This week will usher in a new President of the United States of America as voters go to the polls to decide once and for all who would it be: Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump? Interest on the successor to President Barack Obama is fairly high even beyond US borders as there is no denying that US foreign policy impacts the fortunes of many countries across the globe.
It is no different in Saudi Arabia, where the question on the eventual heir to the White House throne has been on the minds of many in recent months as the campaign frenzy from both camps intensified. Saudis have a long established link to the US through oil exploration and through generations of students sent over there for higher studies. Almost everyone you speak to has fond memories of time spent in America and will quickly acknowledge their experience as being a fruitful one. Some have even established second homes there and today their children and grandchildren have followed suit.
One Saudi, however, said: “Why would I care who replaces Obama? I have no voice in their political process or any voting privileges. At best I am a spectator on the sidelines, watching the current circus of candidates — each selling himself or herself to the American public. But I do care. I spent some of my teenage and formative years in that country. I learned many of the professional skills there, that I use till today and I am grateful for many other things learned or acquired during my times in the US. I have witnessed a good and harmonious culture made of very good people. I continue to maintain my bond with that great country, although in recent times, the changes have been somewhat worrying.”
Other thoughts were sought from various Saudis of diverse backgrounds on how they saw this election and their take on the two leading candidates, as I canvassed for opinion. The responses were muted, with most people telling me they were just confused. Confused about what? About how a great country like the US could not find two better people to represent them than Hillary and Trump!
A case in point was Hussain, a Saudi businessman, who was very blunt in his assessment: “Honestly, I cannot fathom how these two have reached the pinnacle on election eve. Neither of them holds America’s true interests at heart and yet one of them will be sitting in the Oval Office come January. How is it possible that a nation that can spawn a Bill Gates, a Warren Buffet or a John F. Kennedy can now put forward these two as their leaders. Astounding and unimaginable!”
Khalid, from the capital city of Riyadh and who owns a fleet of taxis, said: “Both Clinton and Trump have major flaws. Clinton is under federal investigation for wrongdoings while she was US secretary of state and has too many vested interests with special lobby groups who are working contrary to the interests of America. Trump, on the other hand, is a self-proclaimed bigot who has only succeeded in alienating his countrymen and given rise to increasing incidents of racial violence.”
Mona, who is an owner of an advertising agency, laments the characters of both candidates: “It is a shame that the next president of the US will be one of these two, whose characters are not one to be proud of. Following former president Bill Clinton’s scandal with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, I have to say that the Obama legacy at least restored some dignity to the White House and the US presidency. Both Barack and Michelle Obama conducted themselves with a demeanour expected from state leaders. Alas, I do not expect that from either of the current candidates and that is a shame.”
Huda, a Saudi schoolteacher whose mother happens to be an American, had this to share: “America has changed. I see it with every passing year. Hate and violence seem to have replaced tolerance and acceptance. Neither candidate is capable of bridging this ever-increasing divide among Americans. In fact, I fear they will bring the country to the ground. It makes me sad to see my mother’s country reduced to this.”
And finally, this was what Ismail, an executive with an airline, observed: “I do not support Trump because of his stance against Muslims and people of colour. I also do not support Clinton because she is too locked-in with self-interest groups to do Americans any real good. Clinton as president will mean more wars as she will quickly accommodate the appetites of the industrial military establishment to increase sales of weapons of destruction. She will be serving them and not the people of America, and will be an equally bad choice as president of the United States. My condolences to all Americans, come Wednesday.”
We are neither sages nor fortune-tellers, but with either Trump or Clinton in power, the signs do not bode well for a strong and healthy America. May God help the country!
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@talmaeena