Arab reactions to the U.S. presidential election

"The world needs a break from the Trump era!"

Just like the rest of the world, the Arab region and Arabic-language media have been watching spellbound over the last few days as U.S. President Donald Trump was voted out of office. Christopher Resch summarises some of the editorials for Qantara.de

Many Arab rulers, especially the autocrats, have done quite well for themselves over the past four years with Donald Trump in office. Now that Trump has been defeated by Joe Biden, many changes can be expected. The change in leadership in the USA is currently a top theme in the major Arab newspapers, with a focus on Trump's blunders, the normalisation he initiated between the Arab states and Israel, and the USA's viewpoint on Iran.

The London-based daily paper Al-Quds Al-Arabi commented in an article without a byline: "The world needs a break from the Trump era!" The newspaper was for a long time the mouthpiece of a pan-Arab intellectual scene, along with Al-Sharq Al-Awsat and the now-defunct Al-Hayat.

The commentary goes on to say: "One of Trump's biggest mistakes is illustrated by his slogan 'Make America Great Again', because he completely ignores the fact that America's greatness has always rested on two pillars: the democratic system of the founding fathers and the immigrants who have contributed to America's strength with their ethnic, religious and social diversity. Trump's ancestors were also immigrants."

Of course, the Trump administration cannot be blamed for every "world disaster", writes Al-Quds Al-Arabi, and yet Trump's four-year tenure in the White House has encouraged and inspired people like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán – none of whom, in the authors' understanding, can be said to be sympathetic figures.

"A democracy can manage to cast off its tyrants"

"Even with Trump's departure, the world will not become a paradise, because 'Trumpism' will persist as a menacing and divisive element, in the USA and worldwide. Nevertheless, the election at least showed that a democracy can manage to cast off its tyrants."

The newspaper Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, published in London, was also long regarded as pan-Arabic. The daily is owned by Saudi Prince Faisal, one of the sons of King Salman, and is today considered very closely linked to Saudi politics.

Caricature by Sergey Elkin: Joe Biden celebrates victory in the U.S. election (source: DW)
New U.S. Middle East policy post-Trump: America's new president, Joe Biden, will have a hard time with Trump's legacy in the Near and Middle East. Nevertheless, he leaves no doubt that there will be some changes in the USA's Middle East policy. Unlike under Donald Trump, America will in future no longer leave American values "​​at the cloakroom to sell weapons or buy oil," as Biden declared a few weeks ago

In his commentary "America and the Arabs", the author Abdulah Bin Bijad Al-Otaibi says that throughout his term of office Trump has had to ward off constant attacks from the liberal U.S. left, which was interested only in defaming and mocking him as a person. Much more important, Al-Otaibi emphasises, is what U.S. foreign policy will look like over the next four years, and above all the question of how to deal with the "careless attitude of the Obama administration towards burning issues in the region".

By this the Saudi author of course means Iran in general, and the nuclear agreement in particular. As is well known, Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal Obama had negotiated with Iran. For Al-Otaibi, the matter is clear: "The Gulf states and the Arab countries are clearly opposed to the regime in Tehran and they will not accept a return to the agreement with all its faults and shortcomings."

Things could get uncomfortable for Saudi Arabia

The Qatari daily paper Al-Arabi Al-Jadid is likewise published in London. It is owned by the private company Fadaat Media from Doha.

In a commentary in the newspaper, the Jordanian author Lamis Andoni writes primarily of the Arab world's efforts to normalise relations with Israel at the prompting of Trump. "The return of the Democrats to the White House will not undo the 'achievements' of the Trump administration in consolidating U.S.-Israeli hegemony, nor will it make up for the violation of Arab security sensibilities."

Adonis goes on to describe how Trump has been able to take advantage of various recent developments in the Arab countries for the benefit of his policy on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: namely, the complete absence of any resistance to the normalisation efforts, the gradual isolation of the Palestinians, and the inclusion of Israel in an alliance against the threat from Iran. "These new facts will dictate how the future U.S. administration deals with the Arab world." However, most of the Arab countries are in shock after Trump's defeat, she says, and are left weaker than before. "The future U.S. administration will continue to press for the implementation of such normalisation agreements and will even try to push through new ones."

Photo montage: President-elect Joe Biden; Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman (source: DW)
The Crown Prince and Saudi de facto ruler Mohammed bin Salman maintained close relations with Donald Trump. Trump and "MBS" were particularly united by their enmity towards Iran. Nor did Trump abandon Saudi Arabia after the assassination of government-critical Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggi by a Saudi commando in October 2018. Observers expect that the new administration under Joe Biden will at least "reassess" the relationship with the Wahhabist monarchy

Things could then get uncomfortable for Saudi Arabia. Because the Democrats, according to Lamis Andoni, are trying to pass a law that would hold the Saudi state to account for the bombings of 11 September 2001 and the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in autumn 2018.

What is the U.S. position on the Nile dispute?

In Egypt, whose elites traditionally have very close ties with the USA, the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, along with others, ran several articles commenting on the U.S. elections. The liberal-leaning paper was long considered quite independent of political influence, but it in fact finds itself under just as much pressure as the Egyptian media landscape in general.

The author Amr El-Shobaki writes in two commentaries, "Trump's Defeat" and "Biden's Victory", that the Democratic winner will surely "rescind a number of very bad Trump decisions, such as the withdrawal of the USA from the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Convention, and he will also lift the U.S. entry ban for citizens of several Islamic countries."

The special challenge for Egypt is not the U.S. position on the Muslim Brotherhood, but rather the American position on Ethiopia, he says – an interesting combination of these two issues. Shobaki is concerned about the planned Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile, as a result of which Egypt fears dependencies and water shortages. "Ethiopia presents itself as part of the civil rights movement in the USA and promotes political propaganda" that is designed to make Egypt look like a colonial country. For Egypt, much depends on how the future U.S. administration will handle this matter.

Christopher Resch

© Qantara.de 2020

Translated from the German by Jennifer Taylor

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