On the U.S. Elections

Source: Reddit

Sebastian Castelier of Al-Monitor has a good roundup of different reactions from a few Saudi commentators.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed has taken up the prospects of a Biden administration for the Gulf in a trio of op-eds, leading off with an emphasis on the enduring importance of the US-Saudi relationship.

Contrary to what the anti-Saudi media is trying to propagate – that the relationship will be strained with the arrival of a Democratic president – in my opinion the exact opposite will happen. The same was said with the arrival of Donald Trump to the presidency, that he had an anti-Riyadh agenda. As we expected, higher interests and a long history soon re-asserted themselves and a good relationship with President Trump unfolded. In this context, I do not say that Riyadh is lucky with the presidents in the past times. Rather, it reaps this relationship as a result of its importance, role and position…

Biden, the president-elect and an expert in international affairs, needs the cooperation of the important regional powers in the world. The role of Saudi Arabia is extremely important in consolidating stability in the region, and its role is important in the Islamic space. The recent events in Paris showed that the world needs Saudi Arabia to lead the Islamic world, compared to other Islamic countries [i.e. Turkey] that played an incitement role that angered major powers, the European Union and the United States. Saudi Arabia is more important today in the area of ​​the global energy role in US foreign policy.

Aawsat, 11.9.2020

A second article offered assurances that the new administration’s policies towards Iran will differ from those of Obama on a few key points:

Biden put his finger on the two mistakes made by former President Barack Obama’s team when he negotiated with Iran and signed his JCPOA. The first is that Iranian nuclear obligations in the agreement do not prevent it from building a ballistic missile system, which is a serious defect. (Also – the period of time during which Iran is not allowed to enrich uranium in which there is only five years left, a short time for a patient regime that will not change, but rather is determined to possess a nuclear weapon). The second is that the agreement neglected to put a brake on Iran’s threat to the region with its conventional weapons and its quest for control in areas such as Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, the Gulf, Yemen, Afghanistan and others. 

I do not imagine peace with Iran without amending the agreement. Biden has repeated his position, directed at the Iranians who during the election campaign were monitoring his statements in detail, that he would not revive the nuclear agreement without amending it, and he was explicit in requiring a guarantee for the security of his allies.

Regarding the Gulf states – Biden’s policy, if implemented, would certainly be better than President Donald Trump’s. Iran is a large and neighboring country, and coexisting with it within the framework of a peace agreement (with a guarantor) is better for the Gulf than confronting it, which would affect the stability of the region in the entire Eastern Arab world.

Aawsat, 11.10.2020

[Note: as of 11/18 the promised third article in the series – on “the challenges that [the Biden] administration might raise in the future” – had not yet appeared. A subsequent article was on the Muslim Brotherhood in general with no reference to Biden.]

The only somewhat election-related commentary from Al-Riyadh‘s editorial team (published as results were trending Biden but before they were confirmed) was to emphasize the historic relationship with the United States without reference to partisan alignment:

These relations… are built on respect, mutual cooperation and common interests, and are currently the best they have ever been. They are strategic, historical relations dating back more than eight decades, based on mutual respect, exchange of interests, coordination and continuous consultation on regional and international crises. The Kingdom has always had close relations with American institutions, both Democratic and Republican, and all US administrations have been keen on close strategic relations with the Kingdom as a result of its Islamic, political and economic standing, and being one of the pillars of strategic security in the Arab region.

Al-Riyadh, 11.5.2020

Mostly, since the election there has been little commentary on the United States in the Saudi press – perhaps reflective of King Salman and Crown Prince MBS’ celebratory cables effectively settling matters, perhaps reflective of the G20 summit in Riyadh subsuming all other topics of conversation.

Where present, commentary on the Democratic Party has unsurprisingly softened. Badr al-Saud, for example, went with reductio ad Hitlerum to warn of a future Biden administration opening the door for Brotherhood influence in the region:

Biden’s Vice President Harris said in the presidential elections: “America’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal was not successful,” which means that a return to it and to the Brotherhood is possible if Biden wins…

The currents of political Islam clearly support Biden’s campaign, and reject Trump’s re-election for a second term…

Elections do not always bring the best. Examples include Hitler who consecrated Nazism and ruled the Germans with iron and fire, and brought Germany into World War II, and the Brotherhood worked in the electoral campaigns for the Democratic Party’s candidates…

Al-Riyadh, 10.15.2020

No trace of this after the election, however. Saud goes from writing “Biden was Obama’s deputy for eight years, and his election means reproducing the same experience with all its political, economic and health distortions” to penning an article with the title “Biden will not be Obama.”

