What do Arabs want from the next US president? Experts analyze results of survey on Election 2020

What do Arabs want from the next US president? Experts analyze results of survey on Election 2020
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Updated 05 November 2020

What do Arabs want from the next US president? Experts analyze results of survey on Election 2020

What do Arabs want from the next US president? Experts analyze results of survey on Election 2020
  • Virtual event hosted by Arab News Research & Studies Unit discussed results of Arab News/YouGov pan-Arab study
  • Panelists weighed in on views on topics ranging from a possible Biden presidency to US role in Israel-Palestine mediation

LONDON: A new study conducted by Arab News and the polling firm YouGov has revealed the diverse, often surprising and at times contradictory attitudes of Arabs from across the Middle East and North Africa toward the 2020 US presidential election. From Palestine to Iran, from Obama to Trump, Arabs do not always agree, but there are some areas in which they display a striking level of unity.

On Friday, the Arabs News Research & Studies Unit hosted a virtual debate to discuss the results of the Arab News/YouGov survey on how they perceive the US and Election 2020. The event featured experts from across the US and Middle East and was moderated by Faisal Abbas, Editor in Chief of Arab News.

One of the study’s key findings is that Arabs — if forced to choose between Donald Trump and Joe Biden — would choose the latter. But this support for the Democratic nominee does not come without a caveat. A majority (58 percent) of the 3,000 respondents — adult Arabs hailing from all 18 Middle East and North African states — agreed that Biden, who served as vice president to Barack Obama until 2017, must distance himself from Obama-era policies.

That Arabs overwhelmingly view the Obama-era policies negatively is far from surprising, according to Ali Khedery, CEO of Dragoman Ventures. Arabs recognize that Obama’s foreign policy legacy in the Middle East was one of repeated failures, he said.

“If we take a quick tour of the region under Obama, you will recall that Obama intervened in Libya militarily, only to then abandon it and let it slip into a civil war and violent tribal conflict. He also abandoned (Egyptian President) Hosni Mubarak, not understanding the fact that the vacuum left would be filled by Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood specifically.”

 

Khedery continued: “President Obama called Syrians — as they were trying to rise up — farmers and lawyers, and sat by and watched as (Syrian President Bashar) Assad perpetrated a genocide, an ethnic cleansing, and did nothing to stop that.”

He pointed to Iran — seen by Arabs as one of the top threats facing the US globally — as another key failure of the Obama-Biden administration, and one that Arabs are particularly cognizant of.  “Obama even looked the other way while the Iranian and IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps) increased their influence in the region across Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Yemen,” Khedery said.

These failures, he added, were not lost on Arabs from across the region — and they do not want four more years of it.

“Overall, I’d give the Obama-Biden policy an F in the region,” Khedery said, “and so I’m not surprised that a majority of Arabs want Biden to distance himself from Obama’s legacy.”

Given Obama’s track record, it is perhaps to be expected that Arabs view Biden’s best course of action as a departure from that era’s policies. However, the Arab News-YouGov polls also revealed some surprising — and perhaps contradictory — opinions held by the region’s populace.

The Palestinian question, and what role the US should play in resolving it, supplied some of the most revealing data in the entire pan-Arab survey.

A slight majority of Palestinians polled in the occupied territories (52/48 percent) supported US efforts to play a bigger role in Israel-Palestine mediation. By the same margin, respondents from all 18 countries combined opposed the motion.

Given Washington’s undeniable superpower status, Robert Ford, former US ambassador to Syria and Senior Fellow at the Middle East Institute, said this finding should come as no surprise. “My understanding of the polling result, with respect to the Palestinians in occupied territories, is that they want help. They want American leverage over America’s friend Israel in order to secure what the Palestinians view as their just demands.”

But whether or not a Democratic presidency would deliver this is another question, he said, noting that there is a rift within the party between younger people, who support the Palestinian cause, and the traditional wing, of which Biden is a part, that is “not there yet.”

