omani case, however, all newspapers can be considered loyal to the ruling incumbents,
despite some diversity in ownership.
For Yemen, we included 161 articles in the qualitative analysis. The sample was selected from
the online platforms of three strongly partisan newspapers representing the major oppositional
players in Yemen. Al-Thawra (Sana’a version) is under the control of the Houthis, while Al-
Thawra (Riyadh version) represents the internationally recognized but exiled government
operating from Saudi Arabia. Al-Sahwa, published by the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Al-
Islah party, operates from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, and is considered anti-Houthi.
In the following, we present the main findings and observations separately for each country.
This includes (translated) statements from the analyzed material and an implicit answering of
the questions. In the conclusion, we will answer the research questions in a comparative
Research results
Egypt: Denying one’s own responsibility and blaming the others
In the Egyptian case, the notion of ‘the disease came over us from the others’ dominated the
media discourse throughout March 2020. Al-Ahram began its coverage of the coronavirus
pandemic by simply denying a relation between Egypt and the discovery of any new
infections. “There is no single case of Corona on the land of Egypt” (Al-Ahram, March 1,
2020) was one of the early headlines published. In its attempt to attribute responsibility to
foreigners and tourists, it was seconded by the party newspaper Al-Wafd and the more
independent Al-Shorouk. Al-Ahram was keen to publish this type of news in a special
position on the front page of the newspaper, drawing attention to positive cases in relation to,
for example, some foreigners coming from Canada or an Egyptian coming from France. A
Taiwanese tourist was accused of having spread the virus in Egypt through contact with a
number of tourists and crew members on a Nile cruise to Luxor (Al-Wafd, March 7, 2020).
Consequently, the focus of the media discourse was on border control and travel restrictions
to save Egypt from external threats. Al-Wafd dealt with the preparations in Egyptian ports,
focusing on foreigners and goods coming from China, in particular (Al-Wafd, March 2,
2020). Al-Ahram took the same approach of blaming the opening of the borders and the
continuation of air traffic as the main reasons for the spread of the coronavirus. It did so by
referring to the positively evaluated decision of U.S. President Donald Trump to suspend
travel to Europe and the decision of the Iraqi authorities to close the land ports with Iran after
the outbreak of the epidemic there (Al-Ahram, March 13, 2020). Interestingly, the Egyptian
media discourse therewith mirrored a political foe–friend discourse of seconding its perceived
ally, the U.S., and blaming political enemies such as Iran and Qatar. After Qatar had closed its
borders to anyone flying in from Egypt, Egypt prohibited entry for Qataris—and the media
followed both decisions with a great deal of interest (Al-Ahram, March 5, 2020 and Al-Wafd,
March 5, 2020). Moreover, Europe came into the focus of the media discourse. One of the
analytical articles in Al-Ahram blamed some European countries for delaying taking full
precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the epidemic, describing Europe as the
“epicenter” of the outbreak of the epidemic (Al-Ahram, March 16, 2020). A columnist in Al-
Wafd called on the Egyptian government to stop flights to Europe and halt air traffic in
general (Al-Wafd, March 13, 2020). The less government-influenced Al-Shorouk also
published a story on the Egyptian president’s orders to tighten control over any entry points to
Egypt to stop spreading the virus (Al-Shorouk, March 2, 2020a). At the same time, it
criticized how arbitrary the control mechanisms were and obviously only applied to specific
nationalities: “Quarantine at Cairo Airport: there are no instructions to examine travelers to
Kuwait” (Al-Shorouk, March 2, 2020b).
In addition to a strong focus on securing the national borders from infiltration, in parts of the
coverage, a xenophobic discourse toward specific groups could be detected, reflecting anti-
Asian and anti-refugee stereotypes. Al-Shorouk published a news report about migrants being
considered a “time bomb about to explode” in Italy, as a result of the discovery of the first
case of the virus in a reception center for migrants in Italy (Al-Shorouk, March 19, 2020).
