Opinion

So, what do Arabs want from the next US president?

So, what do Arabs want from the next US president?

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With a few days to go until the US votes in its new president, the atmosphere is tense and the air — both in America and here in the Middle East — is so thick with expectation and desperation that you can almost cut it with a knife.
Deciding America’s future is obviously a matter for Americans, and US allies in the region look forward to working closely with whoever emerges as the winner: Republican incumbent, Donald Trump, or Democratic contender, Joe Biden.
US regional allies are actually very predictable when it comes to dealing with the transition in the White House. And the same — dare I say — applies to whomever ends up winning the race.
Indeed, people should pay very little attention to the huffing and puffing of some enemies of US allies in the region disguised as scenarios of what might happen in case the Democrats win.
As is the case every election year — or “silly season” as the legendary former Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, used to call it —  there is much that was and will be said in the run-up to Election Day. After the third of November however, the campaigning stops and reality checks in.
This is, of course, no secret to anyone familiar with how American politics work. Yet, some Middle East pundits still compete in trying to predict who would be better for Saudi Arabia.
I refer these so-called experts to this newspaper’s interview with US State Department spokeswoman, Morgan Ortagus, who pointed out that the Saudi-US relationship “always has been bipartisan.”
Also noteworthy, for those critics with short memories, was her reference to US arms sales to Saudi Arabia, which she says that she worked on herself when she was part of the Obama administration.
Critics should also remember that it was President Obama, a Democrat, who vetoed Congress on acts which were against Saudi Arabia; after all, whatever tactical differences of opinion Riyadh and Washington may have had at the time, he would never have acted against the interests of his own country given that US presidents quickly realize the strategic importance of the Kingdom, religiously, economically and politically.
However, we must acknowledge that in the Middle East, there are the views and policies of those in power; and there are the hearts and minds of the people on the street — and these are not always aligned.
This is why we at Arab News are proud to present our second US elections YouGov poll, where we ask the Arab Street — in this case a sample of more than 3,000 people in 18 countries — what their hopes, aspirations and fears are when it comes to the presidential candidates and their policies.
As the numbers show, it seems some things remain unchanged when compared with our 2016 poll, such as the findings that most respondents are skeptical about US foreign policy, with 84 percent saying that the US has not done enough to support Arab countries in their battles with extremism.
Interestingly though, while Biden has proven more popular than Trump, this does not mean that Arabs are willing to sign him a blank cheque.
In fact, one of the most interesting findings in our “Elections 2020: What do Arabs want?”
Arab News/YouGov poll is that (53 percent) of Arabs think Obama left the region worse off, and also a solid majority of (58 percent) think that Biden should distance himself from Obama-era policies.

Regional allies look forward to working closely with whoever wins the election, but hopes are that the mistakes of the Obama era will not be repeated

Faisal J. Abbas

This is an interesting change in attitude; as I am sure we all remember just how popular President Obama was in the region following his famous 2009 Cairo speech. However, it seems that we in the Middle East are finally learning the lesson that actions speak louder than words.
Speaking of lessons, a free (albeit very long) one has recently become available: I refer to Hillary Clinton’s declassified emails, which show the disastrous impact some policies of the Obama administration had, and continue to have, on this region. For those who followed the Obama presidency closely, there was little new to discover in the correspondence. However, for less-keen observers who were taken in by the president’s soaring rhetoric, the revelations might have been heartbreaking.
As vice president at the time, Biden would have had only a minimal say in managing Clinton while she was secretary of state. In fact, blame for setting the region ablaze can be almost exclusively distributed among Clinton, Obama and Ben Rhodes, the president’s “boy genius” of a deputy national security adviser.

So what do these emails reveal about Hillary Clinton? Well, many things, in fact, and here are some of the most alarming:
1 — They expose a close relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been designated a terrorist group by many Muslim-majority countries. Its chief ideologue, the Doha based cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, has repeatedly spewed intolerance and venom against followers of different faiths. In fact, he has called for violent attacks on them. He has issued religious edicts, or fatwas, authorizing attacks on all Jews.
On Al Jazeera Arabic in January 2009, he said: “Oh God, take your enemies, the enemies of Islam . . . Oh God, take the treacherous Jewish aggressors . . . Oh God, count their numbers, slay them one by one and spare none.” He has a similar deep seated hatred of all Europeans. On his TV show in 2013, broadcast from Doha to millions worldwide, Al-Qaradawi lambasted Muslim countries as weak, and called on their citizens to overthrow their governments and launch a war against all who oppose the Brotherhood, describing them as “khawarij,” or enemies of Islam.

2 — The emails reveal how Clinton and her close advisers were hand in glove with the Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt, Libya and elsewhere. They were able to change US policy and to help various organizations attain their sinister objectives by means of the red herring that has come to be known as the “Arab Spring.” Muslim Brotherhood officials were hosted in the US and feted at the World Economic Forum. They were brought together with officials of the International Monetary Fund. Throughout all this, Clinton and her team knew very well that this terrorist organization was the worst possible replacement for the Hosni Mubarak regime in Egypt.

