Analysts: Arab world needs ‘clarity’ from America’s next president

With less than a year to go until the U.S. presidential elections, the future of American Middle East policy is unclear

Rua’a Alameri
Rua’a Alameri - Al Arabiya English
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With less than a year to go until the U.S. presidential elections, Middle East analysts at the Al Arabiya Global Discussions Forum say they require clarity from America's next leader given years of unclear foreign policies.

After seven years in office, many in the region believe U.S. President Barack Obama has failed to meet the high expectations he raised when he sought a “new beginning” between the U.S. and Muslims in his 2009 Cairo speech.

In the speech, Obama affirmed American respect for Islam, and called on the Muslim world to join his country in a partnership of development.

“In the Arab world in general, but specifically the Gulf, we misunderstood the Cairo speech,” Mishaal al-Gergawi, managing director of the Delma Institute in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), said during the Al Arabiya Global Discussions on Wednesday.

mishaal al-gergawi
mishaal al-gergawi

Gergawi said after eight years of over-engagement under former President George W Bush, the Arab world had high hopes for Obama, but his Cairo speech was a “goodbye” to the Middle East as Obama has moved away from the region.

“It’s unclear to [the Gulf] whether Obama was the natural counter-pendulum [to Bush], and whether [presidential hopefuls] Hillary Clinton or Marco Rubio will average that out, or whether it’s a sign of deeper structural trends in the United States that will usher something big,” Gergawi added.

Democratic candidate Clinton and Republican candidate Rubio are both known for adopting what is regarded as an aggressive foreign policy.

Hisham Melhem, a consultant and columnist at Al Arabiya News, said Obama wanted to “undo Bush” with his Cairo speech.

“He came with high expectations, [but] was smacked in the face with the complexity of the Arab world,” Melhem added.

hisham melhem
hisham melhem

When it comes to responsibility for the region’s problems, he said: “Arabs are responsible for the destruction of Arab civilization.”

Melhem added that the main issue in the Arab world is the lack of unity among Arabs, which led to Obama’s lack of interest in the region.

However, Melhem said a lack of strong leadership in the Middle East makes American leadership imperative.

Ali Khedery, a former U.S. diplomat in Iraq, said one of the main reasons for the current fragmentation in the Arab world is the religious divide between the Sunni and Shiite sects of Islam.

Ali Khedery, former US diplomat in Iraq
Ali Khedery, former US diplomat in Iraq

The next U.S. president needs to “confront and deal with the reality of the Middle East as it is, not as they want it to be,” he said.

Joyce Karam, Washington bureau chief of Al-Hayat newspaper, said the upcoming election “is very important to the Middle East, given how much the United States is involved in the region.”

joyce karam
joyce karam

The country “is a critical player against al-Qaeda and extremism in the region. From there, there will definitely be a U.S. role in the future,” she added.

“When you look at what the candidates are saying from the Democratic and Republican sides, neither sound like Bush or Obama, so the pendulum might rebalance itself in 2016, and we could see a return to George H. Bush or Bill Clinton.”

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