Middle East, US Elections 2020

Middle East: Expectations from Biden administration

While some states seek to protect gains accrued from Trump administration, others hoping for fresh start

Mahmoud Barakat   | 13.11.2020
Middle East: Expectations from Biden administration


ANKARA

As US President-elect Joe Biden, 77, prepares to assume office in January, the tumultuous Middle East anticipates a change in the US policy towards the region.

While few countries seek to maintain the gains accrued during the Trump administration, others are hopeful the US attends to the crises in the region.

Egypt

Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi was one of the first leaders to greet Biden soon after the results, indicating that the Egyptian political leadership has moved away from its ally Donald Trump. Egyptian local media indicate that ties between Washington and Cairo will not be shaken.

However, the Egyptian opposition hopes for support from the new US administration, especially after receiving a huge blow since al-Sisi took power in 2014.

The Muslim Brotherhood also rushed to congratulate Biden, and requested him to change the US policy toward the Egyptian regime, citing his previous statement that there will be "no more blank checks for Trump's favorite dictators."

Observers, however, does not attach much hope with the Biden administration to switch policy in favor of the Brotherhood. They refer that Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president was ousted from power when Biden was vice president.

While expecting no radical changes in Biden's policies, observers say, his actions will be limited to media statements on human rights and public freedoms.

Palestine

Palestinians heaved a sigh of relief at the loss of Trump in the elections. But at the same time, they do not expect Biden to radically change the US support to Israel.

The Palestinians have suffered greatly, during the Trump era, for his recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital in December 2017, relocating the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018, reducing aid to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in January 2018 before cutting all aid seven months later.

In response, the Palestinian Authority announced cutting off ties with the Trump administration and rejecting the US mediation role.

In January 2020, Trump announced the "Deal of the Century" peace plan which the Palestinian designated as a means to liquidate their cause and terminate efforts for a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel.

According to the Palestinians, the so-called peace plan paved the way for a US-brokered normalization agreement between Israel and Arab countries, most notably, the United Arab (UAE) Emirates and Bahrain.


Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has not normalized relations with Israel yet despite Israeli officials indicated it was a matter of time and would happen eventually.

Riyadh would be at odds with Biden, due to his statements during his electoral campaign which manifested his dissatisfaction with the Saudi policies. Biden explicitly said he would reassess relations with Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia has not been so far held accountable for the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a crime that was committed by Saudi state agents in the consulate in Istanbul, Turkey in October 2018.

Saudi authorities have repeatedly denied such accusations of human rights abuses as well as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s involvement in Khashoggi's killing.

Yemen

Trump had supported Saudi Arabia in Yemen and provided military, political, and logistical support to the Saudi-led coalition. This active role of the Trump administration in supporting the coalition has made the Houthi rebel group constantly accuse Washington of leading the coalition's military operations.

Because of the war raging for over six years, Biden's win has sparked home in many Yemenis, who anticipate that a shift in the US policy may play a pivotal role to end the war.

Yemen is experiencing violence since 2014, when Houthi rebels overran much of the country, including the capital, Sanaa. The crisis escalated in 2015 when the Saudi-led coalition launched a devastating air campaign aimed at rolling back Houthi territorial gains.

More than 112,000 Yemenis, including some 12,000 civilians are believed to have been killed in the conflict, which has led to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, with millions at risk of starvation.

On a large scale, Biden is seen in Yemen as opposing the policies of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, especially regarding the war in Yemen.

Iran

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday that his government will use “every opportunity” to have the US sanctions lifted, based on Iran’s “constructive engagement” with the world.

"Our goal is to have the oppressive sanctions lifted," Rouhani said during a cabinet meeting in Tehran. Whenever we see an opportunity, we will do our job," he added.

Soon after Biden took lead over Trump, Iran’s forex market started regaining a semblance of stability, with the national currency rial marking a considerable recovery.

Over the past three years, following the unilateral US withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, sanctions imposed by the Trump administration had virtually decimated the country’s financial market.

The unprecedented sanctions, targeting key sectors, prompted Iranians to root for Trump’s formidable rival this, with the hope of relief.

Biden has spoken about offering Tehran “a credible path back to diplomacy” and rejoining the 2015 accord “if Iran returns to strict compliance” while stressing that he will “prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon”.


Lebanon

Iran is also involved in Lebanon which is facing an acute political and economic crisis, making it one of the cards that could be used for convergence of views with the US.

Following Biden's win, a state of hope has prevailed in the Lebanese streets.

According to observers, Biden's win would pave the way for restoring the nuclear agreement with Iran, which would have an impact on the Middle East including Lebanon.

Lebanon currently struggles to form a government and Iran is a major influencer in the country's domestic affair with its support to the Shia groups, especially Hezbollah.

After Biden, the US may not strongly oppose the representation of Hezbollah in the government. Biden's policy would facilitate current Lebanese-Israeli indirect talk for demarcation of maritime borders and could even ease Lebanon's hardships by gaining economic support from the West.

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