Biden believes in political realism. [According to this,] the Kingdom is considered a basic pillar for the stability of the region, and has international experience and leadership that America needs to confront political Islam and terrorist groups, in addition to its economic importance and Islamic associations.

It appears to me that Biden is open and balanced in his policies, and this is a positive factor. It may return America to the political front after it remained in the back seat for the past 12 years.

Al-Riyadh, 11.12.2020

Hamood Abu Taleb, who tends to have some of the more interesting and independent-minded commentary in Okaz, published a quartet of articles on the election – emphasizing the stability of the U.S.-Saudi relationship above all else. From election day:

It is true that we went through a disturbing phase in the Arab and Middle Eastern during the two Democratic terms during the Obama era, but the Trump period was not without its drawbacks as well (despite some improvement). In the end, America’s long-term interests require it to attract and employ parties that are not comfortable for us. We are talking about politics, in which the disadvantages of some are advantages for others. The important thing is how to engage in order to get the most benefit and incur the least damages, and this is what the Kingdom is good at regardless of occasional disturbances, and regardless of who gains the upper hand in the US elections.

Okaz, 11.4.2020

Other commentary touched on the volatility of the moment in the United States as returns came in (Okaz, 11.5.2020), expressing his exasperation over Arab commentators insisting that the Democratic party must have committed election fraud to gain the upper hand (Okaz, 11.8.2020), and to caution against investing too much in the analysis of a particular personality at the helm of the White House vs. considering the U.S. strategic interest in the region (Okaz, 11.9.2020).

Meshari al-Thaydi, who has railed against the influence of a “globalist” Obama coalition, took a more measured tone in simply noting that a Biden administration would have to confront numerous challenges in the region, listing off recent causes for concern:

The Western governments – whether lax, naive, or simply incapable – will be forced to engage in a confrontation with these groups [Islamists, terrorists, and Iranian proxies] forcefully. It is a confrontation that goes beyond the purely security aspect to the political and cultural side. This is precisely the world that Biden and his deputy will find before them, and that they must deal with him.

Aawsat, 11.11.2020


Adhwan al-Ahmari of the Indy Arabia held out hope for Trump’s victory the day after the election, but from the start framed the outcome as irrelevant for Saudi Arabia’s interests.

Just a day later, he noted that:

The kingdom is able to deal with Biden or Trump. The country that stood up to “Obama’s chaos” is capable of dealing with others

The most committed remaining pro-Trump voice in the Saudi media scene belongs to Dr. Ahmad al-Farraj, a former interpreter for Prince Sultan and a self-styled American expert – and one of the main Saudi sources of commentary on the election for al-Arabiya and other Saudi-owned channels in October through the election proper.

Farraj positions himself as a “neutral commentator” while recycling no end of right-wing media talking points into his Twitter feed (to say nothing of a racist obsession with Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib as being “ungrateful immigrants” to the United States). His prediction for the election came as no surprise.

Since the election he has continued to translate the right-wing partisan press into Arabic on his feed, using Gateway Pundit-esque sources to insist that the 2020 elections were “unnatural” and that Trump might yet win.

Saudi journalist Youssef Ghanami drew attention to Farraj’s position on a segment for the MBC show “MBC in a Week,” aking why Farraj continued to insist on the possibility of Trump winning despite the election apparently being called for Joe Biden.

While making some fair if (not particularly good-faith) points about the technical process for presidential elections, Farraj also adopted the Trump campaign’s rhetoric about winning on election night – “on the first day of elections, Trump was winning… and the next day… things changed” – despite the considerable media coverage in the U.S. as to why elections this year might take longer than normal.

When pressed further on the possibility of partisanship in his analysis, he leaned into nationalist rhetoric pretty heavily (at around 5:00):

“Those who attacked me, or criticized me, are enemies of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia… taking revenge on me for my positions against the enemies of the Kingdom, whether the Muslim Brotherhood or the countries that support them.”

Ghanami then brings up the fact that even other political commentators have criticized Farraj’s analysis:

“I’m talking about friends and colleagues from Saudi media figures who joined in on the fierce attack on my weak self – with this, they joined the ranks of the enemies of the Kingdom, because most of those who attacked me are enemies of the Kingdom… Those Saudis who have insulted me have only insulted themselves…”

Some of the more prominent patriotic-nationalist Saudi accounts, however, have taken to hoping that a Biden administration would be particular bad news for Erdogan and Turkey.

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