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Presidential Elections in the United States of America (USA) - The Impact on the Middle East

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Donald TRUMP, the president-elect of the USA is someone who has not been involved in the governmental process prior to the elections, thus quite unpredictable regarding foreign policy in general and the Middle East in particular. Given the prominent role of the USA in international affairs, it is important to get a glimpse of his prospective policy in relation with the Middle East.

Throughout his campaign, president-elect TRUMP has presented a shifting vision of America for the Middle East (while expressing hostility towards China in his global outlook).[i]

In spite of Donald TRUMP’s rhetoric during the campaign, especially mentioning a ban on Muslims from America and expressing rancor for Syrian refugees, he could attract a support base in the Middle East. The strongman figure projected by Donald TRUMP is appealing to other strongmen in the Middle East.[ii] For example, in September 2016, president-elect Donald TRUMP promised Egypt’s president a “loyal friendship”, unlike Mrs. CLINTON who denounced Egypt’s record on human rights. In return, Egypt’s President, Abdel Fattah el-SISI was one of the speediest world leaders (if not the first) to congratulate Donald TRUMP. The Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-SISI is the leaders who replace the Muslim Brotherhood figure, Mohamed MORSI.[iii]

Other authoritarian regimes in the region are satisfied with the presidential elections’ outcome. The countries of the Gulf region (Gulf Cooperation Council-hereinafter the GCC) probably sympathize with Donald TRUMP’s standpoint that Washington should not put pressure on human rights and civil liberties topics abroad.[iv] Some sheikhs from the GCC countries welcome a fellow billionaire, who can talk business with the region. Furthermore, some of the GCC billionaires have shares in business ventures run by Donald TRUMP, such as Trump SoHo in New York, while the wealthiest Arab in the world- the Saudi Prince, Bin Talal - bought his yacht and Plaza hotel.[v] Putting emphasis on business rather than on the political agenda should seal hefty arm deals to the GCC. Donald TRUMP might expose mercantile solutions even in terms of security. The president-elect wants to render the American allies in the Gulf more responsible (they shall not take the American protection for granted). Probably he wants them to appreciate it in exchange of win-win situations and deals.[vi] In the context of contradictory views and feelings immediately after the elections, some political voices in the Gulf remain fearful that America will abandon previous allies: “The honeymoon is over when it comes to relations with the US”.[vii]

The approach with respect to the Middle Eastern allies and/or the stance regarding the USA’s rivals probably constitute one of the most intense debates in the post-elections environment. Donald TRUMP stated in the campaign that he would antagonize Iran by revoking the nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama administration. Therefore, it fueled the hope of the Gulf elites that president Trump will be harder on their arch foe Iran than Barack Obama. [viii]

Such an affirmation (on revoking the Iranian nuclear duel) also rushed to the conclusion that president TRUMP might give preference to a Triade of Sunni countries - Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia - backed by the USA. As a result, pro-government circles in Ankara, Cairo and to an extent in Riyadh have broadly welcomed his election[ix]. President-elect Donald TRUMP promised pressure on Iran, while considering how to invalidate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). However, the international trend (in Asia and Europe) is going back to business with Iran and engagement with Iran.[x]All in all, given that JCPOA was the result of negotiations with the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council and without a breach from the Iranian side, it is difficult to revoke it.

Donald TRUMP wants to maintain a firm stance against terrorism. If Mosul has not fallen by January 20th 2017 when he takes office, he will support Pentagon’s actions on that file. He mentioned during the campaign that he is in favor of creating safe zones in Syria that would limit refugees’ flow to the West. But unlike the Democrat-nominee (alike President Obama) he disapproves arming the Syrian rebels or enforcing a no-fly zone in order to protect them. He contends intervention in the name of regime-change, democracy and nation-building, stating that he will focus on American interests and domestic priorities first. During the campaign, he objected the American decision on Iraq: “I don’t think that was a very helpful thing,” (overthrowing Saddam HUSSEIN), “Iraq is a disaster right now.”[xi]

