Trump as president: an Arab perspective

Hamoud Almahmoud and Rana Sabbagh speculate on the likely impact of Trump's leadership. Photo by Yasmin Noone.
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Donald Trump was a fierce critic of Arabs and Islam during the election campaign. So how is the news of his presidency going down in the Middle East? Anthony Pinda and Yasmin Noone ask some of Jordan's leading journalists.

Donald Trump spent much of the election campaign insulting Arabs, making disparaging remarks about women and, in the eyes of some, waging a policy and philosophical war on Islam.

So how do people in the Middle East, those at the centre of his comments, feel about the new leader of the free world?

We asked several reporters at the leading journalism organisation, Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ), about their views on the election of President Trump.

According to Egyptian-born journalist and video manager Ahmed Soliman Nawar, Trump lacks the foreign affairs credentials required to lead the country.

“At least Clinton [knew] how to work in foreign affairs, unlike Trump,” Soliman Nawar says.

“The situation will be more complicated for all of us.”

The Jordanian-based reporter believes there are similarities in the politics behind the Egyptian revolution, when the people opted for army commander Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to become president, but then tired of him quickly.

Soliman Nawar believes that although Trump voters are currently happy with their choice, they may not be in the near future.

“I think we are coming to a disaster in the Middle East, because the situation will change. It will be more complicated because Trump will not accept Muslims and not accept Arabs. So we are going to have a war soon…”

Executive director of ARIJ, Rana Sabbagh, is concerned about the affect Trump’s leadership will have on the Middle East.

“We will go back to this dual world; Americans one side and the Russians on the other,” she says.

“I’m also worried that having the Americans withdraw from the region will mean that [the Syrian] war is going to continue, the Israeli situation will continue and settlements will continue, so it is bad for us.”

Despite the fact that Trump used racist rhetoric during the campaign and his candidacy was considered a joke by many, he still managed to convince around 60 million Americans to vote for him.

Sabbagh explains that Trump’s win may be due to the widespread fear of immigration and the current tide of Islamophobia.

“There is a regression and everyone is going more to the right [of the political spectrum] because people are worried; immigration is a big worrying factor for Americans, as it is for Europeans.

“Personally, I would have taken Clinton because I’m a person who is more on the side that doesn’t want big change: at least we know what devil she is.”

But journalist and ARIJ’s video production coordinator, Abdulrahman Yahia, says Arabs shouldn’t think the election result is about them. He says people voted for Trump and not for his foreign affairs agenda.

“They went and voted for Trump because they needed him to do something internally. It [was not about] the Middle East, not about Europe or Islam. They are voting maybe for a better life for them.”

Although Trump won the election, Clinton won the popular vote receiving more than 59.75 million votes compared to Trump with over 59.5 million, with 92 per cent of the vote counted.

According to Hamoud Almahmoud, an editor at ARIJ, Trump’s victory shows the importance of democracy.

“A few ballots and a few votes kept America holding its breath for maybe half a day,” Almahmoud says. “In my opinion, that it is a victory for democracy: not just American democracy but democracy in general.”

Almahmoud, a Jordanian-based Syrian reporter who works as the online editor, adds that although most Arabs don’t adore Trump, they still prefer him over his competitor, Hillary Clinton.

“I believe there’s a swamp now and the world is now drowning in this swamp… we will stay living in this swamp if Clinton won this competition because literally Clinton is on the path of Obama. Obama had no action politics for the last four years.”