Analysis: Rising Arab and Jewish-American fears of Trump are ignored in the Middle East

Middle Eastern countries are intent on advancing their own perceived interests regardless of the possible impact of Trump's victory.

November 22, 2016 21:25
4 minute read.

Israel looks forward to working with Trump, says Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer

Israel looks forward to working with Trump, says Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer

Like Jewish-Americans, Arab-Americans are getting more and more concerned about the way the Trump administration is shaping up.

The perception is that the racism that was an integral part of the Trump campaign seems, in various mutations, to be a hallmark of key future policy makers.

“With Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser, Steve Bannon as White House senior adviser and Senator Jeff Sessions as attorney-general, we have every reason to fear the impact they will have on civil liberties in the US,” wrote James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute in Tuesday’s Jordan Times.

The concern is understandable. In February, Flynn tweeted that “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL” and linked the tweet with a video claiming that Islam wanted to see 80% of humanity enslaved or exterminated.

According to CNN, his verified Twitter account interacted with far-right and antisemitic figures, maligned the Muslim faith and shared unfounded news stories.

Bannon has embraced the alt-right, described by the Anti Defamation League as a “loose network of white nationalists and antisemites” while his Breitbart news agency “has emerged as the leading source for the extreme views of a vocal minority who peddle bigotry and promote hate.” Sessions is dogged by old allegations of racism against blacks, which he denies. More recently, he defended Trump after the latter famously proposed a ban on Muslim entry to the US.

Zogby writes that, with such a team, he is concerned “they will reinforce their boss’s worst instincts. We may be one terrorist attack away from an unprecedented wave of repression.”

No less worried about the way the Trump administration is shaping up is Sam Bahour, a Ramallah business consultant and political activist who hails from Ohio.

“The entire set of people who have been considered so far, as well as appointments that have been made, are a slap in the face to anyone who thinks Trump will be different than what he has been so far. He’s entrenching a political outlook that is beyond the right-left spectrum of American politics. He’s off the radar in terms of promoting policies that will disrupt the American political system, but also possibly international relations, as well.”

But even as Arab and Muslim Americans grow more worried about Trump, regimes in the Middle East are silent about his anti-Muslim views and about the racist tendencies among the emerging cabinet. On the contrary, their leaders are projecting that they are looking forward to working with Trump.

This parallels the silence of Israeli leaders in the face of the disquiet among US Jews at the Bannon appointment.

In both cases, the countries are intent on advancing their own perceived interests regardless of the impact of Trump’s victory and appointments on the well-being of their brethren in America. In Israel, the hope is for a freer hand in building settlements in the West Bank, while in Egypt the hope is for a freer hand in crushing the Muslim Brotherhood and eradicating domestic dissent.

“We have to distinguish between the rhetoric within presidential campaigns and the real and actual administration of a country after the inauguration,” said Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in remarks quoted on the London-based New Arab website.

Likewise, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Channel Two’s Uvda program he was not worried about Trump’s anti-Muslim comments during the campaign and that he did not think the president elect would adopt a negative approach toward Muslims. He also said of Trump’s election that every country needs a “strong leader” to make progress and without one a country will decline.

A few days after the election, Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, a business magnate who had tweeted last December that Trump was a “disgrace” because he proposed the ban on Muslim entry to the US, changed his tune completely. “I have no problem with him now and I’m very happy to interact with him,” he told Reuters amid reports that Trump’s team had removed reference to the ban on Muslims from his web site. “Candidate Trump for sure is not like President-elect Trump and then President Trump. He is progressing in the right direction.”

Hezbollah and the Assad regime also see benefits from Trump’s ascent, viewing it as a boost to their efforts to secure a victory over Syrian rebels.

“It appears with the elected US president, Donald Trump, there will be more solutions in the context of the Syrian issue than there were with the policies of the Obama administration,” Naim Kassem, deputy secretary general of Hezbollah recently told Iranian media.

One Arab writer who voiced deep concern about what Trump might do to the democratic and pluralist character of the US was Eyad Abu Shakra, managing editor of the London-based, Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper.

“The ongoing protests in some US cities are in response to the shocking Trump win.

Protesters fear that tolerance will no [longer] exist in their country where voters decided to do away with time-honored principles and human decency,” he wrote. “The founding fathers established the USA as a haven for immigrants. The country developed, guaranteeing openness, pluralism and acceptance of the other regardless of color, race or religion.

Now the same country voted for building border walls and denying entry to immigrants based on their religious identities.

“This is Trump’s America in the 21st century. And the world will have to pay the price even though it didn’t vote for him,” he wrote.

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