If Biden wins, “there is going to be a split between the younger people in the party, who are more to the left, and some of the more traditional Democrats, including Biden, who has already indicated, for example, that he will not use American aid to Israel in order to leverage the country.”

Looking to the future, Ford said: “I actually don't think there’s going to be a huge difference between Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s Middle East policies, I don’t think President Trump or President Biden will make the Middle East a big priority. That means America certainly will be influential in the region, but it won’t be decisive — it does not even want to be decisive.

 

“The US won’t leave the Middle East, but we can expect more like their Syria policy… Special operations forces and drones, that's the model for future engagement in the Middle East - on both the Trump and Biden sides.”

Dania Koleilat Khatib, Executive Director of Al-Istishari Al Strategy Center, echoed Ford’s views on the division between Palestinians and the wider Arab world. She said the poll’s findings underscore the necessary pragmatism adopted by the Palestinians, who are directly involved in the conflict, which contrasts with the idealism of Arabs from elsewhere, who have no direct stake in a resolution of the seemingly intractable conflict.

“The US is a superpower. The Palestinians know this, and they know they need them to resolve the dilemma, in order to reach a resolution,” she said.

 

But she added that there is another dimension at play in the Palestinian question: regional and global stability.

“The Muslim Brotherhood and Iran,” she said, “claim legitimacy by attaching themselves to the Palestinian cause, regardless of whether they care about it or not. We know they don’t care, but they claim to for legitimacy.

“So, if we solve the Israel-Palestine issue, the main source of legitimacy that these destabilizing movements rely upon will be gone. This makes resolving the conflict a prime issue for the stability of the region, and thereby for the stability of the world,” Khatib said.

Citing the significance of the Arab News-YouGov survey, she said “fact-based discussions, polls and lobbying are needed for the US to have a more balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Khalid-Abdulla Janahi, Chairman of Vision 3, spoke on the trend of normalization of relations between Israel and Arab countries, describing the Bahraini-Israeli normalization deal –as “a long time coming.” He said Arabs should not depend on the US to resolve the conflicts of the Middle East but instead assert their rights as citizens to address them.

While Arabs were divided over some issues, one single issue was a source of overwhelming agreement: regardless of who becomes president on November 3, the US must continue Trump’s tough line on Iran.

“Containing Iran and Hezbollah” featured among the four main issues that respondents wanted the next US president to focus on. One-third of respondents in all 18 countries agreed that the US should continue its sanctions and maintain a war posture.

For Arabs and everyone else in the region, the issue of Iran “is one of the most vexing … and has been so since the 1979 revolution,” said Khedery, who served as a special assistant to five US ambassadors and advised three heads of US Central Command from 2003 to 2009.

He said that he is more optimistic about Trump’s policy on Iran than he is of Biden, because Trump “understands Iran for what it is.”

“Trump knows that there can be no peace with what is, essentially, a fascist and genocidal regime that oppresses its own people while seeking to spread the Khomeinist revolution across Arabia,” he said.

 

“Obama said Arabs need to learn to share Arabia with Persia; that, by definition, cannot occur. The current Iranian regime seeks to expand itself and reconstitute what used to be the Persian empire through any means necessary: terrorism, genocide and other malignant activities.”

This is why, despite the Arab preference for Biden, a second Trump term as president may in fact serve their interests better, he said.

“Trump recognizing Iran for what it is and applying maximum pressure is far superior to what Obama and Biden did, which was to live in denial of what Iran is and dealing with them for what they wished they were, as opposed to what they really are,” Khedery said.

If Biden came back into office, Khedery said, he is likely to re-enter negotiations with Iran, but in doing that Biden may inadvertently “give Iranians another lifeline to try to dominate the region.”

 

Speaking for YouGov, Lara Al-Barazi, Research Director of YouGov MENA, said: “Any kind of survey cannot reach everyone, so a close representation of the population is taken to mirror as close as possible what is occurring on the ground.”

The partners for Friday’s panel debate were Wayne State University, Newstalk Florida and the Center for Media and Peace Initiatives.


