What Lebanese love about Trump
Written by Malek   

What Lebanese love about Trump

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BEIRUT// Every day, the electronic messages of support filter in. "Happy Valentines day, we love you Donald J Trump (Mr strong President)", reads one. "Trump is my idol", says another. Such professions of adulation are not uncommon among Mr Trump’s fans, both before and after his shock win in the US presidential election. But these messages are not coming from those who voted for him, they’re coming from the Arab world — from Lebanon, posted to the Friends of Donald J Trump in Lebanon Facebook group. Just over a month into his presidency, Mr Trump’s relationship with the Middle East has had a rocky start. An offhand remark about how the US could get another chance to "take" Iraq’s oil, his cosying-up to Israel, the constant portrayals of refugees as likely terrorists and an attempt to ban citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US have set an adversarial tone for many in the region.

But in Lebanon, the controversial and outspoken president is finding friends. It is impossible to gauge how much support Mr Trump has here, but the Friends of Donald J Trump in Lebanon Facebook group has so far attracted more than 60,000 likes. For Christians made anxious by the demographic change in their country caused by the addition of more than a million mostly Sunni Syrian refugees in recent years, some find reassurance in Mr Trump’s statements about confronting Christian marginalisation. For those who want a Lebanon that is not ruled by lifetime politicians or a government compromised by corruption, Mr Trump’s outsider status and "drain the swamp" message resonates.

Those who oppose the continued domination of Lebanon by the Shiite party and Iran ally Hizbollah ae encouraged by the Trump administration’s promised tougher line on Tehran. And, paradoxically, supporters of Syrian strongman and Iran ally Bashar Al Assad see Mr Trump’s ambiguity on the Syrian civil war and his suggestions that Damascus, Moscow and Washington could work together as signs of a shifting tide. For some, support for Mr Trump is much more simplistic, and has nothing to do with the geopolitics of a Middle East complicated by war, or with marginalisation or corruption.

"Would you rather have a woman?" a Beirut cab driver asked The National’s American correspondent before the election. "Hillary is a woman." Even Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, while not exactly a supporter, said he was pleased with the election. "We consider having a foolish president in the White House as good news for the vulnerable people of the world," he said in February.

The team behind the Facebook page, who declined to give any details about themselves due to security concerns in Beirut, said they started it to counter the rhetoric coming from "fake news" outlets. They said they were first attracted to Mr Trump because of the support shown him by Lebanese living in the US — people like Walid Phares, a foreign policy adviser to the president during the campaign. "We represent the other side of the Middle East that sees America and Trump differently," they said. "We believe that it’s not true that Donald Trump hates Arabs and Muslims."

Marwan Abdallah, a foreign relations officer for Kataeb, a Christian political party, said an independent-minded leader like Mr Trump was highly appealing to Lebanon.

"We are all fighting the existing establishment which is corrupt and is leading the country into all these bad ways. The example of Donald Trump in the US being someone from outside the establishment, getting into power and having his own agenda, this is something good for Lebanon."

Despite the domination of Hizbollah — which the US and others regard as a terrorist organisation — Lebanon was not included in the travel ban

While confident that this will remain the case, Mr Trump’s fans in Lebanon are at one with American Trump supporters in defending the ban as a necessity to protect the US.

"It is a political security decision par excellence with no religious, racial or ethnic background," said Mohammad Hajj Hassan, a Lebanese Shiite cleric who now lives mostly in the US and is about to become an American citizen.

Mr Hassan, who also heads a small anti-Hizbollah Shiite party in Lebanon, met Mr Trump last year during the campaign. He says Mr Trump told him that his problem was not with Islam, but with extremists.

Months after the election, Mr Hassan’s profile pictures on social media show him standing next to Mr Trump in clerical robes and a turban, with the president flashing a signature thumbs up.

To those in the Middle East who are more uneasy about Mr Trump, Mr Hassan says: "Have no fear. What you hear is mere intimidation, programmed by misleading Takfiri [branding others infidels] groups and the media of certain defeated American parties that support extremists at the expense of the people in the region and their interests."

The team behind the Trump fan page on Facebook offered a similar message to people in the region: "Don’t believe the fake news media. They want to put you against Trump for their own gains while the reality is that Trump is a moderate person, a successful negotiator and businessman who may be the best hope to broker good deals in the region and help the Middle East be great again."

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