This article represents author views -
By Josh Wood - The National
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.
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
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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."
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."