At about 3:30 a.m. on Nov. 9, Donald Trump received his first congratulatory phone call as president-elect. It came from Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. In the weeks since then, Egyptian officials pointed to the call as a symbol of a new era in U.S.-Egypt relations, which soured considerably after the July 2013 coup d’état that overthrew the elected government of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi and brought Sisi to power. Egyptian officials were so happy with the outcome of the election that Sisi reportedly considered attending the inauguration.
Sisi stayed in Cairo, but Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, showed up in person. It is not unusual for some foreign ambassadors to attend the inaugural ceremonies; the presence of someone as senior as Cavusoglu was. A delegation of Israeli settlers also made the trip to celebrate the Trump presidency. No one from the Arab Gulf states attended. Unlike the Egyptians, Israelis and Turks, who seem positively giddy over Trump, the Saudis and Emiratis have taken a more cautious approach to change at the White House — but they nevertheless seem pleased to put the Barack Obama era behind them.
It all seems rather strange given how Trump rode to power, winking at Islamophobes as well as anti-Semites and otherwise appealing to isolationists. If there was any sign during the long campaign about Trump’s approach to the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy more generally, it was retrenchment. That is not good for Washington’s major regional allies, yet leaders in these countries seem willing to overlook this inconvenient fact in favor of a fantasy that Trump will be a better steward of their security and American interests than was Obama.