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.


Egypt to test visitors from countries with COVID-19 variants on arrival

Egypt to test visitors from countries with COVID-19 variants on arrival
Updated 08 May 2021

Egypt to test visitors from countries with COVID-19 variants on arrival

Egypt to test visitors from countries with COVID-19 variants on arrival

CAIRO: Egypt will require all visitors arriving from “countries where variants of the virus have appeared” to take a rapid COVID-19 test upon arrival, its health ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
The statement did not specify the countries from which passengers would take the 15-minute DNA test, called ID NOW.
Egypt’s new coronavirus cases have been steadily rising in recent weeks. On Saturday it reported 1,125 new cases and 65 deaths, although experts say that reflects only a fraction of total cases.
In a statement on Saturday, Egypt’s tourism ministry clarified that restaurants and coffee shops attached to hotels were exempt from a recent decree that such outlets as well as malls and stores would close at 9 p.m. local time (GMT +2) in order to not affect tourism.


Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police

Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police
Updated 08 May 2021

Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police

Medics: 200 Palestinians hurt in Al-Aqsa clashes with police
  • Clashes erupted when Israeli police deployed heavily as Muslims were performing evening prayers at Al-Aqsa

JERUSALEM: A night of heavy clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and elsewhere in Jerusalem left more than 200 Palestinians wounded, medics said Saturday, as the city braced for even more violence after weeks of unrest.
Nightly protests broke out at the start of the holy month of Ramadan over police restrictions at a popular gathering place and have reignited in recent days over threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinians from their homes in east Jerusalem, which is claimed by both sides in the decades-old conflict.
It was unclear what set off the violence at Al-Aqsa, which erupted when Israeli police in riot gear deployed in large numbers as thousands of Muslim worshippers were holding evening prayers at the sprawling hilltop esplanade.
Throughout the night large groups of protesters could be seen hurling rocks as Israeli police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades. At one point, the police entered one of the buildings in the complex, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the iconic golden Dome of the Rock.
The Palestinian Red Crescent emergency service said 88 of the wounded were hospitalized. The Palestinian Health Ministry said 83 people were wounded by rubber-coated bullets, including three who were shot in the eye, two with serious head injuries and two with broken jaws.
The Israeli police said protesters hurled stones, fireworks and other objects at them, wounding six officers who required medical treatment. “We will respond with a heavy hand to all violent disturbances, riots and attacks on our forces,” it said in a statement late Friday.
The Al-Aqsa mosque compound is the third holiest site in Islam. It is also the holiest site for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount because it was the location of the biblical temples. It has long been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was the epicenter of the 2000 Palestinian intifada, or uprising.
Some 70,000 worshippers had attended the final midday Friday prayers of Ramadan at Al-Aqsa, the Islamic endowment that oversees the site said. Thousands protested afterwards, waving the green flags of the Islamic militant group Hamas and chanting pro-Hamas slogans.
At the beginning of Ramadan in mid-April, Israel blocked off a popular gathering spot where Palestinians traditionally socialize at the end of their daylong fast. The move set off two weeks of clashes before Israel lifted the restrictions.
But in recent days, protests have grown over Israel's threatened eviction in Sheikh Jarrah in east Jerusalem of dozens of Palestinians embroiled in a long legal battle with Israeli settlers trying to acquire property in the neighborhood.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” about both the violence and the threatened evictions, and was in contact with leaders on both sides to try and de-escalate tensions.
“It is critical to avoid steps that exacerbate tensions or take us farther away from peace,” the US State Department said in a statement. “This includes evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism.”
The European Union also urged calm. It said the potential evictions were of “serious concern," adding that such actions are "illegal under international humanitarian law and only serve to fuel tensions on the ground.
Neighboring Jordan, which made peace with Israel in 1994 and is the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, has also condemned Israel's actions, as has the Gulf kingdom of Bahrain, which normalized relations with Israel last year in a US-brokered deal.
Israelis and Palestinians are bracing for more unrest in the coming days.
Sunday night is “Laylat al-Qadr” or the “Night of Destiny,” the most sacred in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Worshippers will gather for intense nighttime prayers at Al-Aqsa.
Sunday night is also the start of Jerusalem Day, a national holiday in which Israel celebrates its annexation of east Jerusalem and religious nationalists hold parades and other celebrations in the city. On Monday, an Israeli court is expected to issue a verdict on the evictions.
Israel captured east Jerusalem, along with the West Bank and Gaza — territories the Palestinians want for their future state — in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move not recognized internationally and views the entire city as its capital.


Drone attack on Iraqi base hosting US troops

Drone attack on Iraqi base hosting US troops
Updated 08 May 2021

Drone attack on Iraqi base hosting US troops

Drone attack on Iraqi base hosting US troops
  • The US accuses Iran-backed militia groups of launching regular rocket attacks against its troops in Iraq

BAGHDAD: A drone strike early on Saturday targeted a military base in Iraq that hosts US troops, causing only minor damage and no casualties, Iraq’s military and the US-led coalition said.
The pore-dawn attack damaged a hangar, tweeted coalition spokesman Col. Wayne Marotto. He said the attack was under investigation. An Iraqi military statement also said no losses were reported.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. The US has blamed Iran-backed militia groups for previous attacks, most of them rocket attacks that have targeted the American presence in Baghdad and military bases across Iraq.
Drone strikes are less common. In mid-April, an explosive-laden drone targeted the military section of the international airport in Irbil, in Iraq’s northern Kurdish-run region, causing no casualties or damages. The base also hosts US troops.
The attacks have been frequent since a US-directed drone strike killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani near the Baghdad airport last year. Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis was also killed in the attack. The strike drew the ire of mostly Shiite Iraqi lawmakers and prompted parliament to pass a non-binding resolution to pressure the Iraqi government to oust foreign troops from the country.
The Biden administration has resumed strategic talks with Baghdad, initiated under President Donald Trump, in which the future of US troop presence in Iraq is a central point of discussion.


Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list
Updated 08 May 2021

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list

Philippines, Egypt added to Oman’s travel ban list
  • Omani citizens, diplomats, health workers and their families are excluded from the latest rule

DUBAI: The Philippines and Egypt were the latest inclusion in Oman’s list where travelers from the said countries are banned from entering the Sultanate.

The decision was issued by the Supreme Committee, which takes lead in the country’s fight against the coronavirus pandemic, and took effect on Friday, May 7.

Travelers from Egypt and the Philippines, and those who transited in any of the said countries during the 14 days, are particularly affected by the travel restriction a report from Times of Oman said.

Omani citizens, diplomats, health workers and their families are excluded from the latest rule but are subject to the procedures adopted upon entering the Sultanate, the report added.

Oman earlier added India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to the travel ban list, joining Sudan, Lebanon, South Africa, Brazil, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia and the United Kingdom where their residents have been barred from entering since February 24.


UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours
Updated 08 May 2021

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours

UAE reports 1,766 new COVID-19 cases, three deaths in last 24 hours
  • The total number of recorded cases in the UAE is now at 532,710 since the pandemic began

DUBAI: UAE health authorities reported 1,766 new coronavirus cases after conducting 211,462 additional COVID-19 tests over the past 24 hours, as well three deaths fatalities from the contagious disease.

The total number of recorded cases in the UAE is now at 532,710 since the pandemic began, with 1,607 confirmed deaths, a report from state news agency WAM said.

The Ministry of Health and Prevention reiterated its call for residents to adhere coronavirus protocols and maintain social distancing to ensure public health and safety.

Meanwhile, 141,283 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been provided during the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of doses provided to residents and citizens to 11,048,547.

The rate of vaccine distribution now stands at 111.71 doses per 100 people.