Arabs, Muslims, and the US election | US presidential elections 2016: What do I need to know? | DW | 20.06.2016
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US elections 2016

Arabs, Muslims, and the US election

The US presidential election is being followed closely in the Arab world. Most observers there hope the next American leader will change course when it comes to the region.

Omar Mateen killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. There are indications Mateen may have had homosexual leanings himself, but at the same time, the Afghan-American pledged loyalty to the "Islamic State" terrorist organization. The Orlando massacre is also now also having an impact on the US presidential election.

For the past few weeks, the Democrats were confident their candidate Hillary Clinton could win the vote - under the condition of nothing spectacular happening that Donald Trump, the Republican candidate, could use in his favor. Now, that incident has occurred: the murder of almost 50 people. The focus is on a Muslim, and Arab political scientists are looking at how the outcome of the vote could affect the Middle East.

Beacon of hope

Most Arabs have not been very happy with US foreign policies over the past eight years. They felt President Obama was too far removed from the problems in the region, in particular the war in Syria that the US president barely wanted to get involved with.

Mohamed Elmenshawy

Mohamed Elmenshawy hopes for a new approach for Syria

This strategic political reserve is bound to change after the vote, said Mohamed Elmenshawy, an Egyptian analyst and bureau chief of the Washington-based Alaraby TV network. Should Hillary Clinton win, he told DW, she will pursue different Syria policies than Barack Obama. "She'll take a more determined approach to several issues," Elmenshawy said, including being less hesitant to arm moderate rebels.

While she is expected to set priorities differently, Clinton won't follow a fundamentally different course, Elmenshawy concedes. "That's because there simply are no US interests that would warrant an intervention in this war."

Trump, the mystery

Predicting Middle East policies under a possible President Trump is much more difficult, he said, adding that Trump made contradictory statements in his election campaign, and that in turn makes it difficult to assess his future course.

There are, however, several indicators. Asked by NBC how he rated efforts by the West to get Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to give up, Trump said that would only make the region more chaotic. He said the West created chaos in Libya and Iraq, and if Assad fell, Syria would develop in the same direction. Trump also announced he would deport all Syrian refugees living in the US if elected president.

Damaged buildings in Aleppo

Many blame the Syria war on the unwillingness of the West to act

Trump also criticized the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, saying the US should never have left the country without securing its oil reserves. Now that oil goes to Iran and the "Islamic State" (IS) - which has a lot of money because it has plenty of oil, and "because we're naive," a French news agency quotes him as saying.

Waiting for clear signals

Along with the other Arab countries in the region, the Gulf states hope Hillary Clinton wins the race. Much speaks in the Democratic candidate's favor, Dubai political scientist Abdulkhaleq Abdulla said. "Unlike Trump," Clinton has foreign policy experience, and clear standpoints - whether you agree with them or not, he added.

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla does not expect any change in US-Israel ties

Obama's foreign policy was mainly characterized by the fact that he often rejected military options, Abdulla said. In Iran and Cuba, Obama instead opted for reforms. At the same time, Abdulla said, Obama moved away from Washington's old friends. No matter who wins the presidency, the new incumbent's foreign policies will clearly be more accentuated than the current president's foreign policies, which in turn will help improve coordination between Washington and the Arab governments.

Mohamed Elmenshawy also agrees that US-Arab relations are bound to improve. The US has supplied the Gulf region with arms for decades, and that's not likely to change in the future, he said.

The crux: Israel

The outcome of the election is unlikely to have a great impact on US-Israeli relations, Arab experts say. US administrations have always underlined their friendship with Israel, and that's not bound to change after the next vote, Abdulla said. Should Trump win, he might take a tough stance toward the Palestinians, Elmenshawy said.

While Hillary Clinton has declared she believes in a two-state solution, she has also affirmed her friendship with Israel. Earlier this year, she said a lasting peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians would be difficult.

Ties between Clinton and Netanyahu are not particularly good, Elmenshawy said. With regard to right-wing currents in the Israeli government and Avigdor Lieberman's nomination as foreign minister, he said, political progress is difficult. If she wins the presidency, Clinton might just wait until the Israeli government again includes more moderate politicians, Elmenshawy said. And that just might allow her to get involved as a mediator.

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