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Saudis silent as Arab leaders welcome Biden, though some likely preferred Trump

Most states send laudatory missives; Riyadh, which enjoyed particularly good relations with the incumbent, and which may suffer under Biden administration, has yet to comment

(1st row, from L) President of Iraq Fuad Masum, Yemen's President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi Mansour, President of Lebanon Michel Aoun, President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir, King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Emir of Kuweit Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, Emirati President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman Al-Saud (2nd row, From R) Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, President of the Algerian Senate Abdelkader Bensalah, Libya's unity government Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh, President of Somalia Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, Omani Deputy Prime Minister Fahd Bin Mahmud Al-Said, Prince Moulay Rachid of Morocco, President of the Comoros Azali Assoumani and Qatari Ambassador to Arab leaque Saif Bin Muqaddam Al-Buainain during the 29th Summit of the Arab League at the Ithra center in Dhahran, Eastern Saudi Arabia, on April 15, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / STR)
(1st row, from L) President of Iraq Fuad Masum, Yemen's President Abdrabuh Mansour Hadi Mansour, President of Lebanon Michel Aoun, President of Sudan Omar al-Bashir, King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, King Abdullah II of Jordan, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, Emir of Kuweit Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, Emirati President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman Al-Saud (2nd row, From R) Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, President of the Algerian Senate Abdelkader Bensalah, Libya's unity government Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh, President of Somalia Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, Omani Deputy Prime Minister Fahd Bin Mahmud Al-Said, Prince Moulay Rachid of Morocco, President of the Comoros Azali Assoumani and Qatari Ambassador to Arab leaque Saif Bin Muqaddam Al-Buainain during the 29th Summit of the Arab League at the Ithra center in Dhahran, Eastern Saudi Arabia, on April 15, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / STR)

From Cairo to Baghdad to Doha, heads of state across the Middle East sent their congratulations to US President-elect Joe Biden on Saturday night after his victory in the presidential election against incumbent Donald Trump.

One major player, however, has remained silent. Saudi Arabia, which is widely believed to have preferred Trump to Biden, has yet to publicly comment on Biden’s victory.

“Congratulations to President-elect Joe Biden and VP-elect Kamala Harris,” Jordanian King Abdullah II said in a tweet. “I look forward to working with you on further advancing the solid historic partnership between Jordan and the United States, in the interest of our shared objectives of peace, stability and prosperity.”

Jordan, an important regional ally to both Israel and the United States, had a difficult relationship with the outgoing president. While relations between the Jordanian government and the United States remained close during the Trump years, the American administration’s policies were often deeply unpopular among the kingdom’s pro-Palestinian majority.

Trump was as divisive a president in the Middle East as he was at home in the United States, cultivating close ties with some governments and engendering bitter enmity from others. Trump forged especially good relations with a regional alliance of largely Sunni Muslim states, including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, right, walks with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi upon his arrival at an Arab summit at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, March 27, 2015. (AP Photo/MENA, Mohammed Samaha)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi was the first Arab leader to congratulate Biden on his victory.

“El-Sissi looks forward to cooperation and common action so as to strengthen bilateral strategic relations between Egypt and the United States for the good of both nations and the two friendly peoples,” said Egyptian presidential spokesperson Bassam Radi.

The former general was widely reported to prefer Trump, with whom he enjoyed an excellent personal rapport. Trump once referred to Sissi as “my favorite dictator.”

“We know the chemistry which exists between el-Sissi and Trump,” popular pro-military TV commentator Amr Adeeb said before the election. “If I were American, I’d pick Trump.”

Some Egyptians also take a dim view of Biden’s former boss, president Barack Obama, for his support for the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government in 2012. After popular protests and a subsequent military coup deposed the Brotherhood in July 2013, Obama briefly suspended billions in US aid to Egypt.

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani also congratulated Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris. The Trump administration saw a major blockade of Qatar by its neighbors, including Saudi Arabia. A Biden administration could reset regional dynamics, leading to a change in Qatar’s relationship with Saudi Arabia and its allies.

“My best wishes to the people of the United States and I look forward to working together to continue strengthening the friendship between our countries,” Qatar’s leader tweeted.

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, sent his congratulations as well.

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, June 1, 2018 (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, Pool)

“Our sincere wishes for further development and prosperity for the American people. The UAE and USA are friends and allies with a strong historic partnership that we look forward to strengthening together,” bin Zayed said in a tweet.

The UAE recently inked a peace treaty with Israel as part of a normalization agreement that Trump helped broker. Much like Egypt and its large neighbor Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi reportedly hoped that Trump would remain in power.

Bahraini King Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa sent a letter to Biden congratulating him on his election win, according to a statement carried in state media. Bahrain, like the UAE, also recently signed a normalization deal with Israel.

“The Kingdom of Bahrain values its historical, strong, and extensive relations with the United States of America, which are more than 120 years old. We will work to continue constructive cooperation at every level which strengthens strategic relations,” King Hamad said in a statement.

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok congratulated Biden. Sudan recently agreed to make peace with Israel after Trump removed Khartoum from the US State Department’s blacklist of state terror sponsors. The move was enormously controversial in the country, where there is little evident popular appetite for relations with Israel.

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok at a press conference in Khartoum, Sudan, August 21, 2019 (AP Photo)

“On behalf of the Sudanese people, I congratulate @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris for their election as President & Vice President. Looking forward to working closely with them both to continue building bridges of friendship and cooperation between our two nations and countries,” Hamdok said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi also congratulated Biden. The former vice president is a controversial figure among many Iraqis, however, who recall his strong support for the 2003 Iraqi war.

“I extend my congratulations to the President-elect of the United States of America Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, and I look forward to strengthening the strategic ties between our two countries towards a future based on mutual respect and the values of joint and close cooperation in order to overcome challenges, support peace and security, and achieve stability and prosperity,” al-Kadhimi said.

In his congratulatory note, Lebanese President Michel Aoun “expressed his hope that during his term there will be balance in Lebanese-American relations for what is in the interest of the friendly Lebanese and American peoples.”

Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, was silent as of Sunday afternoon. Trump enjoyed a close relationship with his “friend” Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. He bucked a growing international consensus that bin Salman ordered the murder of opposition journalist Jamal Khashoggi and vetoed a resolution that would have ended American military support for the controversial Saudi-led campaign in Yemen.

Biden, however, has had harsh words for his predecessor’s perceived leniency towards the kingdom. He has promised to “review the US relationship with the government of Saudi Arabia and end support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.”

“I would make it very clear we were not going to in fact sell more weapons to them. We were going to in fact make them pay the price, and make them in fact the pariah that they are,” Biden said in 2019.

Since Biden’s win was announced, Saudi Arabia has issued congratulatory statements to two other heads of state, including a note to the president of Tanzania on his reelection. It has yet to comment on the Biden victory.

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