Arab media wary of US election, no matter who wins

Trump seen variously as 'playing a useful role' and 'a danger to the world'

Republican US presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton shake hands at the conclusion of their presidential town hall debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, US, October 9, 2016 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Republican US presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic U.S. presidential nominee Hillary Clinton shake hands at the conclusion of their presidential town hall debate at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, US, October 9, 2016
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As the world primes for Wednesday’s final debate between US presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, one keen Arab observer is predicting Clinton will stick to the tactics she used effectively in the first two debates.
The idea is to “leave Trump to talk and avoid interrupting him so as to expose his ignorance and character flaws so that he will hang himself,” wrote Othman Mirghani in the London-based Saudi owned Asharq al-Awsat in an article titled “The Raging American Bull.”
“Each time he talks, Trump exposes another part of his haughty personality, his explicit ignorance, his racism and his demagoguery,” Mirghani added.
With Election Day looming ever closer, Arab media have stepped up their coverage of a presidential race that one Iraqi website termed a circus.
At the same time, there is a wide sense among Arab commentators that the election result does not really matter and that nothing good will come out of this contest for Arabs and the Palestinian cause due to the influence the pro-Israel lobby will exert over the new administration.
“American policy will not differ whether a Democrat or Republican becomes president. They are always biased to support the Israeli project in the Arab region.” Gaza-based analyst Talal Awkal told the Islamic Jihad’s Filastin al-Yawm website, which is based in Lebanon.
Mirghani thinks, however, that Trump in office would be nothing less than a disaster for America and the world. He noted Trump’s lashing out at Republicans who withdrew support over the 2005 video in which he bragged that as a star he could do anything he wants to women. “Trump is behaving like an enraged bull which means the remaining period of the campaign will be the most vicious.”
This, Mirghani continued, “is definitely bad news for the Republicans and gladdening to the Democrats who now see a chance to transform the afflictions of Trump into electoral benefits. The enraged Trump will make more mistakes and reveal more character defects and inflame the war within his party, driving many voters who would have voted for it to boycott the election or vote for the other side.”
“The character defects that make him a danger to his party will definitely make him a danger to America and the world if he is elected,” Mirghani warned.
But Amir Taheri, also an Asharq al-Awsat columnist, was more sympathetic to Trump, whom he noted has shown an ability to bounce back from setbacks. He played down the 2005 video as simply being among “old videos showing him making a fool of himself.”
“With less than a month to Election Day, the American voter has a stark choice between the Democratic candidate representing the traditional ruling elite and its well established norms and practices and Donald Trump, casting himself as leader of an ill-defined but tempting insurgency,” Taheri wrote. He termed the demand that Trump resign “naïve and potentially dangerous” since allowing him to run is the only way to find out how strong his constituency is.
“Trump is playing a useful role by puncturing the mushy consensus of decades that swept America’s many deep divisions under the carpet.” Taheri wrote.
The controversy over the 2005 Trump video prompted al-Jazeera’s website to give prominence to its US campaign coverage, which is usually headed by regional news, especially the wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
Writing from Washington, correspondent Wajid Waqfi noted that the video touched off “tempestuous chaos and a wave of condemnations because of what was considered to be sexual obtrusion and abusive behavior towards women by Trump.” He quoted Nabeel Khoury, a retired US diplomat, as predicting the Republican nominee would pay a high price for the video. “Trump’s electoral strength is the conservative and religious Republican right meaning he will be effected negatively in view of the moral nature of the scandal,” Khoury said. The pan-Arab daily Al– Hayat also gave priority to the story from Washington by its correspondent Joyce Karam, which picked up on the accusations against Trump featured in The New York Times.
The view that the US system is rigged against Arabs and that Washington will continue to back Israel no matter who is elected is permeating much of the coverage. Nabil Sahli, a Palestinian writing in the London- based al-Araby al-Jadeed, stressed the political strength of the American Jewish community and said the candidates are the same in issuing pledges to support Israel “in order to earn the votes of American Jews, who number 5.5 million.”
“Despite being not more than two percent of the population, their influence is much more than their percentage because they are well organized, their participation in voting is high, and many have vital economic positions in addition to their clear and efficient control in the important media in the US,” Sahli wrote. “Because of this importance for the Jewish lobby the two candidates have focused on supporting Israel at all levels, considering Jerusalem the permanent capital and considering the security of Israel as a high national interest.”
Sahli added that in addition, as a result of the 1967 war, “Israel came to play a main role in America’s interests in the Middle East which has left its imprint on the distinguished and unusual relations with Israel that the coming president will confirm regardless of who it is.”
In Egypt, Al-Ahram Weekly writer Hussein Haridy was no less pessimistic about the outcome of the election from an Arab viewpoint. Pointing to the second presidential debate, Haridy noted that “unsurprisingly the Palestinian question did not come up neither by the moderator nor the audience and social media users who tweeted or sent questions via Facebook. Neither candidate in discussing their respective approaches or how to deal with the situation in the Middle East brought it up. Too bad. For those of us in Egypt and the wider Middle East, it seems that the future does not look very bright from the perspective of future American policies in the region come January with a new occupant at the White House, Republican or Democrat.
Uncertain times loom ahead.”
Filastin al-Yawm headlined its report on the election along similar lines: “Trump and Clinton court Israel and Jerusalem is the sacrifice.”
In addition to quoting Awkal, the article quoted another analyst, Hassan Abdo, who also stressed that the candidates are courting the Jewish vote. “Trump and Clinton are merchants who coax their clients in order to reach the presidency. There is no doubt Israel has a special position in the American elections because of the Jewish lobby. The candidates are in great competition to appease Israel and provide it with all it needs.”
In Baghdad, the website of the Rawabit Center for Research and Strategic Studies wrote that “whoever the winner is, the loser is the Middle East.”
It described the last debate as being part of “the circus show we’ve become used to seeing in this election.
Perhaps they have different styles, but the question is can they achieve anything to improve the Middle East?” In Amman, Khaled Zoabi, a columnist for al-Rai newspaper, wrote that part of the problems Arabs face from Washington is that there is no Arab lobby to counterbalance the “Zionist and Jewish lobby that has the capacity, support and power to press the administration.”
“I am not very optimistic about Clinton’s becoming president of the USA since the foreign policy is known to us,” he wrote. “But compared between her and the other candidate, the preference is for Hillary Clinton. If I had the right to vote I’d vote for her for many reasons; firstly that she has enough acquaintance with the Middle East file especially the Palestinian issue and the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen and secondly she has good relations with most Arab and Muslim leaders and leaders of American, European and African states.”
Zoabi wrote that he expects Clinton to win: “It is expected that Americans will know the Republican candidate is not fit to lead America or be in charge of its military and atomic arsenals or to direct public affairs economically, politically and socially and that he doesn’t have expertise in dealing with the international files and with European, Arab, Islamic and African countries.”