The Donald phenomenon: Opinions from the Arab Street

Hafsa Kara-Mustapha
Hafsa Kara-Mustapha is a journalist, political analyst and commentator with a special focus on the Middle East and Africa. She has worked for the FT group and Reuters and her work has been published in the Middle East magazine, Jane's Foreign report, El Watan and a host of international publications. A regular pundit on TV and radio, Hafsa can regularly be seen on RT and Press TV.
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'The Arab Street', otherwise known as Arab public opinion, is believed to encapsulate the general mood of some 300m people on the globe bound by a common language and cultural traits.

On this unique street, politics, religion, culture or sports are discussed, debated and often fought over. On this street, at times bombed or invaded by US presidents, America's upcoming elections are on everyone's lips.

Of all the candidates, one hopeful's name stands out: Donald Trump. Property magnet and reality TV star, Trump is not just the next potential resident of the White House, he is America - loud, brash, arrogant and money-obsessed. Yes, Donald Trump has mesmerized American public opinion as well as the world's, though perhaps not for all the right reasons.

He set the tone of his campaign almost from day one by targeting Mexican immigrants he casually dismissed as drug smugglers and rapists.

Offending a considerable chunk of America's Hispanic electorate, his public meetings were marred by stories of expulsions of attendees from ethnic minorities or journalists being shut down.

Perhaps one of his most controversial and possibly even illegal declarations - given its overt discriminatory tone - was his promise to close US borders to Muslim arrivals.

The underlying message is of course that every Muslim is potentially a terrorist and that in these current times when only 'Islamist' bombs kill innocent people, America would better be safe than at some point sorry... like many of America's one-time Muslim partners such as Afghanistan or Iraq.

His bigoted statement was met with delight from a right-wing electorate regularly fed anti-Muslim news that would make Adolf Hitler's minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels, blush with embarrassment.

Muslims are rapists, murderers, wife beaters and of course terrorists. This almost daily drip of anti-Muslim rhetoric that exploded in the aftermath of 9/11 is so seeped into America's psyche that it now regularly goes unchallenged and largely constitutes the backbone of his manifesto. 'Fuel hate, reap votes' could almost become his rallying slogan. And while his primary target are Muslims, in the average bigot's mind that also includes non-Muslim Arabs, Iranians and Sikhs, who in recent years have been regular recipients of anti-Muslim hate crimes.

So what does the average Arab think of a possible President Trump?

Interestingly, and despite his vitriolic statements, there is little concern for the possible impact on the Arab world such a powerful head of state would have.

"What difference will it make," says Moussa, a 21 year-old student from Tunis. "American presidents are all the same: anti-Arab... and pro-war."

"At least he's honest," his friend responds. "You know what you get with Trump."

From Algiers to Tunis and from Beirut to Amman people do not seem that affected by what he promises.

"A black president with close roots to Africa was supposed to usher in a new era of US politics," commented two doctors on their lunch break in central Algiers. "Instead, the US has continued droning poor people, continued to wage war, continued to sell more arms to fuel more conflict." 

Asked if they were hoping for a Sanders presidency, both said they simply didn't care, with one adding: "As we say here, it's the difference between El Hajj Mohamed and Mohamed El Hajj." In other words, whether Sanders, Trump or Clinton make it to the White House, there will be very little difference for those outside the US.

In the more English-speaking parts of the Arab world, there appears to be a bit more interest in the elections, with perhaps some hope in the Sanders campaign.

Lebanese youth in particular see him as a decent guy and even if they're uncomfortable with his close links to Israel, having spent considerable time on a Kibbutz in his younger years, there is hope that he will be more balanced when dealing with the Arab-Israeli issue:

And what about Trump?

"He's a clown, he'll never be elected, he's too embarrassing."

As a hairdresser for glamorous Lebanese women, it's obvious why Patricia could not envisage such a comical figure but others disagree.

"Sure he's a clown, but a dangerous that can lead a nuclear power into war."

Some believe that a clown is just what is needed to bring in the demise of almighty America. as one journalist put it: "Who can take the US seriously with Trump as its president?"

Others, however, are more worried, explaining that in his desperate desire to appeal to the most radical part of the American electorate he is going to have to be ruthless to keep their support. Trump has already promised to maintain and increase the use of torture in interrogations and has attacked others for being too weak, implying he won't be.

His obvious dismissal of diplomatic discourse, despite aspiring to become America's symbol to the outside world, means he's already rid himself of the shackles of polite talk in favor of a more confrontational approach.

Taxi drivers, the Arab street's most inspiring political analysts, all have a clear-cut opinion on Trump.

He's a replay of Bush according to one while another believes it's just bravado and in fact he might turn out to be the better of the lot. "Think about it," one taxi driver exclaimed. "You need votes so you say what voters want to hear. Americans are racists, what can you do about that, give them racism, keep them happy. Once in power you can then do what you want. After all when have politicians ever kept their electoral promises?"

That unquestionable wisdom certainly rings true. After all, if politicians are incapable of keeping their good promises why should they falter with bad ones, even if the bad ones are easier to implement.

It's true that every four or eight years, the world stands still wondering what the US electorate will offer them. And every time the electorate and the US system regurgitates some state apparatchik doing exactly what the regime in place requires of them. The difference is often in the personality. So while some presidents are charming or affable, some are less so. Their politics however are never different. As the American reverend and one time presidential candidate Jesse Jackson once opined, in the US "we have the Republicans and Republicans light."

This year's contest has shown that while very little divides the main hopefuls, voters will have to distinguish candidates by 'image.'

One thing Trump has achieved, however, and before a single vote has been cast, whether he's elected or not, is to turn the once-shameful American racism into an acceptable electoral force. It is no longer wrong or immoral to be racist. According to Trump, patriotic racism is what will make America great again.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.