3 — The emails expose the Obama administration’s close relationship with Al Jazeera TV — in contrast with the previous George W. Bush administration, which reportedly wanted the channel’s offices bombed. Al Jazeera was the medium of choice for extremists, especially Al-Qaeda. For years it was the exclusive disseminator of the Bin Laden tapes, and it was Al-Qaeda’s incitement via Al Jazeera that led to a series of deadly attacks on American forces in Afghanistan and later Iraq. Al-Qaeda videos would mysteriously arrive in Al Jazeera offices and then be given space during prime time on Al Jazeera. By supporting the channel, Hillary Clinton stands accused of sleeping with the devil.

4 — On the subject of American lives, another prominent Obama foreign policy failure is exposed in the emails relating to the funding of the so-called
Arab Spring through the Clinton Foundation. Those emails reveal the trigger for the deaths in 2012 of the US ambassador to Libya, John Christopher Stevens, and Sean Smith, a US Foreign Service information management officer. Of course this is in no way an endorsement of Libya’s madman Muammar Qaddafi, but backing Islamist parties has always backfired, and it is astonishing that American officials failed  to learn this lesson.
As Dan Kovalik, a contributor to Huffington Post, pointed out, Hillary Clinton and her team knew that “in terms of the alleged goal of promoting regional security, a number of emails reflect the awareness that the bombing campaign, and the toppling of the aggressively anti-Al-Qaeda Qaddafi, might very well open a space for Al-Qaeda and allied forces to take over many parts of Libya, as they actually have.”
Kovalik refers to one particular email (Doc No. C05780521), to Hillary Clinton from her long-time confidant, Sidney Blumenthal, which states that “traditionally, the eastern part of Libya has been a stronghold for radical Islamist groups, including the Al-Qaeda-linked Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. While Qaddafi’s regime has been successful in suppressing the jihadist threat in Libya, the current situation opens the door for jihadist resurgence.”
Kovalik rightly wondered how, in light of this knowledge, Blumenthal could have argued that “winning the war” against Qaddafi was somehow necessary for regional security.
With all the information that the emails contain, one begins to understand why Trump said during his 2016 campaign that Hillary Clinton should go to jail. Of course, that is a decision for due process of law — but in the court of public opinion, there is a clear case against Clinton for responsibility for the loss of American lives and, more importantly for us, for initiating a foreign policy that left this region in flames that we are still struggling to put out.
Good luck to both presidential candidates on Nov. 3. If Biden does win, let us hope that whoever he appoints as secretary of state avoids the mistakes made by the Obama administration — and, of course, remembers not to use their personal email for official business.

• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News

Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Pan-Arab poll: Biden better for region, but must shun Obama policies

Forty percent said Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden, left, would be better for the region. (AFP)
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Updated 26 October 2020

Pan-Arab poll: Biden better for region, but must shun Obama policies

  • The biggest single bloc of respondents to Arab News/YouGov survey consider neither candidate good for region
  • Findings show strong Arab support for Trump on Iran but not on Jerusalem embassy move

RIYADH: Nearly half the respondents in an Arab News/YouGov poll conducted in 18 Middle East and Africa (MENA) countries believe neither candidate in the upcoming US elections will necessarily be good for the region.
Of the rest, 40 percent said Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden would be better for the region while 12 percent said the same thing about incumbent President Donald Trump. But a key takeaway of the poll is that if Biden, who served as vice president to Barack Obama until 2017, wins the White House race, he would be well advised to shed the Obama administration baggage.
When asked about policies implemented in the Middle East under the Obama administration, the most popular response (53 percent) was that the Democratic president left the region worse off, with another 58 percent saying Biden should distance himself from Obama-era policies.
The study surveyed a sample of 3,097 respondents online to find out how people in the MENA region feel about the Nov. 3 US elections.

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Containing Iran was found to be one of the top four issues that respondents wanted the next US president to focus on. Strong support for Trump both maintaining a war posture against Iran and imposing strict sanctions against the Tehran regime was noticed in Iraq (53 percent), Lebanon (38 percent) and Yemen (54 percent), three countries that have had intimate regional dealings with Iran.
President Trump’s 2017 decision to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem proved overwhelmingly unpopular, with 89 percent of Arabs opposing it. Surprisingly, in contrast to most other Arabs, Palestinian respondents inside the Palestinian Territories indicated a greater desire for the US to play a bigger role in mediation with Israel.
Arab opinion was largely split on the elimination this year of Iran’s regional “satrap” Gen. Qassem Soleimani, with the single largest proportion of respondents from Iraq (57 percent) and Lebanon (41 percent) seeing it as a positive move, as opposed to those in Syria and Qatar, where most respondents — respectively 57 percent and 62 percent — saw it as negative for the region.