Donald TRUMP did not conceal his desire to work with Vladimir PUTIN, as he envisages a consolidated battle with Sunni jihadism, considering Obama administration a failure in this regard. Donald TRUMP is of the opinion that it is hard to tell anti-Assad rebels and terrorist fighters apart. Donald Trump has vowed that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies are fighting terrorism in Syria. In the second presidential debate, he declared: “I don’t like Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS”.[xii] Donald TRUMP’s victory in the USA election was welcomed both by Moscow and Damascus, but more cautiously in the latter case. It is said that president ASSAD is “ready” to cooperate with Donald Trump. [xiii]In contrast to Donald TRUMP’s position, Democrat-nominee Mrs. Hillary CLINTON had proposed a no-fly zone over Syria, an action the Syrian rebels have long militated for, since Russia got involved on the ground in Syria (September 2015). Donald Trump’s campaign team has made little mention of an approach on Syria and Iraq. Donald Trump will continue to consider Daesh a military priority[xiv], and he will likely sustain the ongoing campaign against Daesh and support Iraqi security forces in the quest to retake Mosul and other territories controlled by Daesh. Nevertheless, Donald TRUMP has expressed little interest in the bottom lines of the conflict and the regional quagmire that stands behind many conflicts in the Middle East. In the campaign, Donald TRUMP emphasized the idea that his administration wants to avoid new wars in the Middle East or engagement in foreign-nation building at the expense of American domestic priorities. His administration is likely to quit a winning heart and minds approach of the Middle Eastern communities.

On the other hand, the Israeli government seemed very pleased with the elections, as the prime-minister Netanyahu sees some affinity with Donald TRUMP (first Republican in the White House during his prime-minister mandate). [xv]Donald TRUMP political programme did not make any mention of the establishment of a Palestinian state. In addition, the Israeli government would endorse Newt Gingrich for State Secretary, as he is not likely to put pressure on Israel over the settlement policy.[xvi] Prime Minister NETANYAHU expressed confidence in USA-Israel relationship reaching “ever greater heights” during Trump presidency.[xvii]

The American public opinion is showing weariness over the American incursion into the Middle East. The elect-president made a bet on restoring the citizens’ trust in the administration. As a results, he needs to move the policy focusing on a prevalent security approach in the Middle East (therefore USA being present on the ground) to one that helps American allies in the region to ensure stability. Although his positions might be altered or evolve between the campaign and the presidency, one thing Trump is probably going to have in common with Barack Obama is the acknowledgement that the USA public has lost its appetite for further military engagement in the Middle East. One can estimate there will be an impulse to withdraw from the center of conflict in the region. Donald TRUMP definitely appeared to be more ready than Clinton to strike a deal with Russia over Syria, seeing Vladimir PUTIN as a reliable player in counter-terrorism. However, if the American interest would call for engagement or the public would get too sensitive to such deals, Donald TRUMP might adjust his previous declarations.

The world seemed struck with awe at the victory of Donald TRUMP in the USA presidential elections. In the aftermath of the election, leaders and analysts around the world were attempting to understand his global vision, comments and rhetoric and their impact on existing alliances. The Middle East is a volatile region by virtue, with deep links to the American course of action. This is why the Middle East keeps an eye on the American politics, waiting for the new administration to be put in place and questioning whether the region is ready or not to absorb changes.

The Middle East’s leaders sent messages of congratulations to president-elect, Donald TRUMP, while commentators tried to relate to the shift in politics. There was caution in the GCC capitals (except Riyadh), mixed with the enthusiasm that was present in pro-government circles in Turkey (Hillary CLINTON has been popular among opposition in Turkey, whereas Donald TRUMP has become increasingly popular among pro-government circles), Egypt, and Israel.[xviii] The smaller states in the region are dependent on the regional powers (and their actions implicitly), so they did not reel because of the result in the USA presidential election.  They remain in a very gray area and the newly-elect president of the USA is unlikely to defy this status. No matter the reactions, the Middle East has to engage with the new world of global politics, while the dynamics can prove challenging to the already unstable environment of the Middle East.


