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November 8, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 9013

Articles In Saudi Press: Biden Is Not A Replica Of Obama; Arab States Will Not Be Adversely Affected By His Victory

November 8, 2020
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 9013

After Joe Biden was declared the winner of the U.S. presidential election, the Saudi press published articles downplaying the implications of his victory for the Arab states in general and for Saudi Arabia in particular.

During the presidential campaign, the Saudi press seemed to favor a victory by Donald Trump, mainly out of fear that Biden would reinstate Obama's policies, especially on the issues of Iran's nuclear dossier, the activity of Iranian militias in the Arab world, and the activity of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which many Arab states have designated as terrorist.  However, following Biden's victory, the writers tempered their position, arguing that, during the past four years, the Arab region and the world at large have undergone extensive changes, due to which Biden is unlikely to readopt Obama's policies. Among these changes they listed the diminished power of the MB in the Arab world, the European apprehensions regarding Iran's policy, and the normalization of relations between the Gulf states and Israel.

In support of their position, the writers also stated that the ties between the U.S. and its allies is not based on personal relations between leaders, but rather on institutions and mutual interests, and therefore Saudi-U.S. relations are not likely to suffer.

The following are translated excerpts from the articles:

Former Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Editor: Relations Between Countries Are Based On Interests

Senior Saudi journalist Tariq Al-Homayed, a former editor of the Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily, wrote in his column in the Saudi government daily 'Okaz: "The relations between the U.S. and its allies are based on institutions, not on personal relations. There is security, military and economic cooperation, and there are [important] issues that cannot be disregarded…

"Biden is coming to a [Middle East] that has changed and is constantly changing. What some people forget… is that the real change in our region began during the Arab Spring, while Biden was vice president to Obama, not during the Trump era. [Another] point some people ignore is that, despite what is said about the [good] relations between Trump and the moderate Arab states, this did not prevent the Gulf boycott on Qatar, which occurred during Trump's term. [That is,] his administration was unable to persuade the Gulf states and Egypt to restore their relations with Qatar [when the latter] failed to fulfill its previous commitments…

"[But] the most troubling [question] regarding our region is how Biden will deal with Iran. Will he readdress the nuclear issue, and if so, how? In this respect, too, the region has changed, for Biden will find a firmer Israeli position on Iran, similar to the Gulf position, which underwent a change with the advent of the peace process between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel. Who knows, perhaps the peace camp will expand [even further] today, or with the arrival of the new tenant in the White House. Ultimately, interests will be the decisive factor, [for] such is the nature of politics…"[1]

Bahraini Columnist: In The Current Reality, Biden Will Not Be Able To Resume Obama's Plans

Columnist Sawsan Al-Sha'er wrote in the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "In 2010, the [various] proxies of Iran, Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood [MB] were at the peak of their political [influence] and terrorist activity. Most of the Arab regimes succumbed to the pressure of the American administration and the Europeans to let these proxies increase their political [power]. The MB had representatives in Arab parliaments in Egypt and North Africa - in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. They also had representatives in Bahrain and Kuwait, and I don't believe there were any limitations on their social activity in Saudi Arabia.  

"The proxies of Iran reached Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. They had representatives in the Bahraini and Kuwaiti parliaments, and their militias spread corruption in Syria, Lebanon and even Bahrain.

"When the Arab Spring broke out, the Turkish-Iranian proxies bared their teeth, with the unreserved backing of the Obama administration. The U.S. administration brought all its weight to bear, and toppled many Arab regimes, until Bahrain and Egypt, with Saudi support, managed to grab the reigns and stop this plan in its tracks.

"When Obama left the White House, only a few hounded remnants of these [Iranian and Turkish] proxies remained [in the Arab countries]. Their role in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain ended, and in Tunisia they are fighting [for their status]. Qatar's financing [of these proxies] was stopped, and it was prevented from interfering, which completely disrupted the plan. Iran was boycotted, and Turkey, too, is [now] isolated by the peoples of the Arab world…

"During the four years of Trump's term, Egypt, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia managed to extract themselves from the arms of Iran and Turkey and from all the means used by the Obama administration. It was a period of economic prosperity, security and stability… [These years] also saw essential changes in the Gulf states in terms of [normalizing] their relations with Israel, which may be an important factor in U.S. policy, and there may be more countries in line, waiting [to normalize their relations with Israel]. There was also greater openness [in the Gulf states] towards the East - towards Russia, China and India - reflecting [these states'] dissatisfaction with the previous American foreign policy.

"These changes have created a new reality, which may have implications for American and Gulf interests, and the next tenant in the White House will act accordingly. What is certain regarding Saudi-U.S. relations, and did not change before or after Obama and before or after Biden, is Saudi Arabia's significant contribution to the war on the terror of ISIS, and its contribution to the stability of the oil market. If Biden occupies the White House in the next four years and tries to continue Obama's plan from where it stopped, this will reflect an incorrect reading of the changes that have occurred in the last four years, and his failure will impact the U.S. interests vis-à-vis the countries of the region.  

"No matter what aid and support is extended by Iran, which is pleased with Biden's [election], to its apparatuses in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, [this aid and support] will not change [the situation]. It may have some limited effect in Lebanon and Iraq, if Biden adopts a policy of complete surrender and withdrawal, thus granting Iran a free hand in these countries. As for Saudi Arabia, the Yemen [crisis] may be the crucial issue by means of which Biden can pressure it.   