Iran also figured in the list of perceived threats to US interests, although well behind white nationalism (32 percent) and China (22 percent). The other critical challenges for the US as viewed by Arabs were cybercrime, radical Islamic terrorism and climate change.
For a country that touts itself as an ally of the US, public attitudes in Qatar were found to be surprisingly out of sync with US objectives in the Middle East. The perception of radical Islamic terrorism, Iran and Islamist parties as the “three biggest threats facing the region” was much softer in Qatar compared with the region as a whole.
It came as little surprise that three quarters of respondents want the next US administration to make it easier for people from Arab countries to travel to the US. The figure for Lebanon, for instance, was even higher, 79 percent, underscoring concerns that many young Arabs are actively trying to leave the region.
Among other findings, Arabs remain overwhelmingly concerned about such challenges as failed government (66 percent) and the economic slowdown (43 percent).
Close to half of the respondents (44 percent) would like to see the next US president focus on empowering young people in the Arab region and solving the Arab-Israeli conflict (44 percent), followed by containing COVID-19 (37 percent), reining in Iran and Hezbollah (24 percent), quashing radical Islamic terrorism (24 percent) and tackling climate change (17 percent).

 


Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

Updated 26 November 2020

Turkish president denies country has a ‘Kurdish issue’

  • Erdogan defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts
  • Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq: analyst

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denied the country has a “Kurdish issue,” even as he doubled down on his anti-Kurdish stance and accused a politician of being a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Erdogan was addressing members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) on Nov. 25 when he made the remarks.

The Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) launched an insurgency against the state in 1984, and is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and US. Erdogan accuses the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of links to the PKK, which it denies.

Erdogan told AKP members that Selahattin Demirtas, the HDP’s former co-chair who challenged him in the 2015 presidential elections, was a “terrorist who has blood on his hands.”

Demirtas has been behind bars since Nov. 4, 2016, despite court orders calling for his release and faces hundreds of years in prison over charges related to the outlawed PKK.

The president defended the removal of 59 out of 65 elected Kurdish mayors from their posts in the country's Kurdish-majority southeast region since local elections in March 2019.

He also said the AKP would design and implement democratization reforms with its nationalistic coalition partner, which is known for its anti-Kurdish credentials.  

His words are likely to disrupt the peace efforts that Turkey has been making with its Kurdish community for years, although they have been baby steps. They could also hint at a tougher policy shift against Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

According to Oxford University Middle East analyst Samuel Ramani, Erdogan’s comments should be read as a reaction to Tuesday’s resignation of top presidential aide Bulent Arinc, who urged for Demirtas to be released and insisted that the Kurds were repressed within Turkey.

“This gained widespread coverage in the Kurdish media, including in Iraqi Kurdistan's outlet Rudaw which has international viewership,” he told Arab News. “Erdogan wanted to stop speculation on this issue.”

Ramani said that Erdogan's lack of sensitivity to the Kurdish issue could inflame tensions with Kurds in Syria and Iraq.

“It is also an oblique warning to US President-elect Joe Biden not to try to interfere in Turkish politics by raising the treatment of Kurds within Turkey.”

But Erdogan’s comments would matter little in the long run, he added.

“Much more will depend on whether Turkey mounts another Operation Peace Spring-style offensive in northern Syria, which is a growing possibility. If that occurs during the Trump to Biden transition period, the incoming Biden administration could be more critical of Turkey and convert its rhetoric on solidarity with the Kurds into action.”

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been a key partner for the US in its fight against Daesh. During a campaign speech in Oct. 2019, Biden criticized the US decision to withdraw from Syria as a “complete failure” that would leave Syrian Kurds open to aggression from Turkey.

“It’s more insidious than the betrayal of our brave Kurdish partners, it’s more dangerous than taking the boot off the neck of ISIS,” Biden said at the time.

UK-based analyst Bill Park said that Erdogan was increasingly influenced by his coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

“He might also believe that both the PKK and the HDP have been so weakened that he doesn't have to take them into consideration,” he told Arab News. “The Western world will not respond dramatically to this announcement but they are tired of Erdogan. There is little hope that Turkey's relations with the US or the EU can be much improved. The Syrian Kurdish PYD militia are seeking an accommodation with Damascus, while the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the largest party in Iraqi Kurdistan, is indifferent to the fate of Turkey's Kurds and has problems of its own.”

The HDP, meanwhile, is skeptical about Erdogan’s reform pledges and sees them as “politicking.”

“This reform narrative is not sincere,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, according to a Reuters news agency report. “This is a party which has been in power for 18 years and which has until now totally trampled on the law. It has one aim: To win back the support which has been lost.”

Turkey’s next election is scheduled for 2023, unless there is a snap election in a year.