Dubai: The election of Donald Trump has been met with rejection but mostly indifference in the Arab world.
Many Arabs view him as an inexperienced leader, as opposed to Clinton’s extensive resume in the region as Secretary of State under the first Obama administration.
He is advised by Walid Phares, a Lebanese academic who immigrated to the United States in 1990, who rose to prominence as a counter-terrorism expert and served as part of Mitt Romney’s foreign policy team in 2011.
A former member of the Lebanese Forces, Phares met Trump in December 2015 and joined the team, when he declared that the Republican “can do what others cannot”.
But despite his inexperience, some camps in the region secretly applauded his victory.
In Syria, the pro-regime camp is happy. They believe Trump will distance himself from the Middle East and let Russia have its way in Syria.
Trump has been quoted as saying the rebels could be worse than Syrian President Bashar Al Assad. In an interview with CNN in September he said, “Are we going to start World War III in over Syria? Give me a break!”
Regime supporters feared a Clinton presidency would have taken a stronger stance on Al Assad and seek his removal/punishment over war crimes, although analysts were sceptical she would do so.
“Trump has called Middle East wars stupid. He said that he would work with Putin to destroy Daesh but he didn’t mention working with the Syrian regime and while Clinton has been persistently more hawkish than Obama on Syria it does not necessarily mean she would push for regime change,” Joshua Landis, who runs SyriaComment.com and teaches at Oklahoma University told Gulf News.
Prominent opposition writer Omar Kosh said even if Clinton had won there would be no real change on Syria.
In the Gulf, a senior Gulf official who spoke to Gulf News on the condition of anonymity, said that while Trump is more aggressive it was not necessarily a bad thing.
“We are quite familiar with Hillary Clinton and we know what she stands for, while Trump’s behavior is often populist, his attitudes are unpredictable, and his comments are fiery and that might be bad, but it can also be good in the long run. The Republicans are usually more interested in the Middle East, but we will see,” he said.
The official was, like many others in the region, wary of the Obama years and policy towards the Middle East and hoped for a more hawkish and less hesitant leader to deal with the issues plaguing the region and to ensure there is no realignment towards Iran. Several Gulf and Arab countries were unhappy with Western rapproachment with Iran during Obama’s administration. They say that the move has emboldened Iran to interfere in the affairs of Arab states.
Bahraini analyst Jaber Mohammad, said both Clinton and Trump would have distanced themselves from Obama’s policies in the region, which would be beneficial to Gulf states.
Meanwhile, Palestinians were largely indifferent over Trumps win.
According to the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research, 70 per cent said it made no difference who won, while 16 per cent supported Clinton and 5 per cent preferred Trump.
“US engagement in the region is expected to weaken under Trump. This could pave the way for the EU and Russia to play a greater role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which is beneficial for the Palestinians,” Hamada Jaber, a political scientist, told Gulf News.
“Both Trump and Clinton believe Palestinians are not oppressed by Israelis and that Palestinians are terrorists,” Abdul Sattar Qassem, a political science professor at Al Najah National University told Gulf News.
Trump promised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would recognise occupied Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
While Israel calls Jerusalem its capital, few other countries accept that, including the United States. Most nations maintain embassies in Tel Aviv.
In Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, Trump’s victory was also largely met with indifference by ordinary Egyptians–many admitted they were not even following the elections.
“We’re following what’s happening here, that’s more than enough for us,” laughed a hairdresser who gave her name as Mona.
“Trump is hostile to Muslims, that’s all I know,” said a patron.
An elderly Egyptian man said it didn’t matter that Trump was president.
“Their elections are like crap,” he said. “You remove crap and replace it with crap.”
But, analysts say Egyptian leaders were secretly routing for Trump.
President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi—the former army chief who toppled Islamist president Mohammad Mursi—complimented Trump after meeting him and Clinton in New York separately in September.
In an interview with CNN he said he believed Trump would be a strong leader, despite his anti-Muslim statements.
“It is important for us to know that during election campaigns, many statements are made and many things are said,” Al Sissi said of Trump’s plans to ban Muslims from entering the country.
“Trump will not seek the inclusion of the Brotherhood into Egypt’s politics,” Saeed Al Lawendi, an expert at the state-run Al Ahram Centre for Political Studies, told Gulf News.
“He also described Egypt as a partner in the fight against terrorism,” he added.
Some Egyptians saw Clinton as a supporter of Islamist president Mursi, who ruled for a year before the army, spurred by mass protests, toppled him in 2013.
His ouster, condemned by Washington as undemocratic, was followed by regular reports in the Egyptian press of an American “plot” to divide the Middle East.
Some Egyptians wanted Trump to win simply because of how Obama’s administration handled the Arab Spring protests in Egypt.
“They saw Clinton as an extension of the Obama era when Washington temporarily halted aid to Egypt,” Al Lawendi told Gulf News.
He was referencing one of the lowest points of US-Egyptian relations, when Obama ordered to freeze military aid to Egypt and delayed the delivery of warplanes to the Arab country in 2013 after the army deposed Mursi.
Later, Washington released its military aid and hardware to Egypt in order to support its campaign against terrorism.
However, Egyptian-US relations remained rocky in the post-Mursi era.
President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi visited the US three times to attend the annual UN General Assembly meetings, but never visited Obama in Washington.
Egyptian authorities outlawed the Brotherhood in late 2013 and blamed the Islamist group for much of the violence that has since hit the country.
-with inputs from agencies