The visit of U.S. President Donald Trump to Saudi Arabia on May 20-22, 2017, the highlight of which was the summit attended by 50 Arab and Islamic countries, was widely covered in the Arab press. Articles published in the Arab newspapers that support the "moderate axis" in the Arab world, led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, generally praised President Trump for his decision to visit Saudi Arabia and for the speech he delivered during the summit, in which he focused on the fight against terror and on Iran. However, some of these articles also voiced criticism of Trump's policy in the region and of the conduct of Arab leaders.
For example, Nayla Tueni, editor-in-chief of the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar, which is associated with the March 14 Forces, wrote that President Trump's policy, as reflected in this speech, is damaging to U.S. allies in the region, because it treats them simply as a tool for the implementation of U.S. policy without granting them the necessary resources to do so. Trump thereby exposes them to criticism, says Tueni, and makes them a target of their rivals – Iran, the Syrian regime, and Hizbullah. She added that the Arab world should open up to other countries, chiefly Russia.
Marwan Al-Mu'asher, former Foreign Minister of Jordan, wrote in the Jordanian daily Al-Ghad that Trump focused on taking a security approach to dealing with terrorism, without relating to the economic and social problems that concern the Arab citizen, problems which are among the causes of terrorism. Al-Mu'asher directed harsh criticism at Arab leaders who rushed to embrace Trump despite his hostile positions towards Arabs and Islam, and to adopt his approach to the fight against terror. He warned that Trump's policy is likely to damage the region and called on Arab leaders to stop counting on the U.S. to solve their problems and start focusing on economic and social development in their countries.
The following are excerpts from the articles by Tueni and Al-Mu'asher.
President Trump speaking at the Arab-Islamic-U.S. Riyadh summit (image: Arabic.cnn.com, May 22, 2017)
Editor Of Lebanese Daily Al-Nahar: Urging The Arabs To Fight Terror On Their Own Is Not Enough
Nayla Tueni, editor-in-chief of the Lebanese daily Al-Nahar, wrote: "The speech of U.S. President Donald Trump at the Riyadh summit is of no use to any of the U.S. allies in the Middle East or to those who are suspected of allying themselves with [the U.S.] only because of their opposition to the policy of Iran, which is allied with the Syrian regime and other organizations and forces hostile to the [moderate Arab] regimes and to [regional] stability. Some will perceive in the speech support for the opposition to Iran, but in fact the speech is damaging to it, since it empties the movement of opposition [to Iran] of its genuine content and presents it… as executing the will of the West… These forces [that oppose Syria and Iran] may be surrounded and accused of collaborating [with the U.S.], and attacked with every possible weapon in an effort to silence them for good. It wouldn't be surprising if Hizbullah supporters in Lebanon, members of the Syrian regime, and those who enjoy material and military support from Iran now launch an organized political and media attack so as to reap some benefit from Trump's speech… and exert pressure on all just and sovereign discourse.
"Although the meetings in Riyadh dealt with the fight against terror and drying up its sources of funding, the most prominent part of the U.S. President's speech was his thrusting of the fight against terror upon the Arabs themselves, without really putting all the world's resources at their disposal in order to [enable them to] tackle this difficult task. The fight against terror, and the attempt to curb it as a first step towards wiping it out completely, if possible, require placing all the international experience, and all the intelligence capabilities of the superpowers, at the service of the grand plan. Proclamations and encouragement are not sufficient, since [charging the Arabs alone with this task] is in fact a call for Arabs to confront each other, and for them to go to war with their neighbors, which will drain their financial and human resources and benefit absolutely no one. In fact, it is likely to lead to the growth of new terror groups and organizations. On its own, the American "stick" is useless and is reminiscent of international struggles that triggered terror on many occasions. We should open up to other countries, of which Russia is likely to be the most prominent."
Former Jordanian Foreign Minister: Trump Is Not The Savior Of The Arab World, We Must Solve Our Own Problems
Marwan Al-Mu'asher, former foreign minister of Jordan, wrote: "Ever since taking power, the American President has expressed singular contempt for Arabs and Muslims. Immediately upon assuming office, he issued an order preventing citizens of seven Muslim countries from visiting the U.S…. Later President Trump refused to meet any Arab leader in an official capacity before meeting with Israeli Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu. To this were added his repeated declarations that he intended to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and his deliberate refusal to relate to the two-state solution.
"Those who followed Trump's trip to the region and his official reception in the Arab countries he visited found it hard to believe that the person who was welcomed so warmly was the same man [responsible for all those policies and statements]. While there is legitimate concern about Iran and its intentions in the region, and while there is a need to defeat ISIS and its barbaric ideology, the simple citizen [nevertheless] wonders whether the positions of the new president with regard to Iran and ISIS justify his disregard for the other issues that concern that citizen. Does it make sense that the Palestinian Authority waves banners welcoming Trump as a man of peace? And how should the simple citizen understand the $400 billion agreements signed between Saudi Arabia and Trump, of which $110 billion is for military armament, in the absence of any discussion about development needs [and] at a time when oil prices are plummeting? We [Jordanians] were excited because the American President mentioned us four times in his speech, as if that erases his previous and future positions, including those he assumed during his visit to Israel and his visit to the Western Wall, and the fact that he did not mention the Israeli Occupation.
"What is going on in the Arab world? Have we lost our compass, or did we never possess it? We continue to insist on a purely security-based approach to our problems, at a time when the rate of unemployment is rising and the rate of development is slowing down, and in a world that is changing fast because of modern technology that creates great employment challenges in the industrialized West, and so much more so for us. Some jobs are disappearing while others are created by technological advancement, and the [technological] gap [between us and the West], which was large to begin with, grows ever larger as a result of our rentier regimes and failed education systems. Rather than concentrate our interests and our resources on quality education by encouraging innovation and creativity, while respecting all components of society and creating real jobs, we are still convinced that terror should be fought only by military means. While we boast occasionally about our understanding of the importance of development, little of this is reflected in our policy or our budgets. The challenges of today and tomorrow continue to be tackled with yesterday's solutions.
"It appears that the Arab political system today is the weakest it has ever been in its entire history. On the one hand, it doesn't understand that the world has changed technologically, politically, and economically, and that the authoritarian approach to governance is obsolete. On the other hand, it still relies on a greater savior [i.e. the U.S.] that has never ceased to speak openly about its aggressive policy toward us… Do we really believe that our praise for Trump guarantees that he will change that policy? Have we reached the point where those words of praise have become the policy upon which we base our treatment of our problems?
"It seems that the Arab world is still not ready to manage its own affairs and to begin dealing seriously with the challenge of its economic and political, as well as its security development. For a long time we asked the U.S. not to interfere in our internal affairs, especially following the disastrous interference of President Bush [Jr.]'s administration during its war with Iraq. So why do we [now] praise the great American savior? What the Arab citizen mainly wants is for the U.S. to avoid causing any further damage. Can we claim today that, with his focus on security… rather than on economic and political development, and by giving the Arab states a false sense of security, Trump will not cause additional damage? These are the legitimate questions that should be raised today."