Five dead in ambush on Hezbollah mourners south of Beirut

Five dead in ambush on Hezbollah mourners south of Beirut
Updated 12 min 25 sec ago

Five dead in ambush on Hezbollah mourners south of Beirut

Five dead in ambush on Hezbollah mourners south of Beirut
  • Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati called for restraint after the clashes

LONDON: Hezbollah official Ali Barakat has been killed in clashes in Khalde, a town south of Beirut on Sunday, Lebanese media reported. 

At least five people were killed in an ambush on Shi'ite mourners in the town, a day after a revenge killing of a member of Lebanon's Hezbollah group, a senior source in the group said.

The five were shot in Khaldeh, where sectarian tensions have long flared between its mixed Shi'ite and Sunni residents.

A statement from Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati called for restraint after the clashes.


Egyptian chief of staff calls on southern region’s military unit to be vigilant, combat-ready

Egyptian chief of staff calls on southern region’s military unit to be vigilant, combat-ready
Updated 01 August 2021

Egyptian chief of staff calls on southern region’s military unit to be vigilant, combat-ready

Egyptian chief of staff calls on southern region’s military unit to be vigilant, combat-ready
  • The chief of staff discussed the unit’s various combat missions and methods of confronting emergencies
  • Farid stressed the need to develop the field skills of fighters and improve those of officers

CAIRO: Egyptian Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Mohammed Farid called on the personnel and officers from one of the southern region’s military units to be “vigilant and combat-ready to carry out the tasks of securing the country’s borders.”

During a meeting with personnel from the unit, Farid conveyed the greetings and appreciation of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi for their efforts and sacrifices in the fight to maintain the security of the country’s southern border against smuggling, illegal immigration and hostilities.

The chief of staff discussed the unit’s various combat missions and methods of confronting emergencies, praising their combat readiness and high morale.

Farid stressed the need to develop the field skills of fighters and improve those of officers to enable them to make quick decisions under various circumstances.

He inspected the unit’s procedures for raising combat efficiency, beginning with the presentation of a report that included the technical and administrative status of the unit following improvements to weapons and other areas.


Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies

Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies
Updated 01 August 2021

Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies

Israel says it has evidence linking Iran to deadly tanker attack; Tehran denies
  • Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he has ordered the nation’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism”

JEDDAH/DUBAI: Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday Israel had “evidence” Iran was behind the deadly tanker attack off Oman despite its denials, and warned his country could “send a message” in retaliation.

Bennett’s statement came after Iran rejected Israel’s “baseless accusations” it was responsible for the attack that killed two crewmen, and Tehran vowed to defend its interests after its arch-foe pushed for UN action against it.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh made comments on the attack from Tehran and denied any involvement, saying Israel “must stop such baseless accusations,” and noting “it is not their first time to direct such accusations at Iran.”

The MT Mercer Street, managed by prominent Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, was struck Thursday off the Omani coast.

“The intelligence evidence for this exists and we expect the international community will make it clear to the Iranian regime that they have made a serious mistake,” the Israeli premier said at the weekly cabinet meeting in remarks conveyed by his office.

“In any case, we know how to send a message to Iran in our own way.”

From Jerusalem, Bennett slammed Iran’s “cowardly” denial, saying he could “determine with absolute certainty that Iran carried out the attack against the ship.”

“Iran’s aggressive conduct is dangerous not only to Israel, but also harms global interests, freedom of navigation and international trade,” he said.

Two crewmen, one British and one Romanian, died in Thursday’s attack on the oil tanker, which was on its way from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Fujairah in the UAE.

The US military said that early indications “clearly point” to a drone strike on the Mercer Street.

“US Navy personnel are on the Mercer Street, assisting the vessel’s crew,” the US military’s Central Command said. “US navy explosives experts are aboard to ensure there is no additional danger to the crew, and are prepared to support an investigation into the attack.”

The maritime industry analysts Dryad Global said the attack had “the hallmarks of the ongoing Israel/Iran ‘shadow war’.”