Most of the other xenophobic coverage, however, dealt with Asians in general and China in
particular. One Al-Ahram writer used the term “the great Chinese virus” (Al-Ahram, March
10, 2020), while another writer repeated the phrase “Chinese virus” more than once. He also
argued to “seek knowledge away from China,” which is a distortion of a prophetic Hadith that
says, “seek knowledge even in China” (Al-Ahram, March 12, 2020). In another column,
entitled “World War III,” a journalist mentioned that China could be seen as the biggest
enemy in this alleged war that the world was now witnessing, describing the virus as the
“Chinese dragon” that must be eliminated (Al-Ahram, March 25, 2020). Interestingly, one
article strongly criticized the policies of some countries against China and also the
xenophobic pictures used in German and Danish magazines to discredit China (Al-Ahram,
March 26, 2020). But this remained a rare exception. In an Al-Wafd article, the writer
exclaimed: “May God protect the brothers in the Gulf because of the presence of many Asian
communities working and living there” (Al-Wafd, March 1, 2020), suggesting that everything
that is Asian could be a source of the coronavirus epidemic. Another writer repeated this
sentiment by referring to a China critical book which argued that China should be “fought”
and “eliminated” because it was the main cause of the epidemic that now affected the whole
world (Al-Wafd, March 28, 2020). Al-Wafd also published an article in which its writer
explicitly accused China that the spread of the virus was not random but had political
dimensions (Al-Wafd, April 6, 2020). Al-Shorouk’s coverage also used some of these
xenophobic stereotypes (e.g., Al-Shorouk, March 3, 2020), but it also contained a media
critical piece in which it reflected on possible reasons for attacks on Chinese people in Egypt.
It referred to a case in which a taxi driver bullied a potential customer because he considered
him to be Chinese and concluded that anti-Asian racism was a product of the Egyptian media
discourse (Al-Shorouk, March 2, 2020). In addition, Al-Shorouk (March 17, 2020), in
particular, contained several pieces on China’s successful dealing with the crisis, thus positing
an ambivalent evaluation of “the Chinese other” between blaming and praising.
Iraq: Being caught in the midst of a U.S.–China battle
The Iraqi media coverage in the spring of 2020 took a different direction than the Egyptian
one. Since, in neighboring Iran, the epidemic had already spread tremendously, the Iraqi
government started to take measures early on. Most coverage therefore dealt with internal
measures to confront the virus, such as curfews for many Iraqi governorates, preparing places
for quarantine, and increasing the teams that sanitize governmental and private places.
However, not all newspapers were able to publish during curfew restrictions in March and
April. That is why the government-owned Al-Sabah newspaper was found to have published
the highest number of articles that dealt with the epidemic. It continued to publish during the
study period and can be said to convey the official Iraqi point of view.
In all three newspapers, the pandemic was described as a global threat, but the responsibility
was not solely attributed to China. In fact, there was even a substantial number of articles in
all three newspapers that highlighted Chinese cooperation and medical aid to Iraq. Al-Bayna
Al-Jadeeda (March 16, 2020), for example, reported that the Chinese Red Cross “brings Iraqi
citizens the materials to prevent and control the virus and the Chinese experience in fighting
the epidemic in order to help the Iraqi government to combat COVID-19.”
The Iraqi newspapers, whether government-, party- or privately-owned, located the reasons
for the pandemic in a broader political conflict in which the U.S. was seen as the opponent of
China (and also of neighboring Iran). Indeed, many articles mentioned that the virus was
actually the result of a conflict between China and America, who were defined as the most
powerful actors who were both capable of launching biological warfare, and the rest of the
world seemed to be left to their mercy. The government-owned Al-Sabah published an edition
in which two contradictory versions on the origin of the virus in the context of this biological
warfare frame were explained: “Those who believe in the conspiracy theory say that it is a
biological weapon and was manufactured in U.S. laboratories to strike China and Iran” (Al-
Sabah, April 13, 2020a), while in another article it argued that “an American senator and
others have also spread a theory claiming that the virus had originally emerged from a
biological weapons laboratory in Wuhan” (Al-Sabah, April 13, 2020b). In general, many
contradictory and unproved claims were circulated, and it was undecided who could be held
more responsible—the U.S. or China. The privately-owned Al-Mustaqbal Al-Iraqi (March 12,
2020), for example, argued that Trump was behind the virus. Regarding China’s accusation
toward the U.S. of having smuggled the virus into Wuhan, Al-Bayna Al-Jadeeda (March 15,
2020) argued that “this is a very serious accusation,” because it would be an accusation of
“committing crimes against humanity, because the disaster has afflicted most of the world’s
peoples, their stock exchanges and financial markets, . . . and we are still at the beginning.”
