by Hani al-Gamal – Cairo
Official and intellectual circles in the Middle East followed the presidential elections in the United States closely.
The elections kept everybody inside these circles on tenterhooks, especially after the results of voting started coming out state by state, culminating in Joe Biden’s victory. Biden is a well-known figure in the Middle East, having worked as the American vice-president between 2008 and 2016. During those years, he developed friendships with most of the region’s politicians, government officials and political observers. This provides assurances to all these people about his expected foreign policy line.
Nevertheless, there is still concern in the region about what the new American president may do when he moves to the White House in January, especially with the region currently beset by conflict and facing a myriad of challenges.
Political analysts in the region expect Middle East peacemaking and Iran and Libya to be the most pressing issues that Biden will address once he is in the Oval Office. This is especially true, many surmised, after four years during which outgoing President Donald Trump tried to enforce his blueprint for settling the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which was notoriously known as the “Deal of the Century”.
“The new president will not likely relinquish traditional US support to Israel”, said Taha al-Khattib, a former adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas. “However, we hope the new president will press for the two-state solution and prevent Israel from annexing additional Palestinian territories”, he added.
Despite his cordial relations with most Arab leaders, Trump was a staunch backer of Tel Aviv. He recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017. In March 2019, he signed an order recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights in Syria. Trump was also instrumental in the series of peace agreements Israel signed this year with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.
Same thorny issues
Iran is also expected to be a pressing issue for Biden, especially after Trump withdrew in May 2018 from the nuclear deal with Tehran which was signed during the Barack Obama era. The deal was signed in 2015 by seven countries after almost two years of gruelling negotiations. Biden was the American vice-president at the time of signing the deal and probably was one of its proponents. This is why observers in Cairo believe that, as president, Biden will revive the deal with Iran, or even formulate a new one that ensures Tehran’s compliance with nuclear nonproliferation and serves US interests.
Russia in a regional context
The rivalry between Washington and Moscow will likely emerge in the region where the two capitals are heavily involved, especially when it comes to important conflict areas such as Libya and Syria and where Turkey remains a close ally of both capitals, analysts have suggested. Russia is also a main party to the row over Iran’s nuclear programme and activities, several analysts have suggested.
“I think Washington and Moscow will work together to bring about a settlement to all these conflicts”, said Ahmed al-Anani, a member of the Egyptian Centre for Foreign Affairs think tank. “Continued rivalry between the two sides will open the door for the collapse of the international system”, he added.