Middle East press review: How the region’s media covered Biden’s victory

A man holds up a copy of Israeli newspaper Israel Hayom declaring Joe Biden as president-elect and showing the results of the 2020 US general election (AFP)

MEE-Staff

Middle East Eye  /  November 9, 2020

Kuwaiti press believes state seeks Biden’s help with Qatar, Turkey’s media thinks US democracy is in crisis, Israeli papers note Netanyahu’s weakness and Iranian outlets hope for change.

Presidential elections in the Middle East tend to have huge consequences for the Middle East and North Africa, whether that’s due to alliances with governments, military conflicts or even disengagement. No wonder then, that the region’s media was on tenterhooks to see who came out on top.

Middle East Eye casts an eye over media from across the region, in Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Hebrew.

Kuwait seeks Biden’s help with Qatar crisis 

 Senior government sources in Kuwait have told Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Qabas that the country had initiated diplomatic contacts immediately after Biden’s victory was announced, hoping to resolve the four-year Saudi-led blockade on Qatar.

According to sources, there were hopes for a breakthrough that would bring about satisfactory solutions for all parties and cast away any dispute, according to the newspaper.

Kuwait believes Biden can pave the way for resolution to a conflict that erupted soon after Donald Trump took the presidency.

The sources also revealed that Kuwait, other Gulf countries and the US were keen to end the crisis and devote time to meet the challenges facing the region and preserve the Gulf’s integrity.

The Gulf crisis started on 5 June 2017, and saw Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt sever ties with Qatar and impose “punitive measures” on Doha, allegedly for its support of terrorism. 

Qatar categorically denied the allegations and accused the four countries of seeking to interfere with its sovereignty.

Bad result for Turkey’s government

 Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has still not publicly congratulated Biden for his election victory and, according to Kubra Par, a columnist at Haberturk daily, Ankara isn’t happy with the election results.

“However, they aren’t worried by the situation. They believe the bilateral relations would stabilise in six months after an initial rise of tensions,” she said.

“[For Ankara] it would be important to see what kind of a cadre he will create. Will hawks like Brett McGurk take a seat?” 

Nedim Sener, a columnist at increasingly pro-government newspaper Hurriyet, wrote that Fethullah Gülen’s disciples, who are accused of perpetrating the coup attempt in 2016, have been pictured with Biden in the past.

“Biden revealed his intention to interfere in Turkish domestic politics in an interview with The New York Times, where he said that the US should support the opposition leaders,” Sener said. “Biden is coming to complete what he couldn’t do with the coup attempt.” 

Hilal Kaplan, a columnist at government-aligned Sabah daily, said that there would be now someone at the White House who would bombard Islamic countries and work with the Pentagon – a “neo-con” that is keen to shape the Middle East.

“It isn’t only Republicans who are neo-cons. Democrat Obama bombarded eight countries and ordered more air strikes, 10 times more than the Bush administration,” Kaplan wrote. 

Turkey sees a democracy in crisis

 Burhanettin Duran, chairman of conservative think-tank SETA, which closely works with the government, wrote a series of article in the Sabah daily which said that the presidential elections would go down in history as a sign of US democracy’s deepening crisis.

“The incumbent calling for an ‘honest election’ and accusing the  Democrats of stealing it with illegal and overdue ballots was highly unusual,” he said.

“His claim that big businesses, tech companies and major media outlets interfered in the election, too, attested to the severity of America’s crisis. The two sides are getting ready for a legal battle that could last weeks.” 

In an earlier article, Duran said that Biden wouldn’t be able to re-establish the liberal world order and a strong democracy promotion campaign under his administration wasn’t expected. 

“My recommendation to the next president of the United States on Turkey policy is as follows: do not subscribe to the ideologically charged, self-proclaimed Turkey experts. They are unable to grasp the transformation of Turkish politics and America’s real and geopolitical interests.”

Palestinian Authority toasts Biden’s victory

 Israeli media noted how Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was swift to toast Joe Biden as the US president-elect, congratulating him on his victory in the 2020 election.

Abbas and the Palestinian Authority had tense ties with Donald Trump and his administration, who favoured Israel and encouraged settlement expansion in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

“I congratulate President-elect Joe Biden on his victory as President of the United States of America for the coming period, and I congratulate his elected Vice President Kamala Harris,” Abbas said in a statement.

The Palestinian leader said he hoped Biden’s administration would resume ties with the PA and strengthen it to “achieve freedom, independence, justice and dignity for our people, and to work for peace, stability and security for all in our region and the world”.

The PA halted dealings with the Trump administration in December 2017 after the US unilaterally recognised Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

No quick security coordination with PA

 One important element of US-PA relations some are expecting to resume is security coordination – but Israeli newspaper Maariv warns not to expect change soon.

In May, the Palestinian Authority ended agreements and understandings with Israel and the United States, including over security, due to Israel’s US-backed intentions to annex parts of the West Bank.

Maariv quoted sources in the security agencies as saying Israel did not expect any “dramatic change”.

Security coordination is considered by Israel and the US a vital source of intelligence and information in the West Bank.

But once Biden’s administration resumes ties with the PA, Israeli defence officials believe that security coordination will resume gradually.

They also believe that normalisation agreements signed during Trump’s administration between Israel, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates “will not be in doubt” under the Biden administration. 

Maariv reported that if Biden re-joined the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump’s administration unilaterally withdrew from, it will be with “an improved agreement which includes halting Iran’s missile programme and attempts to establish itself in our region”.

Netanyahu lost his friend

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has lost a close friend in the White House, something Israel’s Zaman newspaper said has dealt the premier a severe blow.

Netanyahu was seen hedging his bets somewhat ahead of the election, when Trump attempted in a call live on TV to prompt the prime minister into criticising Biden.