Al-Bayna Al-Jadeeda even carried a piece on March 11, 2020 that took up Iran’s accusation
of the U.S. being responsible for biological “terrorism.” It quoted an Iranian official who said:
“What we understood is that there are two types of coronavirus spread in the country, one of
which is the Chinese Wuhan virus and the other is an unknown virus. The different virus did
not have mercy on a 25-year-old nurse and killed her immediately. This virus is likely to be a
kind of American bioterrorism that Washington has spread in the country.” Moreover, it was
also mentioned that the sanctions on Iran or, respectively, the isolation of China by the U.S.
are instrumentalized to the spread of the virus, emphasizing again the notion of biological
warfare: “America’s goal is to isolate Iran and China from the world so that America remains
in the forefront” (Al-Bayna Al-Jadeeda, March 2, 2020).
On the other hand, in several articles, China was identified as the source of the pandemic.
Indeed, Al-Sabah (April 4, 2020) argued that “it is known that the source is the Chinese city
of Wuhan, from which it spread with lightning speed to all parts of the planet, leaving an
unprecedented state of panic among the poor and backward peoples who have no power to
face any danger.” In some of its articles, Al-Sabah adopted the term “Chinese virus,” and in
one case, also referred to “Corona being a socialist disease” (Al-Sabah, March 15, 2020).
However, this was even presented positively because the author argued that “Corona
embodied [China’s] socialism in making the world stand together to confront it,” while in
previous catastrophes such as “famines that have killed millions of people in many places,
especially in Africa, South Asia, Latin America,” the (capitalist) world stands by watching.
Clear anti-Asian language could not be detected; on the contrary, some were even concerned
with racist anti-Asian feelings in the U.S. due to the virus (e.g., Al-Mustaqbal Al-Iraqi, March
11, 2020).
Oman: Emphasizing national cohesion
In Oman, all the investigated newspapers sourced their news from the government and its
agencies, such as the Supreme Committee mandated to oversee the control of the spread of
the pandemic and the Ministry of Health, thus reflecting the official state discourse. There
were no investigative stories on COVID-19 conducted by the journalists of the newspapers
under review.
Unlike other international or Arab media, the newspapers in Oman did not publish any article
in which the authorities blamed any country, nationality, or race for the spread of the
coronavirus. The Omani media thus reflected the careful management of the country’s
international relations and its main goal not to offend anyone.
Still, as in the Egyptian case, the closing of borders was a main issue reported in the media.
One article reported that Saudi Arabia had banned its citizens from traveling to Oman, and
Oman felt obliged to take its own measures and suspended flights to Europe, namely Italy,
France, Germany, Turkey, and Spain and Iran, in mid-March (Oman Daily Observer, March
9, 2020). An article of the Oman Daily Observer (March 16, 2020) reported that a decision of
the Supreme Committee was made to ban entry of non-Omanis into the Sultanate via land, air,
or sea borders, with the exception of citizens of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
In this context of border control, othering was obvious in the constant distinction of Omani vs.
non-Omani citizens in the official and the media discourse. People coming from other
countries were specifically identified by their nationalities and countries of origin. What is
even more important in Oman is that the population was also separated into two different
groups. In terms of wording, Omanis were mainly referred to as “citizens,” while non-Omanis
were called “residents” and “expatriates,” indicating a clear distinction—albeit without
directly apportioning blame. Also, daily graphical updates in the newspapers on the
development of cases in Oman distinguished clearly between Omanis and non-Omanis. The
same sentiment of separating the to-be-protected “us” from the potentially threatening “them”
was reflected in the Times of Oman (March 4, 2020) in the article entitled: “Experts from
COVID-19 nations can’t return.” The article reported that expatriates of Chinese, Italian,
Iranian, and South Korean nationalities who live in Oman would not be allowed to return to
the Sultanate, should they travel overseas, even if their visas were valid.
What was even more telling were the efforts to highlight national cohesion in which, first and
foremost, Omani citizens mattered the more than others. The Omani government took special
measures for the repatriation of Omanis who were stranded in Australia, New Zealand, the
U.S., India, Pakistan, Thailand, and other places (Muscat Daily, April 14, 2020). This was
accompanied by intensive coverage employing a patriotic tone in the three newspapers.
