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November 16, 2016
Donald Trump’s successful presidential campaign caught many by surprise, including the Middle Eastern press. But contrary to the grim visions of a Trump Presidency expressed in the run-up to the election, the general reaction in the various regional op-eds and editorials has been one of muted hope and anticipation of what a Trump presidency might mean for the region, particularly in right-leaning circles. That is not to say that Mr. Trump does not have his detractors, many of whom worry about his vocal support of Israel, his closeness to Russia and his unpredictability.
Mohammad Fadhle, in an op-ed for Gulf News, is one of those detractors, expressing his concern that the United States has lost its way, with neither its elites nor its outsiders putting forward visionary leaders: “it is obvious that a large segment of Americans no longer care about programmes or visions when it comes to choosing their president. What about the political elite itself? [Are the] elite still obliged to judge those who run for the presidency based on strategic visions or intellectual concepts? It doesn’t seem so. At best such an ‘obligation/interest’ is less than what it was before....Trump’s victory represents a peek into a long road to deterioration in America and the world as a whole....Political elites no longer have great leaders with visions, but politicians of the worst kinds: Representatives of global companies and firms, arms dealers or leaders of nationalist and sectarian, narrow-minded and utterly banal parties, who only know how to plunder and establish corruption networks.”
But in Daily News Egypt, Khalaf Al Habtoor argues that contrary to what Mr. Trump’s critics say, the new president-elect has won a fully deserved victory and has earned the right to do things his way: “America has chosen and, whether one approves of that choice or not, it should be accepted and respected both at home and abroad....Give Trump his due. He won an exceptionally hard fought race despite constant criticism from the media leaning overwhelmingly towards Hillary Clinton and establishment figures of all political hues, including attacks from president Barack Obama....America needs to do some soul-searching to discover why a rank outsider succeeded in surpassing a seasoned politician with decades of experience....On the foreign policy front, it is my hope that he renegotiates the Iranian nuclear deal, works to end the carnage in Syria, and cleanses our planet from the twin scourges of terrorism and extremism.”
This Khaleej Times editorial shares a similarly upbeat assessment of last Tuesday night’s electoral outcome, arguing that change is what the United States and world need at this time: “This is it. It can happen only in the United States. The unthinkable....They ignored calls for change America needed after eight years under the Obama administration that has made the once mighty United States into a bit player on the world stage....Hillary Clinton was in the same Obama mold. She personified continuity and a proximity to the ruling elite that rural America has come to despise....[Trump is] not even conservative, but the way he has been portrayed by a partisan media puts the system of news gathering under a cloud. We would go so far as to call it corrupt. The biggest losers in this election have been the U.S. media with their liberal hogwash that spoke nothing of liberation. This election season has been a test of dwindling faith in institutions and the people who run it. Yet, there is hope. America has spoken — democratically.”
Ruthie Blum, meanwhile, in an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post, has characterized the election outcome as a “vote against cultural radicalism,” suggesting that cultural factors were important in getting Mr. Trump elected: “What is conspicuously absent from the discussion, however, is the role that popular culture played in ushering Trump into the White House, to the horror of many and the huge relief of those who tipped the scale in his favor against Hillary Clinton....The popular culture I am talking about is the liberalism gone haywire that has not only characterized the past eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, but has been shoved down the throats of the populace. In circles naturally prone to obtuse ideology and feelings of ill-deserved entitlement — such as in academia and Hollywood — this has been a comfortable fit....Yes, things have gone too far in the United States, and the electorate decided to pull the pendulum back in the other direction. Trump vowed he would help them do that. Whether he delivers on this promise remains to be seen.”
There is a sense that, notwithstanding his anti-Muslim remarks, many Arab observers are pleased with Trump’s election because, according to this recent Arab News report, many believe Mr. Trump will reopen the Iran file: “Donald Trump’s upcoming administration plans to set up a coalition with the GCC, Jordan and Egypt to support counter-terrorism efforts, Walid Phares, one of the U.S. president-elect’s foreign policy advisers has confirmed. The new U.S. leader will also ‘review’ the Iran nuclear agreement, but will stop short of ripping up the landmark international deal, Phares said on Friday....During the campaign, Trump called Jerusalem ‘the eternal capital’ of Israel and said he was ‘100 percent for’ moving the embassy there. Earlier Thursday, Trump Israel adviser Jason Dov Greenblatt told Israel’s Army Radio that the president-elect would make good on his promise.”
Still, there is plenty of hesitation in some quarters about what the Trump White House will actually do. For example, the editorial team at the Saudi Gazette raises questions about the ability of the Trump administration to provide continuity in U.S. foreign policy in the region and elsewhere: “Trump’s triumph threatens to upend so many U.S. foreign policies that have been taken for granted that it is going to take a lot of time to figure out what happens next. Indeed, as the president-elect now turns to putting together his administrative team, it may not be all that clear, even to him, what change is going to happen and when....During the campaign, Trump made many foreign policy references but few of them were explicit. Putting America first may have been too raw a slogan for the Clinton campaign to use but nobody expects any politician to do any the less for his or her country. But it is how U.S. interests are allowed to have primacy in foreign policy formulation that is important.”
The Jordan Times editorial reveals low expectations for what Mr. Trump can do for the region, noting his expected shift in favor of closer cooperation with Russia: “Now the U.S., the entire world actually, has to reckon with a new kind of U.S. leader, one who never held a public office....More than the name calling during the election campaign, what counts most is the ideological shift in the U.S....What counts for us in Jordan and the rest of the Arab world are the implications of the election of a new breed of leadership in the U.S. Judging by his rhetoric during the election campaign, Trump seems to side with Israel. On Syria, the newly elected president appears to side with the regime of President Bashar Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin, giving priority to defeating Daesh over all other considerations including humanitarian issues emanating from the Syrian conflict.”
Regardless of what one thinks of Mr. Trump, argues Tariq Alhomayed in an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, regional powers now need to rethink their approach to the United States, without prejudice for what the president-elect may or may not do: “Trump doesn’t live inside history books. He is an adventurous man who tried to do everything and ended up being the President of the United States! Therefore, it is our duty now, especially Saudi Arabia and its allies, to reconsider everything starting with the role and size of representation and embassies in Washington....it is time for Saudi Arabia, and its allies, to seriously consider how to begin relations with America of Trump. The shock of him becoming president should be left to Americans, intellectuals, and journalists. The real discussion should happen through specialists and well informed people. There should be an open discussion where everything is said until we form a notion. Just as Trump is rushing to form his administration, we should race time to reach a practical concept on how to deal with Trump, and before the Oath of office of the President of the United States.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.