The United States has a significant military and economic presence in the UAE and also in the other five oil-endowed nations that constitute the Gulf Cooperation Council - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. Little wonder that interest in the election campaign for 45th President of the United States is high, as is anxiety about the outcome.
What Gulf challenges would the new president face? Anecdotal evidence and what's reported in the surprisingly liberal Dubai media suggest that the Democratic nominee Hillary Rodham Clinton comes far ahead of her Republican opponent, Donald John Trump, as what YouGov terms "the preferred candidate."
The United States continues to be the Gulf's guardian angel, not only maintaining bases here but also selling vast amounts of arms. (Arms sales to Gulf countries totalled $33 billion in 2015.) The economies of the Gulf states are contracting on account of fluctuating oil prices -- from $115 per barrel in 2014 to $27 in January 2016 to around $48 now - resulting in a severe drop in job prospects for outsiders from the West and developing countries. Outsiders have traditionally been recruited for management positions as well as unskilled labor. With the exception of Saudi Arabia, locals in the Gulf countries constitute a minority in their own nations. Meanwhile, the other 16 members of the Arab League are also experiencing growing unemployment and restiveness among their increasingly youthful populations.
Irrespective of who wins the American election, the new president must pay close attention to critical issues in the Middle East, home to some 350 million, of whom 200 million are under the age of 30, according to Sunil John, founder and CEO of the giant communications company, Asda'a Burson-Marsteller, who produces an acclaimed annual report on Arab youth.
During his trip to Egypt in June 2009, barely six months after his inauguration, President Obama made a major speech at Cairo University declaring that there would be "A New Beginning" for relations between the United States and the Muslim world.
"There is disappointment that followed the euphoria of Barack Obama's election as president," says Patrick Michael, the former executive editor of the Dubai-based Khaleej Times. "The average citizen is bitter about the lost opportunities to redefine US-Middle East relations. Decisiveness is what the Arab region, and the Gulf in particular, expects from the next president. The perception of America having meddled in the affairs of the Middle East for its own gains has only deepened in recent years.
"The inward-looking policies of both candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and the rising level of intolerance against Muslims in the US, have compounded the feeling that America is not sincere about the region. Addressing this crisis of confidence is what the people expect from the new president. It will not be easy and will call for tough decisions that will not appeal to right wingers. And there must be a greater focus on working with the region in driving inward investments and knowledge sharing."
Regardless of who succeeds Mr. Obama in the White House, the new president might want to dust off his Cairo speech, tweak it a bit to allow for events since then - such as the bitter conflict in Iraq and Syria with ISIS - and re-articulate America's commitment to spur sustainable economic development in the Middle East, which has its share of poor countries.
Mr. Trump or Mrs. Clinton will face worrying problems in the Middle East. Here are some issues for the new American president to cogitate and act on:
1. The extremist groupings of ISIS and Al Qaeda have expanded their operations beyond the region. They don't believe in negotiations, so the new president will have to figure out how to destroy them by force, if necessary. That would mean assembling a new coalition of Western nations and possibly other countries vulnerable to Islamic fundamentalism such as India, Pakistan and even China. The conflict in Syria between the government of President Bashar Al Assad and ISIS has already resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people.
2. Joblessness among the region's already restive youth is increasing. The new president will need to persuade American investors to establish manufacturing plants that would create jobs. An estimate by the United Nations says that at least 15 million jobs would need to be created in the next four to five years.
3. Although oil-producing countries such as the United Arab Emirates have aggressively backed the reduction of carbon emissions, the new president will have to coax other Arab countries to join the movement of addressing global warming through a major initiative of environmental protection.
4. Broadening educational and employment opportunities for girls and women should be another priority for the region. The employment rate for women is barely 23 percent, while women account for slightly more than 50 percent of the overall population.
5. Working with enterprises such as the New York based Institute of International Education - which administers the Fulbright Program - should be expanded so that more scholars from the Middle East get opportunities to spend time at American colleges and universities.
6. Affordable healthcare at primary as well as tertiary levels is also another must-do for the new president. Non-communicable heart disease, cancer and diabetes are spreading alarmingly in the Middle East. Healthcare development must include more social awareness of how best to tackle and treat these diseases.
7. In an increasingly "wired" world, many countries in the Middle East lag in offering unfettered access to digital technology. The new president can surely get American technology companies to raise their profile in the region by developing better connectivity. No citizen should be left behind as the world outside the Middle East gallops toward a wired global community that embraces all 200 countries and territories.
8. While many - if not most - Middle East countries may not be ready to embrace democracy, the new president should encourage grassroots-level representatives to strengthen local municipal councils that listen to citizens' travails and then work at resolving problems such as deteriorating infrastructure.
9. The new President must assist in the strengthening of institutions such as the judiciary to ensure that local disputes are adjudicated with fairness.
10. With more than 75 percent of the Middle East's population of 355 million being under 30, the new President must help develop programs to identify and train tomorrow's local and national leaders.
11. And then the new President needs to persuade Arabs and Jews to return to the negotiating table and work out a two-state solution for Palestinians and Israelis.
All of the above, of course, is easier said than done. But why not try? The Gulf, and the Middle East in general, await new American action.
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Source: Elder Care Huffington Post