CLINTON AND TRUMP SCRAMBLE TO FINISH
ARABS VIEW RACE WITH INDIFFERENCE
WASHINGTON/CAIRO: Donald Trump barnstormed five states yesterday while Hillary Clinton implored her most fervent supporters to get to the polls, in a frenetic final 48-hour dash to the US presidential election. Last-minute campaign events - including a midnight rally tonight by Clinton - pepper the landscape in the nation’s most contested states that will ultimately decide whether the United States maintains President Barack Obama’s legacy or steers a more conservative course.
The bruising and unpredictable race that concludes on Nov 8 has gripped the world and roiled international markets, as Americans decide whether to elect their first female commander in chief or a billionaire real estate tycoon whose political inexperience is seen by some as an asset and others a liability. Clinton is banking on star power to lock in her narrow poll lead, hosting back-to-back weekend pop concerts with Beyonce and Katy Perry and booking a date with Obama.
For his part, Trump has embarked on a cross-country odyssey through key battlegrounds Florida, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania, as tightening polls suggest a fluidity in several states at the 11th hour. He is also planning stops in states like Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania and even Minnesota, seeking to poach once-reliably Democratic states. “We’ve got the momentum,” Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus told ABC Sunday talk show “This Week”. “We win a state like Michigan and as you know, it’s all over.”
Clinton’s campaign expressed its own confidence, welcoming Trump’s Michigan venture as grasping at straws. “We’re feeling good, we’re closing strong, but we’ve got a tremendous amount of work to do,” Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta told ABC.
In a sign that Clinton was leaving nothing to chance, the 69-year-old former secretary of state added a stopover today in Michigan, a state Obama won handily in 2008 and 2012. She visited Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Hampshire yesterday, while Trump has a busier itinerary: Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania and then Virginia. Polls give Clinton a national lead, albeit a narrow one.
Meanwhile, in Cairo, capital of the most populous Arab country, the US election is met with self-absorbed indifference or loathing for one, and sometimes both, candidates. The staff at a barbershop in Cairo’s middle class Dokki neighborhood looked at one another in bemusement when asked whom they favored for US president. Two admitted they did not know who was running. “We’re following what’s happening here, that’s more than enough for us,” laughed a hairdresser who gave her name as Mona, referring to Egypt’s economic crisis. Another said he knew “little” about the election: “What I know is that Trump is hostile to Muslims.”
Eight years after the region closely followed the election won by Obama, uprisings, economic ruin and civil war have directed people’s gaze inwards. “I think the Arab world is consumed by its own existential crisis and few people have really thought through the implications of the next US president on their well-being,” said Hend Amry, a Libyan-American writer who lives in Qatar. Near Cairo’s zoo, three university students shyly said they had not been following the election. An elderly man walking by peremptorily denounced both candidates, before striding away with a toddler in tow. “Their elections are like crap,” he said. “You remove crap and replace it with crap.”
At a cafe in Baghdad, a city much changed since the 2003 US-led invasion to remove Saddam Hussein, patrons have been following the election more closely. Haidar Hassan, 27, blamed the Republicans for the disastrous invasion that took place under President George W Bush, but said he still supported Trump. “Despite Iraqis’ suffering from Republican rule and their invasion, I still think Trump is tougher in fighting terrorism and countries exporting it,” he said.
“The Democrats are more reasonable,” countered Mostafa Al-Rubaei, saying US forces withdrew from Iraq under a Democrat president - Obama. Clinton’s past as secretary of state during Obama’s first term has been controversial in the region, with some blaming American foreign policy under her for the chaos of the Arab Spring uprisings. Others have latched on to more bizarre accusations against the former diplomat, mirroring fringe rightwing American attacks on her.
At a Cairo grocery, shopkeeper Karem Mohamed had launched into a pensive defense of Clinton when his colleague, who had been preoccupied with filling a vat of pickled onions, interrupted. “No she’s with the Muslim Brotherhood! She’s a collaborator,” said Mahmoud Abdel Al. Many Egyptians saw Clinton as a supporter of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who ruled for a year before the army, spurred by mass protests, toppled him in 2013. His ouster, condemned by Washington as undemocratic, was followed by regular reports in the Egyptian press of an American “plot” to divide the Middle East.
Clinton addressed some of the most bizarre accusations in her book Hard Choices. But its publication in 2014 itself set off another round of accusations in Egypt, this time that Clinton had confessed in the book that she conspired against the country. “It included a clear confession of the plot to divide our region, relying on its agents like the Muslim Brotherhood, and Washington’s founding of extremist groups like” the Islamic State organization, wrote one columnist in Egypt’s state newspaper Al-Ahram. Clinton mentioned no such thing in the book.
The Egyptian leadership has not weighed in on the elections, although President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi - the former army chief who toppled Morsi - complimented Trump after meeting him and Clinton in New York separately in September. Sisi appeared to dismiss Trump’s plan - now scaled back - to ban Muslims from entering the United States as electioneering. “No doubt” he would make a strong leader, Sisi said in an interview with CNN. “It is important for us to know that during election campaigns, many statements are made and many things are said,” Sisi said of Trump’s Muslim plans.
Across the Red Sea from Egypt, Gulf rulers favor Clinton, said Emirati analyst Abdel Khaleq Abdullah. Clinton has “knowledge of the region’s issues”, he said. Countries such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had opposed what they saw as Obama’s rapprochement with their archrival Iran over the nuclear deal, and expected his successor to be tougher. However, Saudi writer Jamal Khasshoggi said “we have a huge experience with Clinton and she has a much better, clearer idea about foreign policy and Saudi Arabia”. “But with Trump it’s total unpredictability.”
(Left) A member of the US Secret Service pulls Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump from the stage at a campaign rally on Saturday in Reno, Nevada after a false gun scare. (Right) Katy Perry holds the hand of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton during a concert at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday in Philadelphia.