As Americans go to the polls Tuesday, many progressives are enthusiastically or reluctantly voting for Hillary Clinton as a rebuke to Donald Trump. However, U.S. elections have an outsized impact on the people of other countries around the world, and it is humbling and instructive to take a step back for a minute to consider how America and its presidential frontrunners are perceived elsewhere and why. We owe it to our fellow humans around the globe to keep up the fight for more humane U.S. policies–no matter who wins.
A November 1 poll by the Arab Center Washington DC, conducted in cooperation with the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Doha, found that about 60 percent of adults living in eight countries (Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia) have been following our election process at least occasionally. Yes, that percentage is likely particularly high due to the tabloid/yellow journalism nature of this year’s slugfest. But it’s a perennial fact that young people in countries at the other end of our drones, military aid, etc., tend to be much more informed about foreign affairs than their peers in America.
“Personally, I don’t really want to follow the news, because it causes nothing but a feeling of misery. But I have to watch and listen because I’m part of the world,” explains Hanin Elholy, a writer from Gaza for We Are Not Numbers. “What happens in America especially affects the whole world in general and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular. In other words, our lives.”
Arabs’ interest in following our democratic political process, however, does not lead to a positive perception of our impact on the world, particularly their region. The majority of respondents in every Arab country represented in the poll viewed the impact of our foreign policy as more negative than positive. Respondents from Iraq, Morocco and Tunisia had the most positive view of our foreign policy, but still, even there, only slightly more than a third had a very or somewhat favorable opinion.
The respondents in Algeria and Palestine expressed the most negative views of U.S. foreign policy. And can you blame them? The reasons for Algerians’ antipathy are complex, but the source of Palestinians’ dim view is obvious: We have played a long and destructive role as Israel’s protector even as we claim to be the best broker of a just end to its occupation of Palestine. And sadly, although Palestinians have a more positive view of Clinton than Trump, more than half do not believe her win will bring a significant improvement if any at all. (Green candidate Jill Stein was not included in the choices.)
Hanin Elholy is typical: “If I had to choose, certainly I’d pick Hillary,” she says. “Yes, she has a biased agenda against Arabs and Muslims, particularly Palestinians. But at least she makes some attempt to appear democratic. On the other hand, Trump is attacking severely and overtly, even before becoming president! What would he do once he has the power?”
Other Palestinians don’t see much difference between the two candidates when it comes to the impact on the region and their lives. (For a good summary of the concerns about Clinton, watch this “Letter from Gaza to Hillary.”)
“It is so clear to me that no one can take that chair [the U.S. presidency] without the agreement of the Zionist movement,” says 26-year-old Nedaa Nedal Al-Abadlah, another writer from Gaza for We Are Not Numbers. “So for me, the American elections seem to be just a play or a show! No matter who wins, the result is the same.”
And then there are some, like 15-year-old Amera Abunada, a Palestinian writer now living in Turkey, who sees even more to fear from Clinton.
“I just feel like Americans aren’t choosing between the lesser of two evils, but the quieter of two evils,” she explains. “It’s like my pet parrot, Ava, and my cat, Dusty. Dusty will be knocking stuff over loudly, so we divert all of our energy to him so he stops. And meanwhile, Ava is in the background, quietly chewing away at our couch. One is causing minor harm because he’s crazy and doesn’t know what’s left from right, and the other is meaningfully destroying our furniture. That’s the way I see the U.S. election: A crazy, loud cat distracting everyone’s attention from a quieter, but evil, bird.”