“Sense of relief” as Arabs, Palestinians in particular, expect “destructive policies of Trump to totally stop”

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Amman — Jordanians headed to the polls Tuesday to vote in parliamentary elections, but even as they cast their ballots, American democracy was weighing just as heavily on many minds. Economics student Sanaa Mohammed told CBS News that, while she felt it was important for her vote in Jordan, the U.S. election has “far reaching effects” on the Arab world. 

“We all follow the news in America,” she said after voting at a polling station in central Amman. “I am so happy that Biden won.”

Jordan’s King Abdullah II was quick to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden after the race was called by CBS News and other major media outlets on Saturday.

“I look forward to working with you on further advancing the solid historic partnership between Jordan and the United States,” he said in a Tweet.

That “historic partnership” has been strained in recent years. Jordan opposed the Middle East peace plan offered by the Trump administration, as well as its decision to freeze U.S. contributions to UNRWA, the United Nations agency that helps Palestinian refugees, of whom Jordan hosts about 2 million — more than any other nation. 

“The Trump administration treated Jordan as collateral damage,” Dr. Marwan Muasher, a former Jordanian foreign minister who is now the vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment. He predicted that “the new president is going to spend most of his time either on domestic issues or, when it comes to international issues, on repairing the gap with the Europeans and having that new relationship with China.” 

Muasher said he believes, however, that while the Middle East may rank low on the new administration’s priority list, “a Biden administration is better for Jordan.”

“What we will see immediately is the ditching of the Trump plan and probably the restoration of aid to UNRWA and restarting contacts with the Palestinians. But beyond that, I don’t think we will see much,” added Muasher, who also served as Jordan’s ambassador to Israel.

The Palestinian Authority was quick to welcome the news from the U.S., with President Mahmoud Abbas expressing hope of renewed ties under President-elect Biden.

Three years ago, Abbas cut off all direct contact with President Trump’s White House after the U.S. officially recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the U.S. Embassy to the holy city.

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“We don’t expect a miraculous transformation, but at least we expect the dangerous, destructive policies of Trump to totally stop,” Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s Executive Committee, told the Reuters news agency. “They should change course and deal with the Palestinian question on the bases of legality, equality and justice, and not on the basis of responding to special interests of pro-Israeli lobbies.”  

The Arab Opinion Index poll, published last month by the Qatar-based Arab Center for Research and Public Policy, found that “81% [of Arabs] believe that the United States poses a threat to the security and stability of the region.”

According to the pan-Arab opinion poll, the U.S. came a close second in that ranking after Israel, with Iran a distant third.

“Now there is a sense of relief that Trump has lost,” Dr. Mohammed Al Masri, Director of the Arab Opinion Index, told CBS News.

He said that with the change of administration, the perception of the U.S. in the Arab world would almost certainly change, at least in the short term.

“This hopeful immediate reaction will be revisited in a few months,” he cautioned, “based on the implemented policies of Biden.” 

Dissenting opinions?

The Arab world is far from monolithic, and other leaders in the region might not be as optimistic as the Palestinians, or the King of Jordan. 

Egypt’s military-backed President Abdul Fatah el-Sissi was the first Arab leader to congratulate Mr. Biden, but he is fully aware that the new administration may adopt a tougher stance regarding Egypt’s alleged human rights violations.

In July, Mr. Biden warned el-Sissi in a tweet, noting the long detention of a man arrested merely for holding a protest sign, that there would be, “no more blank checks for Trump’s “favorite dictator.””

A couple days before the U.S. elections, Egyptian authorities hastily released hundreds of prisoners that human rights organizations had classified as “prisoners of conscience.” Many human rights observers believe the move was made in anticipation of a possible Biden win.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were late, but eventually did congratulate Mr. Biden on his projected election win. According to Saudi Arabia’s state news agency, “King Salman praised the distinguished, historic and close relations between the two friendly countries and their people which everyone looks to strengthen and develop at all levels.”   

The United Nations has called for the Crown Prince, who has fostered close ties with President Trump, to be investigated personally over the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.  

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During the election campaign, Mr. Biden pledged to reassess “the relationship with the Kingdom, end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, and make sure America does not check its values at the door to sell arms or buy oil.”

Writing in the Al-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper, veteran Saudi columnist Abdulrahman Al-Rashed called Biden “an expert in international affairs.”

Al-Rashed added, however, that Mr. Biden “needs the cooperation of the important regional powers in the world, and the role of Saudi Arabia is extremely important in consolidating stability in the region, and its role is important in the Islamic space.”

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