The UK on Sunday denounced Iran's “deliberate, targeted” attack on an oil tanker in the Sea of Oman after assessing Tehran was behind the attack.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the attack “unlawful and callous” and said the UK was working with its international partners on a concerted response to what he called an “unacceptable” strike.

It said the attack was the fifth against a ship connected to Israel since February, and two ships linked to Iran had been attacked in the same period.

Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam state TV channel, citing “informed regional sources,” said the attack was a “response to a recent Israeli attack” targeting an airport in central Syria where Iran is backing the regime.

On Saturday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and agreed to work with other allies "to investigate the facts, provide support, and consider the appropriate next steps", a State Department statement said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ordered his country’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism.”

He said: “I’ve instructed the embassies in Washington, London and the UN to work with their interlocutors in government and the relevant delegations in the UN headquarters in New York.

“Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terrorism, destruction and instability that are hurting us all.”

Lapid said he had also spoken to British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, stressing “the need to respond severely to the attack on the ship in which a British citizen was killed.”

HIGHLIGHT

Several Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center.

The strike on the tanker comes as European powers meet with Iran in an effort to shore up a 2015 agreement to curtail the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions.

The accord was strained when in 2018 former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US unilaterally and reimposed sanctions.

Negotiations in Vienna, where the US is indirectly taking part, have stalled ahead of next week’s inauguration of newly elected ultra-conservative Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi.

Retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom, a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, said the attack appeared to copy elements of an Israeli exploding drone strike on a centrifuge manufacturing site in Iran in June.

Israel “started developing drones and was among the first to develop the concept of a kamikaze,” Gen. Brom said.

“The Iranians are imitating us and adopting the same techniques.” Iran’s strike was “a certain escalation but aimed at avoiding a full-scale war,” he said. “They are not interested in a wider escalation, just as we are not interested in a wider escalation.”

In June, Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building near the city of Karaj west of Tehran.

But aerial photographs obtained by private Israeli intelligence firm The Intel Lab revealed damage to the site.

(With AFP and AP) 


Rescuers pull 394 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia

Rescuers pull 394 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia
Updated 01 August 2021

Rescuers pull 394 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia

Rescuers pull 394 migrants from dangerously overcrowded boat off Tunisia
  • It was not clear if there were any deaths or injuries among the migrants
  • Migrant boat departures have increased in recent months as weather conditions have improved

ABOARD SEA-WATCH 3, Mediterranean: Two humanitarian rescue ships pulled 394 migrants from a dangerously overcrowded wooden boat in the Mediterranean overnight on Sunday in an operation lasting about six hours, a Reuters witness said.

The German and French NGO ships Sea-Watch 3 and Ocean Viking rescued the migrants in Tunisian waters 68 km (42 miles) from the North African coast, near oil facilities and other ships.

Sea-Watch 3, which assumed command of the operation, took 141 of the survivors while Ocean Viking took the rest. The yacht Nadir, from the German NGO ResQ Ship, later gave support.

It was not clear if there were any deaths or injuries among the migrants who were in the wooden boat, which was crammed with migrants on deck and inside the hull.

The craft was taking in water and its engine was not working, the Reuters witness said.

Migrant boat departures from Libya and Tunisia to Italy and other parts of Europe have increased in recent months as weather conditions have improved.

According to the UN-affiliated International Organization for Migration, more than 1,100 people fleeing conflict and poverty in Africa and the Middle East have perished this year in the Mediterranean.

Many of the migrants in this latest rescue were seen jumping off the boat and trying to swim to Sea-Watch 3, the Reuters witness said.

The migrants were mainly men from Morocco, Bangladesh, Egypt and Syria.


Haniyeh re-elected as chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas

Haniyeh re-elected as chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas
Updated 01 August 2021

Haniyeh re-elected as chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas

Haniyeh re-elected as chief of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas

GAZA: Ismail Haniyeh has been re-elected as chief of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, which controls Gaza, two Palestinian officials told Reuters on Sunday.
Haniyeh has led Hamas since 2017.