Opinion: Arab regimes cozying up to Trump | World| Breakings news and perspectives from around the globe | DW | 12.11.2016
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Opinion: Arab regimes cozying up to Trump

Official reactions from the Arab world to Donald Trump's victory are worrying, writes DW's Naser Schruf. The recent developments in the US might embolden Arab autocrats.

Many European politicians worked their deep skepticism about Donald Trump's electoral victory into their statements of congratulations. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi took a different approach. With palpable pleasure, he rushed ahead to telephone the US president-elect to allow Egyptian state media to say he was the first world leader to do so.

Why would an Arab ruler like al-Sissi praise a politician like Trump, known for his anti-Muslim statements? Bachir Abdelfatah of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo points to several reasons. The first one is the deterioration in relations between the US and Egypt since the ouster of President Mohammed Morsi and the bloodshed that followed, which Barack Obama eyed critically but Trump does not seem to mind. Secondly, he and al-Sissi flirted politically during the US election campaign, with Trump making no effort to hide his opinion that al-Sissi was a source of stability in the region, without criticizing his human rights record. Trump's steadfast position against al-Sissi's archenemy, the Muslim Brotherhood, is another decisive factor. For Trump, this is not a troublesome partner in a necessary dialogue, but a terrorist organization. 

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DW's Naser Schruf

Assad sees his chance

Syria's dictator Bashar al-Assad might also be happy about Trump's victory, even if he doesn't enjoy the official praise al-Sissi enjoys.

"I don't like Assad at all," Trump said during one of the televised debates against Hillary Clinton. "But Assad is killing the IS," or the so-called "Islamic State." The daily atrocities and crimes meted out by the Assad regime against the Syrian people were not worth mentioning for Trump, which the regime understands as a cautious sign in its favor.

The official regime newspaper, Al-Baath, called Trump's victory the "awaited change." Other pro-Assad commentators are pleased that with Trump, regime change in Damascus may be off the table for good. They might be right, seeing that Trump's first priority is beating IS because they also kill US citizens. The Syrian regime's crimes alongside those of foreign-controlled militias that led to the death of hundreds of thousands of Arabs, Kurds and others are less of a concern, as long as Assad's violence does not target Americans.

The governments of Saudi Arabia and Iraq can also hope for a reasonably good cooperation with the new American president. Hillary Clinton would have been in no way preferable, although they do not like all of Trump's political views. The Saudis are glad to have Trump calling into question the nuclear deal with Iran - their archenemy. Iraq's Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi hopes Trump will provide more support in the fight against IS. 

Questionable overtures

It is worth comparing the official Arab congratulations and the more cautious one of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, delivered on camera in a statement to the press. Merkel, too, congratulated Trump on his victory. However, she made clear that cooperation between the long-time Western allies would be on the basis of their shared values: democracy, freedom and human dignity. Merkel can afford to make such a strong, proud and confident statement because she was freely and democratically elected.

The statements from Arab leaders were nothing more than an attempt to ingratiate themselves with an incoming president who made no secret of his aversion to Muslims during the campaign. Many of these leaders feel emboldened with regard to their own tactics of oppression, although, unlike Trump, they did not come to power by way of free, fair and democratic elections. 

Unfortunately, Trump's victory also encourages Arab autocrats. This is a dangerous development and another depressing experience for all those who fight for reforms in the Arab countries. 

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