Interviews with repatriated individuals were given large and prominent space in the media,
highlighting the caretaking of the government for its citizens (e.g., Oman Daily Observer,
March 24 and March 25, 2020). To also emphasize patriotism in the context of the pandemic,
Omani doctors working in the UK, France, and Australia were interviewed on whether they
would be ready to return if their country of origin needed their expertise in combating the
pandemic. One of them was quoted as saying: “I am one of the frontline fighters against
COVID-19. The situation in my country is currently under control. However, once my mother
country needs me back to my duty, I will fly back immediately. If Oman needs me, I will fly
back without thinking twice” (Muscat Daily, April 19, 2020).
Yemen: Constructing conspiracies of the enemy other
In Yemen, the coronavirus pandemic has been clearly politicized by all parties—and so it was
reflected in the media, being the mouthpieces of the parties which owned them. Each party
used the pandemic to attack the other, claiming that the measures it took in the areas under its
control were for the sake of the Yemeni people, while the respective other was attacked. In
doing so, alleged and actual supporters of the other faction were included in the
argumentation, creating a dichotomy of “us” vs. the cruel “enemy other.”
When the country was still considered to be free of COVID-19 in April 2020, but threatened
by the first cases, the Houthi-affiliated media in Sana’a repeatedly described the pandemic as
“a biological warfare” waged by a “coalition of aggression,” meaning the U.S., its CIA
intelligence, and the Saudi regime, to deliver the pandemic to Yemen to achieve what they
had not been able to achieve during the war which began in 2015 (e.g., Al-Thawra, Sana’a
version, April 5, 2020). Many articles in Houthi-affiliated media considered the U.S. the main
responsible actor, arguing that the coronavirus was the product of an “American industry”
(Al-Thawra, Sana’a version, April 10, 2020). It was also claimed that “American Corona”
(Al-Thawra, Sana’a version, April 22, 2020) is a virus that was created and developed by
America to subjugate the world. It was also speculated that “there is an American tendency to
spread the Corona epidemic and to exploit it even if it harms the American society itself” (Al-
Thawra, Sana’a version, April 4, 2020). COVID-19 was seen as similar to what they did to
“the American Indians when they introduced them to the smallpox virus through blankets,
deceived them with so-called humanitarian aid, and killed and exterminated hundreds of
thousands of them” (Al-Thawra, Sana’a version, April 2, 2020). It was thus concluded in the
Houthi-media that the U.S. is the “enemy of the people” (Al-Thawra, Sana’a version, May 3,
2020) and it is “the one that causes humanity all this pain.”
A review of the Houthi-media discourse indicates that the coronavirus pandemic has provided
an opportunity to vent the state of anger against the West, especially the U.S., and to generally
attack what is considered to be the double standard of Western values, including the
supremacy of white people. In this context, there was also talk about the “suspicious roles” of
the UN and other international organizations operating in Yemen (Al-Thawra, Sana’a version,
May 2, 2020). These actors were accused of utilizing the suffering of Yemenis to receive
more funding, while only distributing the crumbs of that funding to the Yemenis.
Once the first casualty, a Somali migrant, was found in the Houthi-controlled area in Sana’a,
the discourse changed from constructing an abstract American or Western conspiracy to more
concrete accusations toward the direct conflict actors. Using a war-infused language, the
Houthi-affiliated media accused Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as the “countries of aggression,”
of purposefully and systematically planting the virus in Yemen through continuous air flights
that allegedly transported mercenaries infected with the virus (At-Thawra, Sana’a version,
May 19, 2020). It was further argued that, in the southern ports of Yemen, thousands of illegal
immigrants from the Horn of Africa, or even from Chad and Nigeria, were being let in
without any medical inspections. It was also claimed that the Saudi regime had established
camps for Africans on the Yemeni border to traffic them to Yemeni cities and governorates
with the help of networks of smugglers who work with Saudi intelligence (At-Thawra, Sana’a
version, April 11, 2020).
The media outlets of the internationally recognized government in Saudi exile, as well as Al-
Sahwa, which is close to the Al-Islah party, took an anti-Houthi stance, but used the same
kind of accusations, just turning them in the other direction. Since the Houthis are said to
cooperate with Iran, their measures were discredited as mimicking the ineffective Iranian
measures against the virus. According to Al-Thawra, the Riyadh version, the “Iranian
mercenaries” (meaning the Houthis) had falsified the facts, disavowing responsibility,
concealing the true numbers and statistics of the spread of the pandemic in their areas of
control. Thus, according to Al-Sahwa, they duplicated the Iranian regime’s way of managing
the coronavirus crisis through political utilization of the global pandemic as well as
concealing data and information from international organizations and local public opinion
(Al-Sahwa, May 26, 2020). At the same time, this article argued that Houthi senior leaders
were themselves infected with the virus, which they had brought back from their visits to Iran.
