Poll: Arabs support Trump on Iran, but not on Jerusalem embassy move

Poll: Arabs support Trump on Iran, but not on Jerusalem embassy move
The survey showed opinion in the Arab world overall is divided on the regional impact of the killing of Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani. AFP WASHINGTON, DC - September 29: President Trump, en route to Cleveland for the first televised debate with opponent Joe Biden, gestures to reporters as he departs the White House, in Washington, DC on September 29. (Photo by Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
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Updated 30 December 2020

Poll: Arabs support Trump on Iran, but not on Jerusalem embassy move

Poll: Arabs support Trump on Iran, but not on Jerusalem embassy move
  • Arab News/YouGov pan-Arab survey finds Trump much better known in the Arab region than rival Biden
  • Analysts say praises for Trump’s strong Iran stance drowned out by backlash against Jerusalem embassy move

BEIRUT: Regardless of the outcome of the Nov. 3 presidential election, US President Donald Trump does not have to worry about one thing: being accused of leaving the Middle East in a worse condition than he inherited it. Judging by the Arab News/YouGov pan-Arab survey’s findings, that dubious honor goes to his predecessor, Barak Obama, whose vice president Joe Biden is now Trump’s main challenger.
In a nutshell, the study shows that Arabs broadly support Trump’s iron-fist approach towards the Iranian regime, although they oppose his decision in 2018 to transfer the US embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And even though he is seen as not better for the Arab region than his Democratic opponent, far more respondents were aware of him than Biden. Some of his policies were also viewed favorably in specific parts of the Arab world.


While gone are the days when a White House occupant could run for a second term on their foreign-policy achievements, there is no denying that the US remains a global power whose decisions affect the lives of people from Central America to the Middle East. As such, the importance of understanding what the Arab world is anticipating from a future US administration cannot be overstated.
Covered extensively by the Arab news media, the first big news story of 2020 was the elimination of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) extraterritorial Quds Force. Soleimani was on his way to meet the Iraqi prime minister when he was killed in a US drone strike near Baghdad airport on Jan. 3.
According to the survey, opinion in the Arab world overall is divided on the regional impact of the killing.
Respondents in Yemen were very supportive of the action, with 71 percent approving it as a positive move, as were many residents of Saudi Arabia (68 percent) and Iraqi (57 percent). In contrast, some 59 percent of respondents in Lebanon and 62 percent in Qatar said it was a negative move for the region.

“The poll accurately assesses the interests of Arab states,” said Dr. John Hulsman, president and managing partner of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a prominent global political risk consultancy.
“For people who knew Soleimani in Iraq, he was part of the problem … as a satrap (viceroy) of Iran. They are delighted in Iraq now they have a vaguely reformist prime minister who is vaguely tolerated by Iran and the US. And that couldn’t have happened with Soleimani there.”

On the other hand, Hulsman said, “If you live somewhere where there is an American base in the region (such as Qatar), then Soleimani’s killing might mean that you are next, because no one thinks the Iranians are going to forget that Soleimani died.”

Under the circumstances, why did 40 percent of the Arab News/YouGov survey’s respondents say Biden would be better for the Middle East, as opposed to the 12 percent who said the same thing about Trump?
For one thing, analysts point out, an even larger number, 49 percent, felt neither candidate would be better for the region.
For another thing, they note that just a little more than half of the respondents (53 percent) said they were aware of Biden compared to a massive 90 percent who were aware of Trump. Besides, they say, the points scored by Trump by taking a hard line on the Iranian problem are outweighed by the consequences of the Jerusalem embassy transfer decision, which was opposed by 89 percent of the respondents.


READ: The methodology behind the Arab News/YouGov Pan-Arab Survey


According to David Romano, Thomas G. Strong professor of Middle East Politics at Missouri State University, Iran remains the key issue in understanding the Arab world’s bad aftertaste from the Obama administration. “When it comes to the Arab states, Biden is a lot like Obama,” he told Arab News. “They are not sure if he’s the kind of president who will throw them under the bus like many feel Obama did to (former Egyptian President) Hosni Mubarak.”
Trump, by comparison, might represent stability for the Middle East. “Trump has come through on his word. He sent more troops to Saudi Arabia and he’s been harder on Iran,” Romano said.

Presumably, by the same token, about one fifth of GCC residents believe Trump’s withdrawal from the Obama-era Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), better known as the Iran nuclear deal, has boosted safety in the region (led particularly by 49 percent of Saudi nationals).

Furthermore, residents of countries intimately tied without a choice to Iran said they want a combative stance from the next US president, including toughened sanctions and a war posture. These included: Iraq (53 percent), Yemen (54 percent) and Saudi Arabia (49 percent).
“The Trump team came in and decided that Obama’s efforts, particularly with the JCPOA, were a disaster because it bankrolled a whole list of people who want America out of the region and who don’t want stability in the region. They want to dominate the region,” Hulsman said.

