How the Arab World Views Trump and his Effect on their Relationship
By: Meriam Helal/Contributing Writer
It is quite clear how the American Public feels about Trump, but it is not clear how the Arab World feels about Trump. Approval of American Presidents is an essential component for good diplomatic ties, economic gains and negotiations. Yet, the Arab world is quite divided on how they view Trump.
The Arab world’s views on President Trump differentiates between the government and the public. Dr. Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor for Peace and Development at the University of Maryland and a nonresident senior fellow of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute said, “there is a gap between what rulers think and what the public thinks,” he told Arab America. “Rulers have their own interests in priority. You can see that from the fact that Trump has support from the government of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.”
Talhami stated, “the President of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has shown a lot of support for President Trump because he doesn’t care much for human rights violations in Egypt and shows opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood.” Regarding Saudi Arabia, Telhami went on to say, “President Trump clearly got along well with the Saudi rulers due to the fact that his interests were purely economic and Trump made no intention to interfere with domestic policies, because Trump sounded like he wasn’t focusing on domestic policies, they saw him as an ally.”
Telhami asserts that “the Saudi and Egyptian media tend to be positive on Trump because he reflects the government.”
Trump’s policies directly contrast with President Obama, whose interests in the Middle East focused on domestic policies and human rights issues, which is why Arab leaders did not see him as an ally. Talhami also explained that President Obama did not get along with Arab leaders because he “seemed open to deal with the Muslim brotherhood as an organization (rather than as a terrorist organization).”
On the other hand, the public seems to reflect different views on Trump. Countries whose governments have relationships with President Trump, do not necessarily show a great deal of support for him and his foreign policy. This is based on sample polls, information from various experts, and social media.
Pew Research conducted a poll asking the public in several Arab countries if they were confident in President Trump and the majority concurred they had no confidence. In Lebanon, 77% said they had no confidence as well as 67% in Tunisia. The only country in the region that did not demonstrate a high percentage of anti-confidence in Trump, was Israel, with only 42%. Even countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, whose governments supported Trump, reflected an overwhelming majority among youth, who thought that Trump was anti-Muslim.
The public’s views have not impacted the political relationships with their governments because of their support to Trump. Although Trump is in favor of Israel, it has not impacted the relationship with Arab leaders as Telhami explains, “Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates care, but it’s not a priority, they focus on domestic issues, terrorists groups, and the Syrian issue.”
Regarding the Palestinian issue, Talhami felt it wasn’t a top priority, ”the fact that Trump doesn’t appeal to a two-state solution led to discomfort among rulers, but it has not been a deal-breaker in the relationship.” He concluded that the public sees Trump’s favoritism of Israel and therefore sees no optimism or hope from him on the Palestinian issue.
Arab rulers view Trump as an ally in spite of their differences with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the public’s distrust of Trump. Arab governments support him because of his lack of interference with their domestic policies. But thinks that could change with Telhami asking the question, “Will the governments who have banked on Trump start shifting their views?”