The references to Iran were clearly meant to emphasize what was being seen as a disastrous
influence of a political actor that strongly opposes Saudi politics in the MENA region, which
is the protecting power of the internationally recognized Yemeni government. Using this as a
pretext, the alleged practices of the Houthis were illustrated in gruesome pictures. In a report
it was speculated that the Houthis were killing patients in sanitary isolation hospitals, burying
them, and strictly instructing their families to conceal their deaths (Al-Thawra, Riyadh
version, May 17, 2020). Furthermore, it was said that the Houthis were “intentionally bringing
people infected with the coronavirus to prisons” (Al-Thawra, Riyadh version, May 27, 2020)
or sending security services to arrest those suspected of being infected with the coronavirus
instead of sending medical teams (Al-Thawra, Riyadh version, May 17, 2020). Likewise,
using the same tone, Al-Sahwa repeated several accusations toward the Houthis. In one of the
articles, it was said that the Houthis were dealing with the coronavirus with a police mentality,
as if it were a global conspiracy against Islam. The article argued that this was the same kind
of denial that the Iranians were using (Al-Sahwa, May 2, 2020). Al-Sahwa also disgustedly
described how, in a northern neighborhood, a local Houthi leader claimed that the coronavirus
pandemic was “contrived and faked by Western countries” and “merely an international
conspiracy aimed at preventing Muslims from congregational prayers and family kinship”
(Al-Sahwa, May 7, 2020), while another article talked about rumors that, in hospitals,
“Houthis will use lethal injections for people with the coronavirus to get rid of them directly”
(Al-Sahwa, May 19, 2020).
In our study, we aimed to look at the manifestations of othering with regard to the
construction of ingroups and outgroups, and if and how the latter are being blamed for
spreading the virus. We also wanted to find out more about the language being used and how
it reflected stereotypes and a vocabulary of dehumanization.
In all four country cases a clear demarcation of a national ingroup that needs to be saved from
foreign threats could be detected. The media discourse thus reinforced a problematic
nationalist perspective that helped attributing blame to certain outgroups and created the
image of the nation and its (indigenous) people as victims of external threats. In doing so, the
media discourse of the analyzed outlets reflected the way the respective incumbents tried to
regain legitimization for their actions (or inactivity) against the virus. At the same time, this
reflection can also be seen as an instrumentalization of the media by the elites to blame their
political adversaries through othering. As Nossek (2004) predicted for times of crises, media
and journalists have been compliant and acted in a seemingly patriotic manner.
In the Egyptian case, for example, the regime for a long time neglected any responsibility for
the spread of the virus and took counter-measures only half-heartedly. The media helped in
justifying this by attributing blame to others. Othering included in particular China, which
was depicted in a stereotypical way as aggressive and irresponsible, but also Qatar which the
Egyptian regime had boycotted at the time of analysis and which was considered a political
opponent. A homogenized view of the other including a dehumanizing language was
characteristic for many media reports.
In the case of Yemen, the demarcation from the political other which was characterized as
outright evil was even more pronounced compared to Egypt. The strongly instrumentalized
Yemeni media on both sides of the fragmented political spectrum used a demonizing
vocabulary to create a dehumanized other. It did not shy away from spreading lies and
conspiracy theories in order to mark whole nations as either friend or foe, in which the foe
was depicted as the threatening other. For the Houthi’s media, the U.S., or more generally the
West, was held responsible for the crisis as well as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, while for the
exiled government’s media Iran was to blame. Dichotomic attributions to the self and the
other was characteristic in the whole media discourse.
In the Iraqi case, the political dependencies were also reflected in the media and led to
othering processes. Yet, they did not seem to reflect a strong political instrumentalization as it
was seen in the Yemeni and the Egyptian case. The media seemed to be somewhat undecided
who to blame more strongly–the U.S. or China–for spreading the virus. Yet, the Iranian
accusation against the U.S. of having used Corona as a weapon against its opponent China
(and the Global South in general) was prevalent in Iraqi media. Interestingly and in contrast to
the previously discussed cases, Iraqi media did not enforce a discourse on the Iraqi nation as
being threatened by external forces. Instead, the media emphasized a more global perspective
and asked about the immoral other in world politics.
