'Trump's New Aggression Against Gaza?': Arab World Can't Decide What to Make of Trump's Speech on Islam

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President Donald Trump delivers a speech to the Arab Islamic American Summit, at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center, Sunday, May 21, 2017.
President Donald Trump speaks at the Arab Islamic American Summit, at the King Abdulaziz Conference Center, Sunday, May 21, 2017.Credit: Evan Vucci, AP

U.S. President Donald Trump’s speech delivered on Sunday in Saudi Arabia won a mixed reception in the Arab world. Pro-Western Arab leaders were positive about his address on Islam. Among opponents was Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, who called the speech “defamatory” and “completely biased" in favor of the Israeli occupation after Trump accused the movement of terrorism.

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Muhammad Said Nashwan, a social activist from Gaza, took Trump’s message as an implied threat towards Hamas. “Are these indications of new aggression against Gaza?” he tweeted.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem also took the opportunity to swipe at a political opponent, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “President Abbas should have left the hall immediately after Trump accused Hamas of terrorism,” Qassem tweeted. “It was an affront to our entire Palestinian struggle.”

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Earlier on Sunday, Abdel Bari Atwan, the Palestinian editor of the Rai al-Youm website, criticized the warm welcome Trump received in Saudi Arabia. “Why shouldn’t the man who despises Muslims and prevents them from entering his country, dance with a sword, either joyfully or hypocritically, after being rewarded with $500 billion deals in one day?” he tweeted.

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In an op-ed published following the speech, Atwan argued that both the media and the general public were more interested in Trump’s “beautiful wife and daughter” than they were in him. “The American wars in the Arab and Islamic regions are the bloodiest forms of terrorism,” Atwan opined, referring to Trump’s speech. “The terrorists that President Trump demanded be fought [] have killed only a miniscule number of people compared to the American planes and missiles in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Afghanistan.”

Jamal Rayan, a veteran anchorman with the al-Jazeera news network in Qatar, listed issues absent from Trump’s speech. “President Trump’s speech didn’t mention the Arab Spring revolutions and counterrevolutions, nor did it mention democratic values or human rights, but it did allude to Egypt and Iran many times,” he tweeted to his half a million followers, before turning to somber self-criticism. “We, the Arabs and Muslims, are a fine ‘sick man’. The nations pounce on us, violating our land, our honor and our riches. We are helpless, and the tragedy is that we honor our tormenters,” he wrote.

Other Arab leaders were more appreciative of the American visitor to the region. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri posted photos of himself on Facebook joking with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir during the Sunday summit in Riyadh, writing that he was just about to leave with the other heads of Arab delegations to lay the cornerstone for the international center for combating radical thought. On the other hand, Al-Manar, the official TV station of the armed Shiite group Hezbollah, juxtaposed the image of the luxurious meeting hall in Saudi Arabia with images of starving children in Syria. “The crises and tragedies of the Muslims could not unite them,” said the narrator, as an image of the Arab leaders in a group photo appeared on screen. “The American gentleman brought them together in the Saudi capital.” King Salman, the report continued, barely mentioned the Palestinians and hardly departed from the American point of view.

Wiam Wahhab, a pro-Syrian Lebanese politician and former agriculture minister, tweeted that Trump has no idea what he’s getting himself into in the Middle East. “This hedgehog Trump thinks that crisis management is like managing his hotels. No doubt, he will pay for his hasty policy in our region.”

Representing yet another view of the summit, Dhahi Khalfan, the Dubai police chief renowned for publishing images of suspected Mossad agents accused of assassinating Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in January 2010, tweeted from the summit: “Iran is outside the Islamic world order at the Riyadh summit,” he wrote. “When you isolate yourself from the world, you become isolated.”

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