Trump Sides With Authoritarians in Middle East, Says He Doesn’t Care About Human Rights

Emboldened by US President Donald Trump, authoritarian leaders of the Mideast have cracked down on their perceived internal adversaries, with mass expulsions, arrests, deportations, media blackouts, shutdowns and even, in the case of Saudi Arabia, the murder of a journalist.

In 2017, Middle Eastern countries cut off diplomatic and economic relations with Qatar, started saber-rattling threats against Iran, escalated a brutal war in Yemen, and essentially destroyed the US role in mediating peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

In May 2017, President Trump met with autocratic leaders of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, telling them “we are not here to lecture you, we are not here to tell other people how to live.” In contrast to the Obama Administration, he promised to remain silent on issues of human rights, offering tacit approval to take a hard line on internal dissent, labeling it with the broad brush of “counter-terrorism.” Trump sided with the Gulf States against Iran and gave a green light to wage economic warfare against Qatar. He demonstrated his solidarity with Saudi leaders by participating in a sword dance.

Just days after Trump’s visit, Bahrain cracked down on its Shi’ite majority, arresting 290 protestors and killing five. Bahrain’s only independent newspaper was shut down.

Human rights activists in Bahrain said the situation worsened dramatically after Trump’s Middle East summit.

On June 5, 2017 Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut off diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar, and ordered thousands of Qataris to leave their countries within 14 days. “Families ripped apart, freedom of expression under attack amid political dispute in the Gulf,” Amnesty International reported. In the UAE, any person who questioned the dispute with Qatar on social media would face immediate imprisonment of 3 to 15 years.

One day after the Gulf States and Egypt severed diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar, Trump on Twitter took credit for the dispute and accused Qatar of supporting terrorism by tolerating the Muslim Brotherhood. “During my recent trip to the Middle East, I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology. Leaders pointed to Qatar – look!” the President tweeted. 

Trump’s former aide, Steve Bannon, helped organize the summit in Saudi Arabia and has had close ties to the UAE for years, well before he joined the Trump campaign and even after his ouster from the White House. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Crown Prince, met with Bannon and other Trump aides before Trump took office, and met with Trump at the White House, ostensibly to discuss bilateral cooperation on trade and investments.

As in the dispute over the 2016 US election results, there are charges of Russian hacking, and UAE involvement. Qatar claimed it was hacked by either Russia or the UAE, which set off the diplomatic crisis. Qatar’s Emir allegedly went onto social media to post incendiary remarks praising Iran, Hamas, and criticizing Trump. Qatar’s neighboring countries took immediate offense, but Qatar claimed the emir never made the incendiary remarks but was hacked. That denial didn’t stop Qatar’s neighbors from launching the embargo.


“Together We Prevail” was the banner headline in government-controlled  (UAE) National newspaper in May 2017 with a full spread picture of Trump with King Salman. “Trump in Riyadh: The United States and the Arabian Gulf reset their relationship with a historic presidential visit to reinforce the values of security, stability and prosperity.”

In a speech to the Arab Islamic American Summit, Trump urged Gulf leaders to “drive out” the “crisis of Islamic extremism.” He announced investments of $400 billion between KSA and the US, specifically $110 billion for a Saudi-funded defense purchase.

Drill Deeper:


Qatar Crisis

Trump & UAE

Bahrain Crisis

Trump and Saudi Arabia

War in Yemen

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