Syrians’ Opinions about President-Elect Trump

The recent American presidential election attracted a big following among Syrians of all different political orientations. Most Syrians considered the outcome of the election critical to the future of their country; as such, Syrians chose to root for a candidate based on his or her statements on the Syrian crisis. Overall, loyalists of the Syrian regime welcomed Republican candidate Donald Trump’s soft stance toward Bashar al-Assad and his desire to coordinate with Russia—the regime’s principle ally—to solve the Syrian crisis. Conversely, most of the Syrian opposition were encouraged by the prospect of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s assuming power. They hoped she would act on her campaign promises to establish a no-fly zone and investigate war crimes committed by Syrians and Russians.

Immediately after the dawn announcement of the election results on November 9, Syrian social media sites were overrun with analyses and discussions about the effect of the election on the country’s situation and the future of America’s role in the region. Numerous activists circulated Trump’s prior speeches, considered by some to be racist toward Muslims, while the prevailing viewpoint among the opposition was one of despair. They no longer believed the United States would help the Syrian people achieve their freedom by stopping the attacks of the Syrian regime and its Russian ally.

Remarking on a previous Trump statement that he would not support the moderate Syrian opposition in overthrowing Assad, one Twitter commentator, Yasser Murad, said, “After your victory, are we really going to lose some of the macaroni and athletic shoes with which Obama was supporting us? Whatever—at least you are clearer than your predecessor.”

Most of the views were pessimistic. Some considered Trump’s assumption of power to be another blow for Syrians who desired US support to eliminate Assad’s dictatorship, especially since the Obama administration has been hesitant to support the popular revolution in Syria since it began in 2011.

Opposition activists on social media sites also circulated cartoons showing Obama and Clinton leaving carrying their bags while Bashar al-Assad remained sitting on a chairing waving to them—a sarcastic reference to prior statements that Obama and then-Secretary Clinton had made that Assad must go and that he had lost his legitimacy. As for the reason some Syrians fear Trump assuming power, media activist Mustafa al-Halabi, who resides in the districts of eastern Aleppo, said that the besieged residents of Aleppo “were hoping that the new president would be more assertive in intervening against the daily massacres targeted against Aleppo residents.” Instead, the opposite happened—Trump’s first pronouncement was his intention to cooperate with Russia in fighting terrorism, “as if the Syrian regime and Russian planes killing civilians in Aleppo was not an act of terrorism.”

The activist stressed the danger in the United States continuing to move away from its principal role in the Syrian issue, which would open the door to even greater Russian and Iranian support for Assad.

During a debate with Clinton in October, Trump, in response to a question on his position about what is happening in Aleppo, said, “Well, Aleppo is a disaster. It’s a humanitarian nightmare. But it has fallen from any standpoint.” The American President-elect said that the United States does not know who among the Syrian revolutionaries the United States should support. He also revealed to The Wall Street Journal that his point of view on Syria differs from that of most others.

Assad’s opposition has drawn a connection between Trump and Putin. Most of them criticized the subject of Syrian refugees being dragged into the American election, especially after the Republican candidate promised to expel them and prevent their entry into the United States if he won. Cartoons showing Trump kicking a refugee while carrying a sign saying, “If I were a Syrian, I would get out of here,” have become widespread on Facebook.

Conversely, some consider Trump’s victory to be better for the Syrian issue, most especially those who believe that the Republicans are stronger on foreign policy than the Democrats. In a recently published article, Meshel Kilo, a member of the Syrian National Coalition, said that Syrians should not fear Trump assuming power because his statements were delivered within the framework of an election battle and were not more than “an indication that the new Trump administration would not answer the hopes of the Syrians in any event. So really, nothing has been lost. The Syrians’ situation and the Syrian case will not be worse, in terms of actions and results, than it was under the policy of Obama and the previous administration.”

In response to a question about what the Syrian opposition should ask of the new president, the Syrian columnist Anis al-Kurdi wrote in the newspaper Sada al-Sham, “The first of these calls depends on negotiation with Russia to stop its continuous strikes against Syrian cities and to prevent its targeting of moderate opposition groups on the pretext of fighting terrorism.” Al-Kurdi added that Aleppo’s situation—in which as many as 300,000 civilians are under siege without access to medical services and basic foodstuffs—is catastrophic. In his opinion, this issue will be the first real foreign policy test for the new president’s administration.

On the other hand, supporters of the Syrian regime consider a Trump victory preferable to that of Clinton due to statements he made during his election campaign indicating that removing Assad from power is not his priority, but fighting ISIS is.

The Syrian journalist Lyza Al-Yas, in statements made to the Xinhua News Agency in Damascus, said, “[We are] optimistic about Trump’s assuming the American presidency because he clearly was the lesser of two evils.” She indicated that supporters of Assad did not take comfort in Clinton’s statements on the campaign trail—especially her position demanding Assad’s departure—and underlined the fact that while Clinton and Obama were now leaving, Assad would be staying.

After the election results were announced, the Syrian government issued no official position. However, a statement by the Syrian newspaper al-Watan, which is closely aligned to the government, said that Syrians spent Wednesday night following the tallying of votes and were ultimately pleased with the results.

In a press interview conducted recently with a Portuguese television station, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad downplayed the election results and their impact on the Syrian situation by saying that he does not expect much from President-elect Donald Trump “because the American administration does not depend on the president alone.”

Over the past few months, the Syrian regime and its allies have intensified their military campaign against areas controlled by the opposition, especially in Aleppo, to try to get ahead of the American elections and change the situation on the ground before any new political discussions begin.

The reasons many Syrians who desired a new political reality feel pessimistic is because they feel that the United States lacked conviction in supporting the democratic transition in their country and they see little hope of that changing under Trump. They had hoped that a more assertive United States would stop Russian hegemony in Syria, but the preliminary indications show that what will happen now is the opposite of what they had wished for. If the new US president remains focused on only fighting terrorism, Assad and his allies will benefit and be able to continue their own kind of terrorism—bombing and arresting whomever they want without repercussions.

Hosam al-Jablawi is a Syrian citizen journalist.  

Image: Photo: U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at his election night rally in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 9, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri