On Thursday 29 October, the Political Studies Unit at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies held a remote symposium titled the “US Elections: Possible Outcomes, and Repercussions for the Middle East and Gulf Region.” A group the Center’s researchers were joined by Khalil Jahshan, Executive Director of the Arab Center - Washington Branch; Joe Macaron, Resident Fellow at the Arab Center - Washington Branch. Mehran Kamrava, Professor of Governance at Georgetown University in Qatar and Director of the Iranian Studies Unit at the Arab Center and Osama Abu Irshaid, a non-resident researcher at the Arab Center - Washington branch. The symposium dealt with the merits of the electoral map, and the potential for changes in US foreign policy towards the Arab region, especially towards Iran, the Gulf, and Palestine.

The US Presidential Race and Foreign Policy Shifts

The first session, chaired by Marwan Kabalan, Director of the Political Studies Unit at the Arab Center, discussed the electoral map, and potential shifts in US foreign policy between the current president Donald Trump, and Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Jahshan argued that the 59th elections represent special importance due to five issues related to the political, economic and social environment inside and outside the United States. First, the outbreak of Covid-19 and the US electorate’s fear of the potential health, economic and social consequences of the pandemic. Second, the economic recession caused by the failure of the United States to combat the virus outbreak. Third, the severe political polarization that has accompanied Trump since his accession to the presidency four years ago. Fourth, the tension in the international system due to the floundering of American foreign policy and the rise of populism in the United States and abroad. Fifth, the US voter feels that their democratic lifestyle faces an unprecedented threat. Jahshan stressed that if Trump wins, he expects to continue his isolationist approach without change, in addition to continuing to personalize his political decisions, especially with regard to issues in the Arab region. Jahshan expects that Biden would treat the Arab region like any other without giving it the priority that Trump assigns.

Meanwhile, Macaron focused on the electoral map and its repercussions on US foreign policy in the Arab region and the world. He argued that demographic shifts are a matter of importance that should be focused on to understand the current US political landscape, such as expanding cities, shrinking rural areas, and the growing influence of non-white voters. Macron said that former US President Barack Obama swung Virginia, North Carolina and Colorado in 2008 to Democrats due to urban expansion and that Biden is doing the same thing today due to demographic changes, as new states are likely to swing in his favour. Macron believes that Trump's problem is that he has not tried to expand his electoral base or adapt to the shifting electoral base.

The Ramifications of the US Presidential Elections for Iran, the Gulf, and Palestine

The second session, chaired by Haider Saeed, Head of the research department and Editor-in-Chief of the Siyasat Arabiya journal at the Arab Center, discussed the implications of the US presidential elections on Iran, the Gulf region and Palestine. Kamrava stressed that Iran is closely following the US presidential elections, and that it is very concerned about Trump's re-election, due to the “maximum pressure” policy applied over the past three years, which has been the harshest and most comprehensive since 1979. It particularly affects Iran's trade with China, India and the European Union, as well as its influence on everyone who deals with it. Kamrava expected that in the event that Trump wins, he will continue to pursue a policy of “maximum pressure” on Iran and is likely to continue to pressure the GCC states to recognize Israel. Biden is unlikely to pursue fundamental changes in the US policy towards Iran, especially since the latter is also heading for elections next summer, or to press for the normalization of relations between the Gulf states and Israel.

Osama Abu Irshaid concluded the symposium, discussing the general framework of USpolicy towards the Palestinian issue, and pointed out that all US administrations since that of Woodrow Wilson (1913-1921), which paved the way for the Balfour Declaration have been biased towards Israel, and that each of these administrations worked to to consolidate bias towards Israel in the subsequent administration. Abu Irshaid referred to the changes Trump made to American policy, and said that the Trump administration has fully adopted the Zionist right-wing agenda and convictions. Finally, Abu Irshaid expected that if Biden wins, he will move closer to Obama's policy, and that he will seek to bring the two parties to the conflict back to the negotiating table, with an emphasis on the two-state solution, freezing settlements and restoring aid to the Palestinian people. However, Biden will not alter the facts that Trump has changed on the ground, such as the US embassy move.