11/11/2016, 19.01
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For many in the Mideast, mercantilism will shape Trump’s approach to the region

For Patriarch Sako, old unclear policies have been rejected, but a sense of "foreboding and fear" for the future remain. The White House’s new resident is more a businessman than a policeman of the international order. Obama leaves a region worse off. Questions remain over Gulf States alliances with the Gulf and the future of the Iran nuclear agreement.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Amid fears, hopes, and official greetings, for the Middle East, economics and business will be the main themes of a Trump presidency, despite his vitriolic anti-Muslim statements during the election campaign.

For analysts and experts, trade and billion-dollar contracts will carry more weight for the 45th US president than human rights or minority aspirations, event if the region’s Christians are by and large pleased with the election’s outcome.

Arms sales to Gulf countries will continue despite Saudis’ “excesses” in Yemen, whilst the situation in Syria and Iraq should not change radically.

Unlike Clinton, had she won, Trump remains a puzzle, an unknown quantity full of uncertainties. For Chaldean Patriarch Mar Raphael Louis Sako, the vote shows how Americans but also the Mideast are tired of "unjustified wars, deaths, violence and destruction."

Speaking to AsiaNews, the Chaldean primate points to widespread discontent "toward policies that lack clarity and balance. There is widespread hope that there might be a change in the interests of peace and stability."

In Iraq, among both leaders and ordinary citizens, a feeling of satisfaction prevails at the outcome of the election; however, the latter "has not wiped out a general sense of foreboding and fear" about possible escalation and regional conflicts.

Meanwhile, several Arab and international commentators focus on Donald Trump’s business career. For The Economist, "though more a mercantilist than a policeman of the international order, he might not be averse to selling American protection. In the event of an escalation, will Mr Trump still defend Saudi Arabia? Probably so, for the right price.”

It remains to be seen whether and how the Republican-backed law passed in Congress (opposed by Obama) will affect relations between Washington and Riyadh. The law narrows the scope of the legal doctrine of foreign sovereign immunity, and targets Saudi Arabia over the 9/11 attacks.

In the Gulf, intellectuals and opinion leaders were surprised, some even shocked, by the Republican outsider’s victory and remain uncertain as to what will happen over the next four years.

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political science, chairman of the Arab Council for Social Sciences, and a visiting senior fellow at the London School of Economics, in an open letter published in Gulf News, writes, “I did not expect you to win and in all honesty, I did not want you to win either. [. . .] It is disappointing and disheartening to me and to millions around the world.”

Defining himself as a “concerned citizen of the world but I am also more concerned as a citizen of the Arab Gulf states,” the scholar sees Trump as a “nightmare” that brings political instability.

Noting that Trump talked “about the Arab Gulf states as though they are nothing but oil-rich countries that need to pay America for its military presence in the region”, the scholar said that “the ultimate test of his credibility in this part of the world” will be his pledge “to tear up the Iran nuclear deal on Day One in office”.

For other observers, failed US policies in the region in recent years favoured Arab elites and autocrats to the disadvantage of people. In view of this, Maha Yahya, director and senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut called on Trump to “Act immediately to end genocide and population transfers”.

“The 45th United States president,” she writes, “inherits a fractured and splintering Middle East, presenting extraordinary foreign policy challenges." One of those challenges is “gargantuan distrust of Arab citizens who believe the US [. . .] has actively obstructed their quest for a better future whether in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Egypt or Palestine.”

“To address the massive gap in citizen trust, the new US president also needs to shift American policy towards the Middle East from a predominantly security perspective focused on the fight against ISIL to one that engages with larger socioeconomic triggers for instability.”

Abdullah Al-Arian, assistant professor of history at Georgetown University, School of Foreign Service in Qatar, remembers the expectations that followed Barack Obama’s speech at Cairo University, which have remained largely unfulfilled.

Obama’s only success in his eight-year presidency is the nuclear deal with Iran. Hence, his successor should start with this agreement, which has overcome decades of mistrust and hostility, as a "model" in relations with the governments and peoples of the region.

Others hope that Trump might open a new chapter in the fight against Islamist extremism, noting that Obama’s "ambiguities" would have continued or worsened in case of Hillary Clinton’s victory.

“The revelations of multimillion-dollar donations to the Clinton Foundation from Qatar and Saudi Arabia killed my support for Clinton, writes Asra Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter and a co-founder of the Muslim Reform Movement, in a letter to the Washington Post.

Two patterns seem to be emerging in US-Middle East relations. They will shape the future political, economic and strategic choices of the new US administration.

Even though many Middle East problems are self-inflicted, there is a widespread feeling in the region that the situation today is "far worse" than in 2008, when Obama took office for the first time at the White House.

This is made that more complicated by the general "uncertainty" about the first decisions the new president will take and their repercussions for the region, especially since he is seen as the most unpredictable US leader since the 19th century, a man who has flip-flopped on many issues.

The future indeed appears uncertain.

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