Geopolitics

How A Trump Presidency Looks In The Middle East

Iraqi men in Baghdad watch television as the newly elected American president speaks.
Iraqi men in Baghdad watch television as the newly elected American president speaks.
Omar Said

The election of Donald Trump as the next president of the United States has prompted several reactions, with those who see his political ascension as the beginning of a new phase of political unrest â€" of which the Arab world is feared to carry the lion’s share â€" being gripped by panic.

Immediately following the election results, Egypt’s state-owned media outlets took pride in reporting that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had been the first head of state to officially congratulate Trump on his victory. In September, before the elections, Sisi praised the presidential candidate, asserting that he would be a strong leader.

Egypt’s presidential office also issued a statement on Wednesday, congratulating Trump and expressing a hope that his presidency will marshal a new era of more cordial relations between Egypt and the White House.

“The Egyptian Arab Republic is looking forward to the period of Donald Trump’s presidency to imbue new spirit into the path of Egyptian-American ties with more cooperation and coordination in the interests of both the Egyptian and American people,” the statement asserted.

Between the Egyptian government’s response and the worries of Trump’s critics, where does the truth lie? What changes can be expected in the Middle East and the larger Arab world with a new president in the White House?

Egypt

In congratulating Trump, Sisi invited the US president-elect to Egypt to continue discussions they began in September, on the sidelines of 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York City.

Rabab al-Mahdi, professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, says, “We should not look at Trump’s victory in a conventional light and wonder what its effects on a specific country or region will be. Trump’s win is a defining moment in modern history, which is not an exaggeration to say. This moment resembles the ascent of fascism and the arrival of the Nazis to power in Germany through democratic elections.”

While asserting that Trump’s influence will be global, Mahdi focused on two ramifications that the new US president will have on Egypt and the region.

“The first point is political. We should completely forget talk about the US pressuring Egypt to improve its human rights situation or to expand the margins of freedom,” Mahdi says. “Due to Trump’s obsessions and complete ignorance regarding the nature of political development â€" including regarding the Islamic State â€" he will extend support to many dictatorships, at the forefront of which is Egypt’s dictatorship, on the basis that they are fighting terrorism.”

The AUC professor’s second point focused on Egypt’s economy. Trump continues to adhere to neoclassical economic tenets, according Mahdi, who argues that even neoliberals have widely abandoned these policies.

“If the US and the rest of the world experience an economic downturn or a recession,” she says, “these ideas and policies will have a dangerous effect upon the Egyptian economy, which is already in crisis.”

The Palestinian cause

Democratic Party presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Trump engaged in acts of political one-upmanship concerning Israel’s security interests throughout the election. However, Trump’s remarks were the most extreme.

“The relationship between the US and Israel is intimate and fatalistic,” says Lebanese journalist and Arab affairs commentator Sam Matta. “However, during President Barack Obama’s administration this relationship suffered an unprecedented chill.”

Matta adds that Netanyahu’s government â€" which represents the far right of Israel’s political spectrum, will gain significant support from the Trump administration. This development he says, will have “catastrophic consequences for the Palestinian cause,” including an end to US pressure to halt or slow the expansion of Israeli settlements into the West Bank and the resumption of peace negotiations between the two sides.

Referencing Trump’s rejection of the two-state solution during his campaign, Matta warns that Palestinians may face the most hostile US foreign policy in recent memory, with Trump’s anti-Palestinian stance eclipsing former President George W. Bush.

Syria

During his campaign speeches, Trump insisted that the US needs to change its priorities in the Syrian civil war and to confine its efforts to fighting the Islamic State rather than pursuing a political solution or the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Firas al-Khaldi, a Syrian opposition organizer based in Cairo, argues that Trump’s comments were intended to garner approval from his base during the campaign.

Nonetheless, Khaldi adds that the Trump administration may change the US’s stance on Syria. “Trump will be inclined to support Russia’s position,” he says, even if it faces intransigence from other US institutions, such as the Pentagon and the CIA.

But the change will be a balancing act between at times conflicting allegiances, Khaldi believes, as Trump’s extreme hostility toward Iran will find expression in open opposition to Assad’s government, which relies on Iranian military support.

Iraq

Trump also appears to have a conflicting stance regarding the ongoing armed conflict in Iraq.

Despite skepticism, Trump has repeatedly argued that he opposed the US-led invasion into Iraq in 2004, which became a protracted occupation. He has also claimed that radical and armed Islamist groups have since found safe haven in the country, necessitating US intervention. Moreover, Trump has campaigned for increased compensation for US military personnel who were wounded or killed in Iraq.

Researcher and political sociologist Ali al-Raggal highlights the president-elect’s conflict. “Trump will either move toward a resumption of military intervention in Iraq on the basis of being a superpower confronting terrorism, or he will move toward a sudden withdrawal. In both scenarios, the end results will be disastrous.”

Military intervention will increase bloodshed and civilian casualties and further deteriorate human rights, while a unilateral withdrawal, Raggal contends would likely strengthen Islamist groups in their fight against the Iraqi armed forces.

Yemen

Trump has not commented extensively on US foreign policy on the ongoing Yemeni civil war. When the issue did arise during an interview with CNN, he commented that Iran has involved itself in the Yemeni conflict because “they want to seize the Saudi kingdom’s and its oil.”

Hamza Kamali, a member of the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference, criticizes the Obama administration’s decision to broker a nuclear deal with Iran, looking to the Republican Party as a welcome change. “We are waiting for the Republican Party to change this policy. It is always better to build bridges of cooperation with the Republicans than the Democrats,” he says.

During his electoral campaign, Trump has referred to the US-Iranian nuclear deal as “the worst deal ever negotiated.”

Translated by Jano Charbel

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food / travel

The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire


According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA

Unsplash/@nemo23


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council


Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire


The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

Unsplash/@hkblind


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke


During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press


Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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