In the Omani case, the media relied again strongly on the importance of national citizenship
as a marker of an ingroup that needs to be protected, reinforcing a global trend as Bieber
(2020) had predicted. However, the Omani media, which strongly reflects the official political
discourse, did not use an aggressive language of blaming others, but a more subtle way by
pointing to the greater amount of infections among the huge expat community and by making
clear that national borders will be closed to many of them.
In response to our questions on the manifestations of othering in the media in some MENA
countries we can detect an overarching tendency of othering on the basis of invoking mostly
national identities as lines of demarcation. In those cases in which the identity of the nation
state was jeopardized by internal fragmentation such as in Yemen or Iraq, sometimes
Southern alliances were constructed and put in place against the West, in particular the U.S.
Othering could also take more subtle forms when a cautious language was used like in the
Omani case while the media in the remaining three country cases employed an outright
aggressive and often demonizing vocabulary that was clearly meant to attribute blame to the
By focusing on four different MENA countries with their specific political and media systems
during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, we aimed to learn more about how
discursive othering shapes media discourse. In all four countries, the discursive line of the
political elites defined media coverage reflecting specific classificatory systems of difference
during the pandemic.
In all four cases, the media played a questionable role by not taking a stand against political
othering. On the contrary, the media emphasized discursive othering by attributing blame to
others, often whole nations including their peoples, avoiding expressions of empathy, and
abrogating responsibility. Instead of applying a perspective of joint responsibility and mutual
care, the media seemed to remain an instrument of the political incumbents that are in
desperate need of regaining legitimacy in times of crises. Attributing guilt to others is a long-
established strategy in such moments, and the media in all of our analyzed cases has proven to
be obedient to the needs of the incumbents, albeit with different degrees. In our analysis we
have tried to make these degrees and different manifestations visible. One might argue that
media in authoritarian settings are prone to instrumentalization. Yet, this does not release
journalists and media producers from reflecting about stereotypical coverage that reinforces
othering in a way that outgroups are demonized and the own (national) ingroup is portrayed as
superior. Transnational mobility, social cohesion and international policy-making can be
strongly effected by problematic images of the other and their incorporation in public opinion.
More research on how othering and (national) stereotyping is being carried out in Arab
countries’ media can help us to detect consistent patterns in media coverage and to develop
strategies of how to challenge them through training of journalists and media literacy
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Authors’ bios:
Carola Richter, Dr. phil., is professor for international communication at Freie Universität
Berlin, Germany. In her research, she focuses on media systems and communication cultures
in the MENA region (Middle East and North Africa), foreign news coverage, media and
migration as well as on public diplomacy. She is the co-founder of AREACORE, the Arab-
European Association of Media and Communication Researchers, and director of the Center
for Media and Information Literacy (CeMIL) at Freie Universität Berlin.
Abdulrahman Al-Shami, Ph.D., is associate professor of broadcast journalism at Qatar
University. In his research, he focuses on new media and social change, as well as on satellite
channels. He is the co-founder of AREACORE, the Arab-European Association of Media and
Communication Researchers and board member of AUSACE, the Arab-US Association of
Communication Educators.
Sahar Khalifa Salim, Ph.D., is university professor at the College of Information of Al Iraqia
University in Baghdad, Iraq. Her research interests include digital media education,
investigative journalism and propaganda. She is the vice chairperson of Al-Baseera Society
for Media Research and Development and a member of the Arab-European Association for
Media and Communication Researchers (AREACORE) and a member of the Advisory
Committee of Arab Research Id (ARID).
Soheir Osman, Dr. phil., is associate professor of journalism at the Department of Mass
Communication at Cairo University and head of the journalism department at Ahram
Canadian University, Egypt. She is an expert in journalism studies and political
Samuel Mundua is a PhD Candidate of Communication Science specializing in Strategic
Media Management at the University of South Africa (UNISA). He is also a Senior Lecturer
of Media Studies at Bayan College in Oman – which is affiliated with Purdue University
Northwest, USA. He previously worked as Head of Department (HOD) of Media Studies at
Bayan College until September, 2020. Prior to joining Bayan College, Mr. Samuel Mundua
worked as Lecturer of Public Relations and Media Management at Cavendish University in
Uganda. He is a member of the Arab-European Association for Media and Communication
Researchers (AREACORE).
