Trump win draws mixed reactions from Middle Eastern leaders

Republican gets flurry of congratulatory calls, as some worry about his anti-Islam remarks

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu stands next to US president-elect Donald Trump during their meeting in New York in September. Photograph: Reuters

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu stands next to US president-elect Donald Trump during their meeting in New York in September. Photograph: Reuters


US president-elect Donald Trump received a flurry of congratulatory telephone calls from Middle Eastern leaders uncertain over the policies he could adopt towards the crisis-ridden region. Among initial callers were allied autocrats who had rocky relations with outgoing President Barack Obama.

The first caller was Egyptian president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who was assured Washington would remain a “loyal friend, not simply an ally”, despite his harsh crackdown on all forms of dissent.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who is considered to be a supporter of the Republican Party, called Mr Trump a “true friend of Israel”. During the campaign, Mr Trump pledged to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a move previous candidates promised but repeatedly failed to honour.*

Israeli education minister Naftali Bennett said Mr Trump’s election was “an opportunity” to end the “era of a Palestinian state”.

Well aware of Mr Trump’s tilt toward Israel, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbasasked Mr Trump to seek a “just peace” on the basis of the “two-state solution”. Mr Trump’s Israel adviser David Friedman has said he is “tremendously sceptical” about this prospect.

Sent their greetings

Saudi King Salman urged Mr Trump to work with him for peace at a time when Washington has been critical of the kingdom’s brutal US-backed war in Yemen. Saudi crown prince and interior minister Mohammed bin Nayef and deputy crown prince and defence minister Mohammed bin Salman, architect of the protracted war, also sent their greetings.

However, billionaire businessman Prince al-Waleed bin Talal addressed Saudi concerns when he criticised Mr Trump’s anti-Islam statements, in which he promised to ban Muslim migrants from the United States, as well as his determination to make allies “pay” for US military support.

Gulf rulers are also worried about Mr Trump’s attitude towards Islam and Muslims and his mercantile approach to Sunni allies, fearful of rising Shia Iranian influence in the region.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated Ankara’s commitment to collaborate with the US in the fight against terrorism and called on Mr Trump to strengthen Turkish-US relations.

In spite of congratulatory messages, there is deep unease among leaders and citizens who fear Mr Trump, who has no political experience, could precipitate fresh catastrophes like the 2003 war on Iraq, waged by the last Republican president, George W Bush.

Dismissed his threat

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani did not congratulate Mr Trump and dismissed his threat to “tear up” the deal providing for the dismantling of Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

He argued the deal “was not concluded with one country or government”, but with six, and was endorsed by the Security Council. Consequently, Mr Rouhani said, “there is no possibility that it can be changed by a single government”.

However, a deeply anti-Iranian Trump administration supported by an equally antagonistic Republican Congress and incited by Sunni Gulf states opposed to the deal could violate its terms by refusing to meet commitments on the easing of sanctions.

Syrians adopted opposing views on Mr Trump’s election. Waddah Abed Rabbo, editor of pro-government daily al-Watan (the Nation), called Mr Trump’s victory a “nice surprise” for Damascus, which welcomes his readiness to reconcile with Russia, an ally of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.

Syrian opposition spokesman George Sabra said: “We do not expect much from the new American administration.”

* This article was amended on December 7th, 2016