Yesterday, Christopher Dickey sought observations about the U.S. elections from Daily Beast correspondents, friends, and colleagues around the globe: No part of the world is watching the American elections with more misgivings and despair than North Africa and the Middle East.
A former Moroccan cabinet minister told Michael Kirtley on Monday, he felt deep “sadness” that America was giving such a poor example of the democratic process, and that it would lessen the ability of the U.S. to preach our bedrock values elsewhere. “It doesn’t make me believe in democracy less,” he said. “But it makes me wonder if America can regain the high ground in representing democratic principles.”
Some in the Middle East are watching with cynical amusement. As one senior Saudi royal wrote to me, “Elections in America are a spectacle, very much like a Bollywood film on steroids, with tragedy and comedy, action and drama, dancing and music, treachery and romance.”
Another friend in Saudi Arabia, a humanist and a stubborn optimist, writes, “We cannot help but feel that the forces of openness and calm judgment that are embodied by Mrs. Clinton offer a more promising future both for the United States and for the world.”
But that sentiment is far from universal.
“There is no damage to the brand [of American democracy], because we never bought into it in the first place,” writes Amal Ghandour in Beirut. “The more serious harm is to your heft as a super power, one that dictates and lectures and cajoles the rest of us, not because of its democracy but because of the seriousness and strength of its system.
“That the U.S., with every possible contraption that democracy affords, would produce a presidential contender in the mold of our own ++Michel Aoun [just named president of Lebanon] is nothing short of astounding. We know — or we think we do — why we have idiots presiding over our dysfunctional states. What’s your excuse?” asks Ghandour.
“Believe it or not, quite a few among the Lebanese elite want Trump to win,” says Ghandour. “There’s a group that is relishing the humiliation to you and yours; another which thinks a Trump presidency will effectively translate to an even lighter footprint in the area; another which, like many Americans voting for him, thinks that the man has chutzpah, that he’s the real deal.”
What’s seen widely as President Barack Obama’s bungling of the Syrian war has damaged American credibility throughout the region, and those who have hopes for a Trump presidency see it as a chance to make, at least, a break with Obama’s policies — although what turns that break might take are far from clear.
“In Egypt we are optimistic that with your change, we’ll begin a new chapter in our relationship, which has witnessed a kind of Siberian storm for some time now,” writes a very well-connected friend in Cairo. “The question is: would Hillary be continuity rather than change, and will Trump be reaching out or confrontational? Our region has suffered much from the policy which led to the burning Arab spring that polluted the area and created an epidemic [of violence].” But nothing about these elections inspires confidence. “They seem in part like a heated comedy, and it reflects how far apart our thinking patterns are. We are all about traditions, respect, and discretion, and this election reveals your DNA, which we like to watch, but not follow or emulate.”
Egyptian politician and activist, Gameela Ismail, went to the United States over the summer to watch democracy in action and came away bitterly disappointed. “I felt like I came to witness the last few days or weeks of democracy,” she writes. “I never thought I would hear terms like ‘fascism’ and ‘treason.’”