At the passport counter, a Syrian officer’s face lit up when he saw an American traveler.
“Congratulations on your new president!” he exclaimed, giving an energetic thumbs up. Mr. Trump, he said, would be “good for Syria.”
He echoed many supporters of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, who pronounced themselves delighted with the president-elect, believing he would change course, abandon support for Mr. Assad’s opponents in the Syrian civil war and embrace Damascus and its ally, Moscow.
In the Middle East, as elsewhere around the world, Mr. Trump’s surprise victory shocked many people. But a new occupant of the Oval Office could lead to a significant reordering of American engagement in a complex region. Saudi Arabia, for example, hopes Mr. Trump will take a hard line on Iran. Egypt sees a man it can do business with who will not quibble about human rights.
As commander in chief, Mr. Trump will have to navigate many of the same problems that President Obama has struggled with, from the collapse of state structures to raging civil wars to jihadist groups that cause tremendous violence.
That chaos has given many in the region a certain respect for strongmen, and many Middle Eastern leaders now hope that as president, Mr. Trump will shift matters in their favor.
Some of Mr. Trump’s plans for the region appear to contradict one another, like proposing a safe zone for civilians in Syria while pledging to work with Russia — which has bombed Syrian civilians.
Yet he appears committed to two major policy shifts: working with Russia against the jihadists of the Islamic State and rolling back the nuclear deal with Iran.
Both moves would be significant departures from the policies of Mr. Obama, whose tenure was marked by rising tensions between the United States and some of its historical allies in the region, like Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. But it is unclear whether new initiatives would repair the damage.
Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist, joked that after a meeting with Mr. Obama, someone in Riyadh had asked God for a change in the White House.
“And God answered his prayer, literally,” Mr. Khashoggi said.
Few knew what to expect from Mr. Trump, he added.
For Saudi Arabia, Mr. Trump has suggested that it should pay for American security guarantees, but he could also choose to put business first and bolster economic cooperation, Mr. Khashoggi said.
“He has to make himself clear now that he is the president so that we will know how to deal with him,” he said.
In a region still affected by the aftermath of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, many fear that Mr. Trump’s often belligerent language could clear the way for further military intervention or occupation. And his praise of the practice of waterboarding detainees recalled for many the abuses of Guantánamo.
Speaking at a campaign rally last year about his plan to defeat the Islamic State, Mr. Trump, using an expletive, vowed to bomb the group. He then suggested he would have international oil companies rebuild oil infrastructure used by the jihadists, “and I’d ring it and I’d take the oil.”
Speaking at the United Nations on Wednesday, the Iraqi ambassador, Mohamed Ali Alhakim, said he hoped the campaign against terrorism would remain a priority for the new president-elect, although he did not know what exactly Mr. Trump would do.
“There is not yet a clear policy,” he said.
He brushed off Mr. Trump’s declaration that the United States should take Iraq’s oil, adding that the United States has more oil than Iraq.
“We look forward to working with the new administration,” he said.
Bassel Salloukh, a political scientist at the Lebanese American University in Beirut, said the Arab world had long held two competing images of the United States, one as a standard-bearer for democracy and human rights and another as an interventionist “bully.”
Mr. Trump’s victory will strengthen the “bully” view, he said.
“The main casualty in these elections is the idea of America the leader of the democratic world by soft power, America the beautiful, if you will,” he said.
Some welcomed the change.
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the president of Egypt, boasted on Wednesday that his phone call was the first from a world leader congratulating Mr. Trump. He even invited Mr. Trump to come visit.
That was a change from his relationship with Mr. Obama, who distanced himself from the Egyptian leader because of his repressive policies.
On Wednesday, Amr Adeeb, a prominent pro-government talk show host, suggested why such a very different American administration could suit Mr. Sisi.
“For Egypt, I see Trump as someone we can strike a deal with,” Mr. Adeeb said during his program. “You can’t make any deal with this Clinton woman. She is a Democrat and will come talk to us about human rights,” he added, “and all that cute stuff you are familiar with.”
Few expect that Mr. Trump would pressure Middle Eastern governments on human rights or deploy the American military to protect civilians.
Syrian state news media reported Mr. Trump’s election, emphasizing that Russia had supported him. But his victory was a disappointment for the opposition, who had hoped that a victory for Hillary Clinton would mean more American military pressure on Mr. Assad and perhaps even a no-fly zone to protect them from his jets.
“I am scared, scared for Syria,” said Murhaf Jouejati, the chairman of the Day After organization, which aims to prepare Syrians for a democratic future. “Here is a man who is openly saying that he is going to defer to the Russians on Syria. This is a clear victory for the Assad regime.”
Leaders of Persian Gulf nations, however, saw hope in a new direction, according to Mustafa Alani, director of the security and defense department at the Gulf Research Center.
He said Mr. Obama’s lack of forcible engagement in the Middle East had neglected America’s allies while leaving a vacuum that Iran, Russia and the Islamic State could take advantage of to destabilize the region.
“The decision makers are happy that change is going to happen and that there will be a more forceful U.S. foreign policy in the region,” he said. “It is not going to be wobbly like Mr. Obama’s.”
While others felt that Mr. Trump’s disparaging comments about Muslims would make him less sympathetic to their countries, Mr. Alani was not worried.
“Was that a gimmick for the election?” he asked. “Possibly.”
(via NY Times)