After the election of Donald Trump

Sunday 13/11/2016

The United States’ presidential election season is finally over and with it have ended the bigotry, nativist rhetoric and naked Islamophobia that marked the cam­paign. At least, that is the hope.
After 18 months of tense campaigning in which anti-Muslim stereotyping became part of the electoral narrative, there is hope and expectation around the world — and especially in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) — of a more reasonable and balanced tone from US President-elect Donald Trump.
His administration faces enormous challenges regarding the region. First, it must address the anxiety aroused by candidate Trump’s calls for a wholesale ban on the entry of Muslims into the United States. Muslims around the world have themselves suffered the most from Islamic extremism and its terrorist manifestations.
Then, it must show a better understanding of the security con­cerns of the Arab Gulf countries especially considering Tehran’s unbridled ambitions.
And crucially, the new administration must take a step back from Trump’s dangerous promise that, if elected, his administration would transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
It would take more than an American president’s opinion on the US embassy’s location to change the status of Jerusalem but such a unilateral move could be incendiary. It would ignite smouldering embers into a regional fire. Any US administration has the obliga­tion to work instead for a fair and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians not to fan the flames of war and violence.
What can the world and the MENA region expect come January 20th and the inauguration of the new administration?
First, that President Trump must be markedly different from candidate Trump. Before he won the election November 8th, Trump indicated that his “America First” policy would mean his eye was fixed on the domestic landscape. The new US president should uphold the values of a principled, tolerant and open America. Insularity is not a tenable posture even for the world’s greatest superpower.
Trump has also promised that nation-building in the MENA region will not be America’s business. That is to be welcomed, even if only because Washington will be hence less meddlesome and less prone to disastrous military interventions in the region.
That said, Trump’s America cannot just walk away from it all. Washington must play its part in promoting peace, stability and prosperity in the MENA region. That would mean containing Iran and its aggressive designs. The United States has an obvious role to play resolving the Palestinian-Israeli problem. Trump’s pledge that his administration would play a “significant role in helping the parties to achieve a just, lasting peace” is a first step in the right direction although it does not yet demonstrate a willingness to play the role of an honest broker. Washington must as well continue to help in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS) and other terrorist groups. It must also show that migrants deserve respect and empathy not demonisation.
The MENA region has endured enough wars and violence in the past few years and does not need any additional instability due to new policies from Washington.