The time has come to look beyond US elections and worry about our vested interests

Sam Mansi

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The United States’ 2020 election definitely earned its spot in history as one of the strangest presidential races the world has ever witnessed especially in Western democratic countries. Never before have American elections garnered this much attention both internally and internationally.

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As a grueling, bitterly fought US presidential campaign comes to a close, we are witnessing what is considered a historically unprecedented turn of events. This is the first time we see this level of internal polarization and division in the US, and the first time an incumbent president questions the integrity of the elections and refuses to facilitate an orderly and peaceful transition of power.

As a result of this state of turmoil and uncertainty, we have seen a large number of countries exhibit reluctance over congratulating President-elect Joe Biden, foremost among which is Russia. President Vladimir Putin has remained silent on the results of the US election as he continues to carefully follow the vote counting process.

Another example is China, which offered its belated congratulations to the new US leader a week after the results have been made public. This indicates that these countries are not particularly enthusiastic about the prospects of a democratic administration succeeding Donald Trump’s controversial presidency.

There is no denying that this chaos has unearthed a few flaws in the electoral system and its procedures and undermined the integrity of the democratic process in general in the most powerful country in the world, especially among first world countries. For viewers from our region, the current media spectacle is reminiscent of what happens in third world nations where democracy is always flawed if not completely non-existent.

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Amid this unrest, does this mean that America will enter into a stage of political instability or civil strife? The answer is no, because no matter how much we try to discredit the American democratic model, it still remains much stronger than we think and it is certainly capable of healing itself, which is what we are witnessing today through the process of recounting the votes.

Most recent demographic, racial and ethnic vote analytics have shown that what has been portrayed by media regarding the disintegration of American society and the division between white Americans and African-Americans or ethnic people and immigrants, is simply untrue. The differences are merely political-partisan disagreements, no more or less.

It is highly likely that it is President Trump’s controversial personality and his unorthodox behavior that intensified the severity of these disagreements and brought them to the surface.

I believe it is quite evident at this point that all that has been said of an American civil war erupting is no more than a laughable notion that cannot be taken seriously. As we have seen in the past few days, both protests and celebrations have been peaceful, and did not deviate from what we are used to from the United States despite a few minor armed protests in specific places. It is likely that we will witness a transfer of power to the new elected president, but not according to the traditions and principles that have been in force throughout the history of the United States for more than 250 years.

Perhaps it would be better for us as Arabs to leave America’s affairs to its people during the next two months, and stop betting on the lawsuits, appeals, and chaos that some are anticipating. It is time that we focus on the steps we must take as recipients of the upcoming changes that are due to happen after this transition and I specifically mean Middle Eastern countries that are considered allies of Washington.

We already have an idea about the main features of the policies of the new, elected democratic administration, since President-elect Joe Biden has been disclosing his views and plans throughout his election campaign and in the few days that followed his victory. We also predict that his foreign policy will not be identical to his democratic predecessor Barack Obama, especially after all the changes the entire world has undergone in the past four years.

In fact, I would not be exaggerating when I say that even if Obama himself returned to office, he will surely change his policies. Our region has also had its share of change, and many new regional developments have come into play. We can no longer address these shifts in the same way we did in the past by firmly sticking to the same old nationalistic discourse, instead, we must finally realize the importance of cooperation and partnership. We must understand that cooperation does not necessarily mean dependence, abdication, or blind compliance.

At this point, our main concern as Arab countries is to identify the future policies and positions of the new administration regarding the most prominent dilemmas the region is facing, which can be summed up by five: Iran’s role in the region and its expansionist interventionist policy, the ongoing wars in Syria and Yemen, the fight against terrorism and extremism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the new normalization deals with Israel.

At this stage, before the president-elect takes office on January 20, Arabs need to have a clear unified vision regarding these issues. Arabs must first determine the stance and policies they wish to take and then figure out their demands from the new administration.

There is no doubt that we are in dire need for a unified Arab vision regarding these critical matters; however, unfortunately, this unity appears to be impossible now more than ever. For this reason, the burden falls on Arab allies of Washington, especially Gulf states, to draw up a roadmap for upcoming policies. In this context, it must be noted that collaborating with the president-elect’s team is more important at this stage than working with the president-elect himself, and that briefing the upcoming presidential team of the issues that truly matter to our region is a highly crucial task that we must take seriously.

As for Iran’s dilemma, we must make it clear that we seek healthy and peaceful relations with the Iranian regime, and therefore we are not absolutely against possibility of US-Iranian settlements, but not at the expense of our security and identity. We need to emphasize that we will not be accepting Iran’s expansionist interventionist policies that seek to dismantle our societies by provoking sectarian and minority strifes and by planting proxies that create mini-states in our region.

On the issue of the wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya, we must stress the need to end this phenomenon of failed states due to the disastrous political, security and humanitarian repercussions on the whole world. We also need to curb the ambition of regional and international players and restore their role to its previous stature. These countries must also establish their own effective democratic systems.

As for terrorism, extremism and the issue of political Islam, complete clarity has become urgent. This issue must be firmly addressed without any delays or leniency. Just as the United States, decades later, came to the realization that there is no distinction between Sunni terrorism and Shia terrorism, we must also reach this same conclusion which is that terrorism and extremism exist across all doctrines. The Arab position regarding this matter must be clear and unyielding by steering away from making unjustified exceptions.

In terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the issue of the two-state solution, especially after the latest series of normalization deals, what is required of the Gulf states and Arab allies such as Egypt and Jordan, is to pressure the US into adopting a fair and unbiased policy. We realize that the US will never dismiss Israel’s security and interests. However, we must intensify our efforts in order to pressure the US to take Arab and Palestinian interests into account.

In this regard, what is equally important to identifying our demands from the US, is establishing a clear vision that shows how we, as Arabs, can contribute to solving some of these dilemmas. It is true that some of them may exceed our regional capabilities, such as the Iranian nuclear issue and the Palestinian issue. Yet, we can also help with vital issues other than our common interest, especially those related to climate change, environment, water and desertification.

In my opinion, we will not be able to achieve our demands from the US or offer an adequate contribution in terms of solving regional problems, unless we establish an influential presence among decision-making circles in Washington. This presence will only be taken seriously if it reflects a realistic and seasoned mindset that is aware of what must be done and the importance of building new partnerships.

This is not the time to sit idly by and watch the presidential elections unfold. Now is the time to let Americans be occupied with there own affairs while we focus on strengthening our Arab positions and activating them to influence American policy. We must do everything in our power to ensure that no one can take advantage of our differences.

*This article was originally published in, and translated from, Saudi Arabian outlet Asharq Al-Awsat.

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