Contact details of first author:
Prof. Dr. Carola Richter
Freie Universität Berlin
Institute for Media and Communication Studies
Garystr. 55
14195 Berlin
Tel: +49-30-838 58898
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Full-text available
COVID-19 has attracted much attention in Kurdish neighbourhoods and has been relayed massively by the media across the KRI. Kurdistanis put their trust mostly in television as the most accessible source of information across the region. Conversely, social media was not considered a reliable source of information during the pandemic. The results of this survey highlight a strong lack of trust in federal political figures and institutions. At the regional level, Kurdistanis are divided along lines of political affiliation and geography. While respondents from Duhok and Erbil expressed a high level of trust in the KRG, people of Silemani are openly distrustful of the KRI government. The institutions responsible for mitigating the impact of the pandemic attract the highest level of trust across governorates. This is the case with the KRG Ministry of Health and Ministry of Interior, including the security forces and the police. Conversely, participants expressed strong rejection of both parliaments that sit in Baghdad and Erbil. The legislative body attracted the least trust among the population surveyed. The COVID-19 pandemic has fostered social cohesion in the KRI. The majority of respondents believed that all Kurdistanis, including both vulnerable and non-vulnerable groups, should be treated equally and should receive the same amount of government support during the pandemic. That being said, a significant number of respondents recognized the importance of caring for those most vulnerable, such as the elderly, Syrian refugees, and International Displaced Persons (IDPs) more broadly. Finally, respondents have been shown to rely mostly on their social circles and family throughout the crisis, rather than regional and federal institutions. Those surveyed strongly supported the preventive measures in general imposed by the KRG on the three governorates. Yet, answers to the survey reveal that such measures have had an impact on the personal economic circumstances of Kurdistanis, especially among the younger portion of the population, who expected to face financial difficulties in the near future as a direct consequence of the pandemic and its impact.
Full-text available
The article outlines the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on nationalism around the world. Starting from the premise that nationalism is a global and ubiquitous idea in the contemporary world, it explores whether exclusionary tendencies have been reinforced by the pandemic. The pandemic and government responses will not necessarily trigger the increase in exclusionary nationalism that both far-right politicians and observers have noted. However, there are 4 aspects, examined in the article, that might be shaped by the pandemic. These include the recent trajectory of nationalism and its social relevance prior to the pandemic,the rise of authoritarianism as governments suspend or reduce democratic freedoms and civil liberties, the rise of biases against some groups associated with the pandemic, the rise of borders and deglobalization, and the politics of fear. Thus, while the rise of exclusionary nationalism might not be the inevitable consequence of the pandemic, it risks reinforcing preexisting nationalist dynamics.
Egypt’s military has been the real winner of the country’s political transformation. It was not only successful in preserving the overall power structure, which was challenged by young revolutionaries and Islamist opposition between 2011 and 2013. It also expanded its power within the political relevant elite. The article argues that the gradual approach chosen by the Generals in managing change as well as their ability to maintain a cohesive corporate structure and act therefore as a strong institutional player explain this outcome. However the military’s dominance will hinder socio-economic progress and makes the political order unsustainable over the long run.
This article examines ‘collective feelings’ by considering how ‘others’ create impressions on the surfaces of bodies. Rather than considering ‘collective feeling’ as ‘fellow feeling’ or in terms of feeling ‘for’ the collective, the article suggests that how we respond to others in intercorporeal encounters creates the impression of a collective body. In other words, how we feel about others is what aligns us with a collective, which paradoxically ‘takes shape’ only as an effect of such alignments. The article considers different examples of racism in which a particular other is held in place by being aligned with other others. The ‘moment of contact’ is shaped by past histories of contact, which allows the proximity of a racial other to be perceived as threatening, at the same time as it re-shapes the bodies in the contact zone of the encounter. Feelings rehearse associations that are already in place, in the way in which they ‘read’ the proximity of others, at the same time as they establish the ‘truth’ of the reading. The article extends its analysis by showing that bodily proximity is not required to create the impressions of others, and offers an analysis of ‘collective feelings’ within virtual communities of global nomads. Proximity does not require physical co-presence: the collective can ‘surface’ through giving up on local attachments (where the screen becomes a substitute for the skin). The article concludes that collective feelings are not feelings that the collective ‘has’, as if the collective was a subject. Rather the collective is an effect of the impressions left by others on the surfaces of skins.