MEDays Forum attempts to decipher Trump's stance toward the Islamic world
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US President Donald Trump embraces Saudi Arabia but at the same time bans many Muslims from coming to the US. For some in the Islamic world Trump’s policies are confounding, which prompted an expert panel at the MEDays forum to try to unpack them.
Titled “USA-Islamic World: Facing the Game of Trump”, the experts and officialsassembled Saturday morning in Tangier, Morocco, presented theories about the ever-unclear Trump policies toward the Islamic world. They presented as part of the MEDays forum, an annual gathering of political, business and social leaders from Mediterranean, Arab and African nations.
The panelists all seemed to concur with former Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa’s contention that after the end of the Cold War the US was in search of a new enemy. He pointed to American political scientist Samuel Huntington’s controversial but highly influential book “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order” as a critical reason that enemy became Islam.
So the tensions between the US and the Arab world predate Trump, Moussa said. What is new is the utter confusion over the inconsistencies between his oft-contradictory statements and his policies, he said.
Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, Professor of International History at the Graduate Institute in Geneva and a former foreign minister of Mauritania said that, while the roots of Trump’s policies lie in history, “he is taking us into different, novel and most problematic terrain”.
That terrain, plainly stated, is racist and discriminatory in which Trump stigmatises an entire religion, Mohamedou said. The Muslim ban is “equivalent to a yellow star these days”, he said.
Other panelists highlighted the disorder that has been wrought in the region by American policies and actions – some more darkly than others. Sameera bin Rajab, Special Envoy for the Royal Court of Bahrain, noted that US policies have resulted in a reality in the region that doesn’t serve the interests of any of the local states.
Bin Rajab pointed to strategic US initiatives that resulted in the formation of terror groups, and to wars started by the US that left the countries they were waged in – Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, for example – in utter disarray. Iraq is significantly worse off in terms of its economy, its educational system and its social structure than it was before the war, she noted. These nations were “pushed into failure”, she said.
Under Trump the US is playing a role in cultivating new confrontations in the region, such as those involving Saudi Arabia. “The [powers] of the region are opposing each other, but not for their own interest,” she said.
To combat that, Islamic nations must identify themselves as states first, and not as Sunni or Shia, Moussa said. Otherwise, “we’re playing in the field that they want us to”, he said.
At its base, the US policy in the region is “Israel First”, said Hossein Mousavian, a former Iranian government official and current scholar at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Today, Saudi Arabia and Iran are the two major forces in the region with Israel “sitting between them”.
“I believe this trajectory also will bring a lot of changes to the region because now Israel has been successful not to bring only the US on board but some Muslim countries on board to fight Muslim countries,” Mousavian said. "What’s more, Trump has escalated the sale of arms to the region for US financial gain."
Olivier Kempf, a researcher at the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS), said that under Trump DC-Riyadh-Tel Aviv was becoming the new decision-making axis.
But some of the speakers noted that the Islamic world bears some responsibility for its current state.
“There is no coherence, no mutual support, between our regimes,” said Hasni Abidi, director of The Center for Studies and Research on the Mediterranean and Arab World (CERMAM). “President Trump knows he is talking to weak interlocutors.”