[i]Al Jazeera, Gilbert Achcar, What does Trump's victory mean for the Middle East?, 9 November 2016, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/11/trump-victory-middle-east-161107105151822.html.

[ii] Guardian, Jane Kinninmont, Many Middle East countries will welcome Trump’s victory. Here’s why, 10 November 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/10/middle-east-donald-trump-president.

[iii] The New Yorker, Robin Wright, PRESIDENT TRUMP’S SURPRISINGLY WARM WELCOME IN THE MIDDLE EAST, 10 November 2016, http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/president-trumps-surprisingly-warm-welcome-in-the-middle-east.

[iv] Gerald Feierstein, G.C.C. Uncertain About Trump, 9 November 2016, http://www.mei.edu/content/article/briefing-middle-east-reactions-us-election.

[v] The Economist, Middle East and North Africa: Trump and the Middle East, He knows golf, but does he know the Gulf?, 9 November 2016, http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21709925-he-knows-golf-does-he-know-gulf-trump-and-middle-east.

[vi] The Economist, Middle East and North Africa: Trump and the Middle East, He knows golf, but does he know the Gulf?, 9 November 2016, http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21709925-he-knows-golf-does-he-know-gulf-trump-and-middle-east.

[vii] The Economist, Middle East and North Africa: Trump and the Middle East, He knows golf, but does he know the Gulf?, 9 November 2016, http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21709925-he-knows-golf-does-he-know-gulf-trump-and-middle-east.

[viii] Guardian, Jane Kinninmont, Many Middle East countries will welcome Trump’s victory. Here’s why, 10 November 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/10/middle-east-donald-trump-president.

[ix] Al Jazeera, Gilbert Achcar, What does Trump's victory mean for the Middle East?, 9 November 2016, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/11/trump-victory-middle-east-161107105151822.html.

[x] Al Monitor, Week in Review: Should Iran fear a Trump presidency?, 12 November 2016, http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/11/iran-fear-trump-presidency-nuclear-deal-saudi arabia.html#ixzz4PxnT1NY9.

[xi] The Economist, Middle East and North Africa: Trump and the Middle East, He knows golf, but does he know the Gulf?, 9 November 2016, http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21709925-he-knows-golf-does-he-know-gulf-trump-and-middle-east.

[xii] Middle East Eye, Arwa Ibrahim, In his own words: Donald Trump's stance on the Middle East, 10 November 2016, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/what-will-middle-east-look-under-trump-298938440.

[xiii] The Independent, Bethan McKernan, Donald Trump signifies he will end US support for Syrian rebels despite their pleas to him for help, 12 November 2016, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/us-president-elect-donald-trump-support-assad-putin-syria-remove-rebel-backing-a7413346.html.

[xiv] Robert S. Ford, What a Trump Presidency Means for Syria/Iraq, 9 November 2016, http://www.mei.edu/content/article/briefing-middle-east-reactions-us-election.

[xv] Al Jazeera, Gilbert Achcar, What does Trump's victory mean for the Middle East?, 9 November 2016, http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2016/11/trump-victory-middle-east-161107105151822.html.

[xvi] The Economist, Middle East and North Africa: Trump and the Middle East, He knows golf, but does he know the Gulf?, 9 November 2016, http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21709925-he-knows-golf-does-he-know-gulf-trump-and-middle-east.

[xvii] The New Yorker, Robin Wright, PRESIDENT TRUMP’S SURPRISINGLY WARM WELCOME IN THE MIDDLE EAST, 10 November 2016, http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/president-trumps-surprisingly-warm-welcome-in-the-middle-east.

[xviii] Paul Salem, Trump’s Win Adds New Dynamics to Unstable Middle East, 9 November 2016, http://www.mei.edu/content/article/briefing-middle-east-reactions-us-election.

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