The fear among many is that Biden may abandon Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran. “From the point of view of the Middle East, this is one of those moments that looks like whiplash. If you are living in the region, this is zig-zag diplomacy,” Hulsman said.
It is not just analysts who are deeply skeptical about Biden’s stance on Iran, fearing a return to the perceived weak-kneed and irresolute approach of Obama.
Agop K, a Lebanese-Armenian-American attorney who lives in Beirut but practices law in the US, said “we need an iron fist here in the Middle East, unfortunately. And Trump represents that.”
Speaking to Arab News, he said: “As long as the pressure is on Iran and Iran is being sanctioned and cut off from financing, this is what might help us down the line in Lebanon. If I wanted to vote for Trump, this is one of the biggest reasons I would do so.”

Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor


Explosion sound heard at Beirut neighborhood caused by tyre burst

Explosion sound heard at Beirut neighborhood caused by tyre burst
Updated 4 min 36 sec ago

Explosion sound heard at Beirut neighborhood caused by tyre burst

Explosion sound heard at Beirut neighborhood caused by tyre burst

CAIRO: An explosion sound heard at a neighborhood in the southern suburbs of Beirut was reportedly caused by a tyre bursting, local news agency NNA reported Saturday.  
People initially thought they heard an explosion. 
But the bang was in fact a tyre on a bulldozer bursting inside a waste plant, the NNA reported.


Abu Dhabi to reopen cinemas with reduced capacity, Dubai bans cafes offering drinks in baby bottles

Abu Dhabi to reopen cinemas with reduced capacity, Dubai bans cafes offering drinks in baby bottles
Updated 06 March 2021

Abu Dhabi to reopen cinemas with reduced capacity, Dubai bans cafes offering drinks in baby bottles

Abu Dhabi to reopen cinemas with reduced capacity, Dubai bans cafes offering drinks in baby bottles
  • Earlier in February, the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee approved closing all cinemas
  • Dubai authorities have banned local cafes from serving drinks in baby bottles to prevent the spread of coronavirus

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi will reopen its cinemas at a reduced 30 percent capacity while adhering to coronavirus precautionary measures, state news agency WAM reported.
Earlier in February, the Abu Dhabi Emergency, Crisis and Disasters Committee approved closing all cinemas.
Meanwhile, Dubai authorities have banned local cafes from serving drinks in baby bottles to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Dubai Economy said in a tweet.
“The Commercial Compliance & Consumer Protection (CCCP) Sector in Dubai Economy directed coffee shops to stop serving drinks in baby bottles,” DED said.
There has been a spike in new daily cases since the beginning of the year, largely due to the high number of tourists traveling to the country over the holiday period.

The UAE has recorded 2,959 new coronavirus infections, 1,901 recoveries and 14 deaths in the past 24 hours. The total number of cases now stands at 408,236 with 391,205 recoveries and 1,310 deaths.


Fighting in Yemen’s Marib kills 90 in 24 hours: government military source

Fighting in Yemen’s Marib kills 90 in 24 hours: government military source
Updated 4 sec ago

Fighting in Yemen’s Marib kills 90 in 24 hours: government military source

Fighting in Yemen’s Marib kills 90 in 24 hours: government military source

DUBAI: Fierce fighting between Yemeni pro-government forces and Iran-backed Houthi rebels has killed at least 90 combatants on both sides in the past 24 hours, government military sources said Saturday.
The Shiite rebels launched an offensive last month to seize Marib, the last stronghold in northern Yemen of pro-government forces who are backed by a Arab-led military coalition.
The clashes in the oil-rich province left 32 dead among government forces and loyalist tribes, while 58 Houthi rebels were killed in coalition air strikes, the sources told AFP.
They said heavy clashes broke out on six fronts as government forces were able to counter attacks by the Houthis who managed to advance only on the Kassara front northwest of Marib city.
The fighting also left dozens of people wounded, the sources added.
The loss of Marib would be a huge blow for the Yemeni government, but would also threaten catastrophe for civilians, including hundreds of thousands of displaced people sheltering in desolate camps in the surrounding desert.
It would also be a major setback for Saudi Arabia, which has been the target of increasingly frequent Houthi missile attacks in recent weeks.
Shrapnel from Houthi drones intercepted by the Saudis on Friday wounded two civilians, including a 10-year-old, in the southwest of the kingdom, the official SPA news agency reported.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday urged the Houthis to halt their offensive in Marib, as he announced $191 million in aid at a donors' conference.
"Aid alone will not end the conflict. We can only end the humanitarian crisis in Yemen by ending the war... so the United States is reinvigorating our diplomatic efforts to end the war," he said.
The United Nations had sought to raise $3.85 billion from more than 100 governments and donors, but only $1.7 billion was offered.