"As for Turkey, it does not have good relations with Biden to begin with, so the power of the MB will not increase. Another variable, outside our Arab region, that will have an impact in the coming period is Europe. Iran's support of terrorism has become clear to the countries of Europe, just like Turkey's support of ISIS, [for] Europe is now confronting the terrorist arms [of these two countries]…

"Therefore, regardless of Biden's [previous] statements, the situation will not allow his administration to launch the second phase of the Arab Spring."[2]

Saudi Journalist: The Arab States Are Strong, Will Not Be Affected By The Change

Saudi journalist 'Abdallah Al-'Otaibi wrote in Al-Sharq Al-Awsat: "Will Biden be an exact replica of Obama? Will he change once he assumes the reins of government? The answer to the first question is that he surely won't be an exact replica of Obama. In fact, even if Obama himself became president again he would have changed, for the world has changed in the last four years in ways that would have made it hard to reassume his old policy… [That said,] Biden will not deviate from the general outlines of Obama's policy...

"The disagreements between the two candidates, Trump and Biden, on domestic issues are the affair of the American people, and [the American people] are the ones who will decide them. But what matters to our region and the world is [America's] foreign policy in the next four years, [given] Obama's feeble positions on the region's burning issues. The [U.S.] position on Iran, for example, is one of the important issues that most concern the Arab states, which regard the Iranian regime as a regime that supports terror, that has taken over and occupied several Arab countries, and that disregards all the international laws. The region's and the world's problem [with the Iranian regime] is not confined to the nuclear issue, which was the basis of the bad agreement that was made in Obama's period. The Gulf states and Arab countries have firm positions against the hostile theocratic regime in Tehran, and they will not agree to reembrace the previous [nuclear] deal, with all its flaws and defects.  

"The position of the new U.S. administration towards the MB and the violent terror movements is [another] troubling issue that will be examined if Biden is declared the winner [in the election]. The Gulf states and the Arab countries have a known and firm position on [the need to] designate these movements as terrorist, [for they believe that] they are the root of terrorism… The heinous terror attack in Vienna and the threats directed at several European countries occurred because no firm position was taken against these movements. No American administration will be able to regress in history and go back to supporting the movements of political Islam [i.e., the MB], for when conspiracies are exposed, their power diminishes and it is easy to spot and eliminate them…

"The Arab states in the region are now several times stronger than they were in the beginning of the decade, during what was erroneously called the Arab Spring. They will not be affected by any change in the U.S. or in any other powerful country, for they are better able to defend their interests, their peoples and their sovereignty than they were in the past."[3]

Saudi Journalist: Biden's Middle East Policy Will Not Be Substantially Different From Trump's

Hussain 'Abdul-Hussain, a columnist on the English-language website of the Al-Arabiya network, wrote one day before the U.S. presidential election:

"Biden will likely tweak Trump’s Middle East policy slightly, but will not depart from it substantially... Under a Biden presidency, GCC countries will remain America’s steadfast allies. Despite the electoral noise about a possible deterioration in US-Saudi relations, ties between Washington and Riyadh transcend partisanship and will remain strong…

"Both [the Democratic and the Republican] parties understand that America’s investment in Iraq cannot be left to Iran. Both Obama and Trump kept troops in Iraq, despite promises to withdraw them. Biden will keep them further, until a time when Baghdad is strong enough to handle its sovereignty and safeguard U.S. interests…

"Biden will [also] maintain the presence of U.S. troops in east Syria to continue to prohibit both ISIS and the Syrian government from tapping into oil resources…

"America has little to no interest in Lebanon, except for combating Hizbullah’s terrorism. Because Beirut has failed to do so, Washington has tightened the screws on the pro-Iran militia through sanctions. In both Syria and Lebanon, and also in Gaza, a Biden presidency will continue supporting Israel in keeping its borders with these areas peaceful, even if this requires Israeli military intervention.

"Biden will maintain America’s strong alliance with Israel, and is unlikely to move the U.S. embassy back from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. It is also unlikely that Biden will play an active role in reviving peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and will probably stick to Obama’s mantra: 'America cannot want peace more than the involved parties'…

"Biden has already issued statements praising unilateral peace between Israel, on one hand, and the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan, on the other. It is most probable that Biden will continue Trump’s policy of encouraging the remaining Arab countries to sign peace with Israel…

"Whether [under] Obama, Trump or Biden, America will continue its annual aid to Egypt, as long as Cairo deliver on three strategic issues: Freedom of navigation in the Suez Canal, U.S. military flights in Egyptian airspace, and the stability of Egypt’s border with Israel.

"Biden, however, will depart from Trump’s Middle East policy on Iran and Turkey. Biden is unlikely to continue Trump’s policy of 'maximum pressure' on Iran, and will try to rejoin the nuclear deal when Iran reverses its violations. However, many of the sanctions that Trump imposed on Iran are irrelevant to Tehran’s nuclear program, and are instead connected to Iran’s 'destabilizing activity,' mainly its sponsorship of terrorism. "Trump’s non-nuclear sanctions might nullify Biden’s removal of the nuclear sanctions, which will keep the Iranian economy reeling and force Iran to negotiations, not only over sunset clauses in the nuclear deal, but also over its support of global terror…

"Trump has inexplicably broken ranks with both Democrats and Republicans on Turkey, and has personally connected with Erdogan. But the U.S. mood on Turkey has been sour, given Erdogan’s populist shenanigans. Should Biden become president, relations between America and Turkey might further deteriorate, adding to Ankara’s troubles with the EU."[4]

 

[1] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), November 8, 2020.

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 8, 2020.

[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 8, 2020.

[4] Englsh.alarabiya.net, November 2, 2020.

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