27.11.2020 Author: Yuriy Zinin

The Elections in the United States: a Middle Eastern Perspective

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“Donald Trump – the true face of the United States”, “The Arabs and the new American Administration”, “Biden, Arabs, and the Gulf”. These and similar headlines are interspersed in the flow of materials that have appeared in the Middle Eastern media about the situation with suspending the results following the American elections, and their influence on the configuration of forces at play in the region.

Quite a few analysts see this as symptoms of new trends coming to the surface in political life overseas in comparison with past times. In the opinion of former Palestinian minister Ibrahim Abrash, this represents an increase in polarization among citizens with different racial and ethnic backgrounds, and the rise of mutual hostility and hatred, with the specter of clashes looming in a number of states. They are taking note of how among representatives from the Muslim community and various minorities in the United States there is a high proportion of people that were involved in the elections. Their participation played a decisive role in the elections in certain states.

Trump put forward and defended his right-wing, conservative ideas, which were largely supported by certain segments of the population that were concerned about change. In his first election, he presented an alternative, and revenge for people with conservative viewpoints who felt humiliated after the country was ruled by a president that was not white. In addition, the departure of the “Communist threat” in the form of the USSR – the talking point around which both the Democrats and Republicans used to rally, has helped weaken this consensus. Many who voted for Biden were not delighted with his program and campaign promises, but acted to exact revenge on Donald Trump, who was not popular with them. But at the same time, if Trump leaves, Trumpism will still persist, since almost the same number of voters voted for him as for his rival. Therefore, it is not going to be easy for any president, no matter how great his popularity and strength, to get rid of this existing disunity.

In the societal and political discourse in the region, the personal qualities of D. Trump and J. Biden call attention to themselves. Is Trump any different from his predecessors in terms of his brutality, racism, and egomania, asks a commentator for Al Jazeera TV channel. No, he is the most honest expression of what we have ever seen in a US president. The only thing that distinguishes him from past rulers in the White House is that he focused his style and impulsiveness on the country’s interior, while his predecessors, with their eloquence and charming smiles, threw theirs out onto the defenseless world.

On the whole, the responses that people have submitted demonstrate that among Arab political analysts and researchers in the United States there exist, to varying degrees, both optimists and pessimists. At the same time, there is a recurring motif that American presidents have always had their own strategy that fulfills, above all else, the objectives set for their country, and have relied on those who have common interests with them.

Arab News, together with YouGov, a British company that is a world leader in doing sociological research, conducted a survey among 3,000 representatives from the Arab elite about the presidential elections in the United States and their results. The respondents are skeptical, and believe that there is not much difference between Trump and Biden regarding their policies toward the Middle East region. As they see it, the future president will continue to pursue a course in line with the US partnership with countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council and Israel.

This course taken by Washington will maintain its continuity, due to oil interests. Although Donald Trump did say that the hydrocarbon factor as “the reason for our presence” is increasingly waning in significance. The United States is now one of the largest oil producers in the world, however, maintaining strategic relations with oil-producing countries in the Gulf is still a goal. The rationale behind that is to maintain reasonable oil prices, and to avoid shocks or instability in world markets for this raw material.

What is most likely if Joe Biden takes the helm is that nothing will change in terms of the strategic benefits conferred upon Israel by Trump over the past year. He will even do everything he can to enhance and reinforce them.  It is true that some experts do not bar the possibility of inroads being made. According to the Lebanese Center for Research and Consulting, Joe Biden, if successful, will try to establish some kind of diplomatic exchange with Iran. But that will take time, as it took Trump two years to fulfill his pre-election promise to withdraw from the nuclear deal with Tehran. There will be no return to the old agreement.

Relations with Riyadh may experience some tension, since back in the day Biden announced the need to reconsider its ties with the kingdom owing to the assassination of the famous Saudi journalist Khashoggi. Perhaps, under pressure from Congress, the topic of “human rights” is being inspired in some Arab states, but while taking into account the need to balance Washington’s interests with its partners in the Gulf.

Gulf media circles believe that if Biden comes to power, he will be the second Barack Obama. Others reject that conclusion, since the situation in the region has changed. Political Islam was hit hard, and suffered a defeat. Some point to Biden as a traditional politician, with extensive past experience with international affairs while in Congress.  He has reached the summit in his career, and is unlikely to go for a second term of presidency. Therefore, he will have nothing to lose. Biden’s administration will be composed of leaders in different areas of focus that reflect the gamut of currents that exist in the Democratic Party itself.

We should not, according to the Egyptian Al-Ahram, shed tears over Trump’s fate, and worry if power ends up in Biden’s hands. It should be taken into consideration that in recent years the world has increasingly witnessed a “relative rollback in the role” of the United States in the world against the backdrop of the world’s second power – the PRC – advancing its interests, and Russia’s revival.

For our governments, another Saudi political scientist chimes in, we need to distance ourselves from the domestic problems and concerns present in the United States, and from its internal divisions that run along party, ethnic, and other lines.  It is in our interests to maintain equally reserved relations with both the East and the West, and ties with other countries such as China, Russia, European ones, etc.

Yuri Zinin, a senior researcher at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Institute of International Studies of the Moscow State Institute for International Relations, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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