Top Shiite cleric tells pope Iraq Christians should live in peace

Top Shiite cleric tells pope Iraq Christians should live in peace
Updated 06 March 2021

Top Shiite cleric tells pope Iraq Christians should live in peace

Top Shiite cleric tells pope Iraq Christians should live in peace
  • The meeting, on the second day of the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, marked a landmark moment in modern religious history
  • Sistani, 90, “affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights,”

NAJAF, Iraq: Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the authority for most of the world’s Shiite Muslims, told Pope Francis in a historic meeting in the Iraqi city of Najaf Saturday that the country’s Christians should live in “peace.”
The meeting, on the second day of the first-ever papal visit to Iraq, marked a landmark moment in modern religious history.
Pope Francis is defying a second wave of coronavirus cases and renewed security fears to make a “long-awaited” trip to Iraq, aiming to comfort the country’s ancient Christian community and deepen his dialogue with other religions.
The meeting between the two elderly men lasted 50 minutes, with Sistani’s office putting out a statement shortly afterwards thanking Francis, 84, for visiting the holy city of Najaf.
Sistani, 90, “affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights,” it said.
His office published an image of the two, neither wearing masks: Sistani in a black turban with his wispy grey beard reaching down to his black robe and Francis all in white, looking directly at the grand ayatollah.
Sistani is extremely reclusive and rarely grants meetings but made an exception to host Francis, an outspoken proponent of interreligious dialogue.
The Pope had landed earlier at Najaf airport, where posters had been set up featuring a famous saying by Ali, the fourth caliph and the Prophet Muhammad’s relative, who is buried in the holy city.
“People are of two kinds, either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity,” read the banners.
The meeting is one of the highlights of Francis’s four-day trip to war-scarred Iraq, where Sistani has played a key role in tamping down tensions in recent decades.
It took months of careful negotiations between Najaf and the Vatican to secure the one-on-one meeting.
“We feel proud of what this visit represents and we thank those who made it possible,” said Mohamed Ali Bahr Al-Ulum, a senior cleric in Najaf.
Pope Francis, a strong proponent of interfaith dialogue, has met top Sunni clerics in several Muslim-majority countries, including Bangladesh, Morocco, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Sistani, meanwhile, is followed by most of the world’s 200 million Shiites — a minority among Muslims but the majority in Iraq — and is a national figure for Iraqis.
“Ali Sistani is a religious leader with a high moral authority,” said Cardinal Miguel Angel Ayuso Guixot, the head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and a specialist in Islamic studies.
Sistani began his religious studies at the age of five, climbing through the ranks of Shiite clergy to grand ayatollah in the 1990s.
While Saddam Hussein was in power, he languished under house arrest for years, but emerged after the US-led invasion toppled the repressive regime in 2003 to play an unprecedented public role.
In 2019, he stood with Iraqi protesters demanding better public services and rejecting external interference in Iraq’s domestic affairs.
On Friday in Baghdad, Pope Francis made a similar plea.
“May partisan interests cease, those outside interests who don’t take into account the local population,” Francis said.
Sistani has had a complicated relationship with his birthplace Iran, where the other main seat of Shiite religious authority lies: Qom.
While Najaf affirms the separation of religion and politics, Qom believes the top cleric — Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — should also govern.
Iraqi clerics and Christian leaders said the visit could strengthen Najaf’s standing compared to Qom.
“The Najaf school has great prestige and is more secular than the more religious Qom school,” Ayuso said.
“Najaf places more weight on social affairs,” he added.
In Abu Dhabi in 2019, the Pope met Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the imam of the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo and a key authority for Sunni Muslims.
They signed a text encouraging Christian-Muslim dialogue, which Catholic clerics hoped Sistani would also endorse, but clerical sources in Najaf told AFP it is unlikely.
While the Pope has been vaccinated and encouraged others to get the jab, Sistani’s office has not announced his vaccination.
Iraq is currently gripped by a resurgence of coronavirus cases, recording more than 5,000 infections and more than two dozen deaths daily.
Following his visit to the grand ayatollah, the pope will head to the desert site of the ancient city of Ur — believed to be the birthplace of the Prophet Abraham, common patriarch of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths — where he will host an interfaith service, with many of Iraq’s other religious minorities in attendance.


Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo

Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo
Updated 06 March 2021

Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo

Officials: 18 killed as truck crashes into bus outside Cairo

CAIRO: A trailer-truck crashed into a microbus, killing at least 18 people and injuring five others south of the Egyptian capital, authorities said.
The country’s chief prosecutor’s office said in a statement the crash took place late Friday on a highway near the town of Atfih, 100 kilometers (62 miles) south of Cairo.
The Cairo-Assiut eastern road, located on the eastern side of the Nile River, links Cairo to the country’s southern provinces and is known for speeding traffic.
Police authorities said the truck’s tire exploded, causing it to overturn and collide with the microbus. The victims were taken to nearby hospitals, the statement said. The truck driver was arrested.
Traffic accidents claim thousands of lives every year in Egypt, which has a poor transportation safety record. The crashes are mostly caused by speeding, bad roads or poor enforcement of traffic laws.
The country’s official statistics agency says around 10,000 road accidents took place in 2019, the most recent year for which statistics are available, leaving over 3,480 dead. In 2018, there were 8,480 car accidents, causing over 3,080 deaths.