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The Middle East Press: Reactions to Biden’s Inauguration

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President Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021, made news not only in the U.S. but worldwide. After the four turbulent years of the Trump administration, the beginning of the new era had media outlets all over the world fascinated with the changes in the White House, including the Middle East press. However, reactions from the Middle East ranged from one extreme to the other.

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Iranian and Pro-Iranian Media Outlets Rejoice at Trump’s Departure

It’s no big surprise that media outlets identified with the Tehran regime rejoiced at the departure of Trump. With fanciful verbiage, they made their opinion of President Trump very clear.

On Al-Manar TV, a TV station controlled by Hezbollah, the pro-Iranian militia in Lebanon, Egyptian journalist Atef Abdel Gawad said about the outgoing president: “On the one hand, it will remember him as it remembers Hitler, and on the other hand, it will remember Trump as a president who needed a psychiatric clinic.

“Therefore, I support amending the regulations of the U.S. elections. This amendment suggests that any presidential candidate or any president would not be allowed to take office until he is tested – not only physically, but also mentally and psychologically. Because, as a matter of fact, there is a lot of evidence that shows that President Trump has not been mentally and emotionally healthy.”

Iran’s Fars news agency, a pro-government organization, quoted the President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani. Rouhani remarked, “Today, thanks God, Trump’s black page will be closed forever, and we say thanks God when any oppressor is overthrown.”

Rouhani was also described by the media outlet as voicing “pleasure” with the end of Trump’s presidency. Rouhani said during his cabinet meeting in Tehran that he hopes the Biden administration returns the U.S. to the nuclear deal negotiations.

Calmer Press Reactions from Mainstream Arabic News Outlets

In the bigger news outlets, reactions were calmer than Iran’s. Al-Arabiya, a Saudi-owned leading TV station based in Dubai, aired an interview with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, saying he expects the relationship with the Biden White House to be “excellent.”

As I wrote in a previous article, there were voices of concern in Saudi Arabia in light of the public condemnation Biden issued after the assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Riyadh is obviously waiting with baited breath to see how the chips will fall in the new administration.

Every small hint of change is inviting press speculation, as we saw this week. Al-Ahram, a leading Egyptian newspaper, reported that the Twitter account of the U.S. embassy in Israel changed its name for a few hours.

According to Al-Ahram, “The name changed from the ‘US Ambassador to Israel’ to the ‘US Ambassador to Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.’ However, those responsible for handling the account reverted to the original name a few hours later.”

In Al-Jazeera, the popular TV network based in Qatar, senior political analyst and columnist Marwan Bishara waxed poetic on the historical role of President Biden to change the course of American history. He stated, “It is important for Biden to reverse much of Donald Trump’s policies, but that will not erase his legacy or undo the damage to America’s soul. Certainly not when the bitter and vengeful former president and his allies continue to lurk around in the shadows.”

Israeli Press Reactions Were Similar to US News Outlets

In Israel, the press covered the change in presidential administrations in a manner similar to the U.S. Haaretz, a newspaper identified with the Israeli left and highly critical of Benjamin Netanyahu, ran editorials rejoicing at the transfer of power.

One column was titled “The worst man in America is no longer president.” Another article suggested that Netanyahu will have a clash with the new administration on one of three major topics: the nuclear deal with Iran, Chinese investments in Israel and continued expansion of settlement activity.

The popular newspaper Yediot Acharonot focused on the inaugural events, such as the ceremony, the artists and the wardrobe of the participants. The popular Internet meme of Bernie Sanders with his parka and gloves also got attention in Israel.

In right-wing news outlets, the new administration raises some concerns for the future, but the issue was not heavily covered. Arutz 7, a news outlet that is heavily identified with the religious right, the inauguration was only briefly mentioned.

Arutz 7’s Yoni Kempinski interviewed Aryeh Lightstone, former Chief of Staff to the outgoing Ambassador to Israel. Lightstone commented, “Every decision that’s been made for this region has been from an American point of view. We can still disagree with Israel, question Israel, disapprove of Israel — we do so with all of our allies — but it has been in the American interest to be pro-Israel. Every chance we have to strengthen this relationship has proved to be a win-win.”

Foreign Policies May Take a Back Seat While the US Deals with Its Domestic Problems

It’s no big surprise that the incoming Biden administration has many people in the Middle East waiting to get a phone call.  The new Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has many people eager and perhaps worried about his plan for the next 100 days.

The new administration has serious issues to deal with, ranging from COVID-19 to a stimulus package that will take the national debt to record heights of which no one has ever dreamed. Between tax increases that might come later in 2021 and mobilizing state and federal health systems to vaccinate the U.S. population, foreign policy might need to take a back seat for a while.

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Dr. Ilan Fuchs is a scholar of international law and legal history. He holds a B.A. in Humanities and Social Science from The Open University of Israel and an M.A. in Jewish history from Bar-Ilan University. Ilan’s other degrees include an LL.B. in Law, an LL.M. in Law and a Ph.D. in Law from Bar-Ilan University. He has published a book, “Jewish Women’s Torah Study: Orthodox Education and Modernity,” and 17 articles in leading scholarly journals. At AMU, he teaches courses on International Law while maintaining a law practice in several jurisdictions.

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