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Middle East Angst and Joy as US Elects Donald Trump

By Albert Nachmani | The Media Line

November 9, 2016

Photo: Courtesy

Presidential election generates mixed responses from the Arab world

Donald Trump’s victory today in the US elections aroused animated reactions from all corners of the Middle East with some analysts seeing it as a blessing and others as a curse.

“Jordanians have real concerns about Trump’s campaign statements regarding Arab and Muslims, as well his intention to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” Mohammed Hussainy, Director of the Identity Center in Amman, told The Media Line. “This is troubling for Jordanians since Jordan has a special relationship with Jerusalem.”

Jordan, whose neighbors are Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Israel, is currently in control of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, the Muslim religious authority that controls the Temple Mount, a Jerusalem site that is holy to both Jews and Muslims.

Therefore, Jordan is, essentially, the civil administrator of the Temple Mount.

According to Hussainy, Jordanians favored Hillary Clinton because of her background working in government and because her policies in the Middle East were well-known. On the other hand, many fear that Trump does not really represent the Republican Party, let alone the American people and are unsure of what the future has in store.

“He said he would deploy 20 to 30 thousand US troops on the ground to fight Islamic State; he said he would take a harder stance against Iran; and he said he would cooperate with the Russians to fight ISIS,” Houssainy said.

“There is a big difference between campaigning and implementation,” Houssainy added.

Jordan, along with the rest of the region, must sit tight as they await the president-elect’s foreign policy agenda.

Many analysts in the Middle East agree that Israel will benefit most from this election as Trump has said he will move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Trump also campaigned on a policy of “less intervention” in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

While Jordan seemed to prefer Clinton, Lebanon, on the other hand, which has a large Christian population, was more in favor of Trump because he would bring change to the region.

“The majority of Lebanese sided with Donald Trump as they believed that Obama’s Middle East strategy was not fruitful,” Elias Kattar, a Lebanese political analyst for albaladonline.com, told The Media Line. “People here felt that Hillary Clinton would have been a copy of Obama and they would like to see a new strategy implemented in the Middle East.”

On the other hand, there were those in Lebanon who are worried about Trump’s statements regarding refugees and Muslims. He said that on Facebook there is fierce criticism of Trump’s speeches and that those Lebanese who are concerned about human rights issues would have preferred to see Clinton as president.

“Most Lebanese who live in the US also voted Trump,” Kattar said. “I saw an American TV program which interviewed Lebanese and they could not find even a single Lebanese who wanted to vote for Clinton.”

Regarding US-Russian relations, Kattar believes that US- Russian cooperation would be positive, as the war in Syria has been going on for more than 5 years and we have seen that no one country can resolve the situation there alone.
But in the end Kattar doesn’t believe that there will be major changes in policy as “small details may change but on the whole American policy tends to remain constant regardless of who is president.”

The picture shifts again when it comes to Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has had 37,000 people arrested and 110,000 people sacked in a purge following an attempted coup in July, had a close relationship with President Obama. Trump’s election calls this relationship into question.

“For the most part the Turkey-US relationship is expected to remain stable,” stated Marc Pierini, a visiting scholar with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “There is the airbase agreement which has been around for a long time. This airbase is a crucial part of Europe’s defense system.” Pierini is referring to the Incirlik Air Base which has a U.S. Air Force complement of about five thousand airmen. Tactical nuclear weapons are stored at this base.

“The US and NATO provide the essential elements of Turkey’s security and this is also unlikely to change with a Trump presidency,” he said.

However, what does remain a question mark is what Trump will do in Syria. Turkey recently sent troops into Iraq to participate in the recapture of Mosul from Islamic State. “Turkey also has plans of going into Syria as well to assist in the takeover of ISIS capital Raqqa. So it is important to see where Trump is headed on the Syrian question so that Turkey can make the right decisions.”

Katie Beiter contributed to this report

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