“Do you think ‘Sleepy Joe’ could have made this deal, Bibi? ‘Sleepy Joe’? Do you think he would have made this deal? Somehow I don’t think so,” Trump said.

Netanyahu avoided insulting Biden, telling Trump: “Uh, well, Mr President, one thing I can tell you is that we appreciate the help for peace from anyone in America. And we appreciate what you have done enormously.”

On Sunday, Netanyahu congratulated Biden long after other US allies in the Middle East and the West, but also heaped praise on Trump, who remains in his Twitter account main picture.

Zaman said Israel now needed to fix its ties with the Democratic Party, which Netanyahu’s government largely ignored during its close relationship with Trump.

A Biden administration in the US would not offer “gifts” to Israel as lavishly as Trump did, Zaman wrote, and this would make Netanyahu consider a fresh Israeli election.

On the other hand, former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni wrote in an op-ed in the Haaretz newspaper that a Biden victory should be viewed in Israel as a “blessing”.

Livni, who quit politics in 2019, wrote that Trump made lots of decisions in favour of Israel, but “the free world, which includes Israel, needs the United States to be a functioning democracy, in keeping with the values that Biden represents. Israel is composed of not just its interests, but also its values as a Jewish and democratic state”.

Tehran sees new hope in Biden

 Politicians and analysts from across the political spectrum in Iran have welcomed Joe Biden’s victory in the US presidential elections, despite earlier comments by Iran’s supreme leader and president saying that a change in the US leadership would not affect Tehran’s policies.

Shortly after Trump’s defeat had been reported by the international media, Eshaq Jahangiri, Iran’s first vice-president, welcomed the US elections results and the end of the Trump era.

“Finally, the era of Trump and his warmonger team has come to an end,” Jahangiri wrote on Twitter.

“The Iranian nation, which has resisted against Trump’s maximum pressure policy, will never forget the pain of trouble [he caused] in its economy, the limitations to access medicines and the assassination of General Qassem Soleimani.”

Meanwhile, Iranian media have celebrated Biden’s election win, casting hope that US sanctions against Iran would be removed in coming months.

The pro-reformist Aftab daily, under the headline “America’s New Season”, raised expectations that the US’s aggressive foreign policy of the past four years would change under Biden’s presidency.

Qassem Moheb Ali, an Iranian former diplomat, told the daily that Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia would also enter a new phase with the victory of the Democratic Party.

According to Moheb Ali, Riyadh was now worried about the improvement of Tehran-Washington relations, and would take the initiative to restore economic and political ties with Iran.

The Javan dialy, which is affiliated to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, celebrated the end of Trump’s presidency under the headline “The murderer of Haj Qassem [Soleimani] and the operator of maximum pressure was thrown away”.

“Trump was devil, cruel, and hideous, and now he has been thrown in the garbage heap of history,” wrote the daily on its front page.

Iranian rial strengthens against US dollar

 The Iranian rial has, meanwhile, strengthened against the US dollar since Biden pulled ahead in last week’s election.

On Saturday, a dollar was selling for 248,000 Iranian rials on the open market, which was 40,000 rials less than on Wednesday, the Donyae Eqtesad daily reported.

Many Iranians, who buy US dollars as savings, have rushed to exchange centres to sell their dollars, as Biden promised to return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. The rial’s downward spiral began in May 2018, when Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord between Iran and six world powers.

Before Washington’s withdrawal from the accord, a dollar was selling for about 47,000 rials. Following the re-imposition of the US sanctions, the Iranian currency has lost value most days. However, experts believe that the current fall of the US dollar against the rial would not last long, because Trump will be staying in the White House until 20 January 2021.

Mohammad Sadegh Moffateh, an Iranian economist, told the Ebtekar daily that even if Biden removed US sanctions against Iran, the rial would not regain the value it had before Trump’s sanctions. According to the economist, corruption and mismanagement were the main causes of Iran’s current economic crisis.

“Our [economic] problems are rooted in a long process, and are not only related to the past few years,” Moffateh was quoted by the Ebtekar as saying.

“The most important factors that can affect Iran’s economy are inside the country. To improve Iran’s economy, we need careful planning and well-organized management.”

In an interview with the Arman daily, Hossein Raghfar, professor of economics at Tehran’s Alzahra University, also stressed that the errors made by President Hassan Rouhani’s economic team were the main causes of Iran’s current economic crisis.

“The impact of the sanctions would have declined if we had a proper economic strategy,” Raghfar was quoted by the Arman daily as saying.

“A group of people [inside Iran] were looking for Trump’s victory, because their benefit is in having a weak economy in Iran,” he added, referring to the widespread corruption in the country.

Human rights back on the table

 After four years of Washington wilfully ignoring human rights abuses in the Middle East and North Africa, a volte face in approach is now on the way, according to Jordanian newspaper Al-Ghad.

A number of independent analysts said that “the result of the US presidential elections may change the political calculations of the main players in the Middle East, starting with Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’, the Iran nuclear deal and many regional issues on which Biden’s victory could have a drastic impact”. 

Political science professor Khaled Chenikat stated that “the Democratic Party’s electoral programme and Biden’s statements during and before the election campaign indicated that US foreign policy towards countries and collective action agreements is likely to change.”

“Washington will refocus and emphasise the issue of human rights and democracy in a number of Arab countries, and perhaps reopen files of human rights violation,” he said.

Chenikat expected the resumption of the nuclear agreement with Iran, and Iran’s role in the region may therefore be redefined, as the Iranians may cooperate in the future regarding regional issues such as fighting terrorism, stability and Afghanistan.

As for the Gulf countries, Chenikat said: “It is expected that the relations [between the Gulf states and the US] will undergo major challenges considering the decrease of oil prices and the possibility that Biden will open human rights violation files.”