The election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States has prompted several reactions, with those who see his political ascension as the beginning of a new phase of political unrest – of which the Arab world is feared to carry the lion’s share – being gripped by panic.
Immediately following the election results, Egypt’s state-owned media outlets took pride in reporting that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had been the first head of state to officially congratulate Trump on his victory. In September, before the elections, Sisi praised the presidential candidate, asserting that he would be a strong leader.
Egypt’s presidential office also issued a statement on Wednesday, congratulating Trump and expressing a hope that his presidency will marshal a new era of more cordial relations between Egypt and the White House.
“The Egyptian Arab Republic is looking forward to the period of Donald Trump’s presidency to imbue new spirit into the path of Egyptian-American ties with more cooperation and coordination in the interests of both the Egyptian and American people,” the statement asserted.
Between the Egyptian government’s response and the worries of Trump’s critics, where does the truth lie? What changes can be expected in the Middle East and the larger Arab world with a new president in the White House?
In congratulating Trump, Sisi invited the US president-elect to Egypt to continue discussions they began in September, on the sidelines of 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City.
Rabab al-Mahdi, professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, says, “We should not look at Trump’s victory in a conventional light and wonder what its effects on a specific country or region will be. Trump’s win is a defining moment in modern history, which is not an exaggeration to say. This moment resembles the ascent of fascism and the arrival of the Nazis to power in Germany through democratic elections.”
While asserting that Trump’s influence will be global, Mahdi focused on two ramifications that the new US president will have on Egypt and the region.
“The first point is political. We should completely forget talk about the US pressuring Egypt to improve its human rights situation or to expand the margins of freedom,” Mahdi says. “Due to Trump’s obsessions and complete ignorance regarding the nature of political development – including regarding the Islamic State – he will extend support to many dictatorships, at the forefront of which is Egypt’s dictatorship, on the basis that they are fighting terrorism.”
The AUC professor’s second point focused on Egypt’s economy. Trump continues to adhere to neoclassical economic tenets, according Mahdi, who argues that even neoliberals have widely abandoned these policies.
“If the US and the rest of the world experience an economic downturn or a recession,” she says, “these ideas and policies will have a dangerous effect upon the Egyptian economy, which is already in crisis.”
The Palestinian cause
Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Trump engaged in acts of political one-upmanship concerning Israel’s security interests throughout the election. However, Trump’s remarks were the most extreme.
“The relationship between the US and Israel is intimate and fatalistic,” says Lebanese journalist and Arab affairs commentator Sam Matta. “However, during President Barack Obama’s administration this relationship suffered an unprecedented chill.”
Matta adds that Netanyahu’s government – which represents the far right of Israel’s political spectrum, will gain significant support from the Trump administration. This development he says, will have “catastrophic consequences for the Palestinian cause,” including an end to US pressure to halt or slow the expansion of Israeli settlements into the West Bank and the resumption of peace negotiations between the two sides.
Referencing Trump’s rejection of the two-state solution during his campaign, Matta warns that Palestinians may face the most hostile US foreign policy in recent memory, with Trump’s anti-Palestinian stance eclipsing former President George W. Bush.
During his campaign speeches, Trump insisted that the US needs to change its priorities in the Syrian civil war and to confine its efforts to fighting the Islamic State rather than pursuing a political solution or the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Firas al-Khaldi, a Syrian opposition organizer based in Cairo, argues that Trump’s comments were intended to garner approval from his base during the campaign.
Nonetheless, Khaldi adds that the Trump administration may change the US’s stance on Syria. “Trump will be inclined to support Russia’s position,” he says, even if it faces intransigence from other US institutions, such as the Pentagon and the CIA.
But the change will be a balancing act between at times conflicting allegiances, Khaldi believes, as Trump’s extreme hostility toward Iran will find expression in open opposition to Assad’s government, which relies on Iranian military support.
Trump also appears to have a conflicting stance regarding the ongoing armed conflict in Iraq.
Despite skepticism, Trump has repeatedly argued that he opposed the US-led invasion into Iraq in 2004, which became a protracted occupation. He has also claimed that radical and armed Islamist groups have since found safe haven in the country, necessitating US intervention. Moreover, Trump has campaigned for increased compensation for US military personnel who were wounded or killed in Iraq.
Researcher and political sociologist Ali al-Raggal highlights the president-elect’s conflict. “Trump will either move toward a resumption of military intervention in Iraq on the basis of being a superpower confronting terrorism, or he will move toward a sudden withdrawal. In both scenarios, the end results will be disastrous.”
Military intervention will increase bloodshed and civilian casualties and further deteriorate human rights, while a unilateral withdrawal, Raggal contends would likely strengthen Islamist groups in their fight against the Iraqi armed forces.
Trump has not commented extensively on US foreign policy on the ongoing Yemeni civil war. When the issue did arise during an interview with CNN, he commented that Iran has involved itself in the Yemeni conflict because “they want to seize the Saudi kingdom’s and its oil.”
Hamza Kamali, a member of the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference, criticizes the Obama administration’s decision to broker a nuclear deal with Iran, looking to the Republican Party as a welcome change. “We are waiting for the Republican Party to change this policy. It is always better to build bridges of cooperation with the Republicans than the Democrats,” he says.
During his electoral campaign, Trump has referred to the US-Iranian nuclear deal as “the worst deal ever negotiated.”
Translated by Jano Charbel