Politics

How Saudi Media Covered Trump's Visit

May 22nd 2017

By:
Kyle Jaeger

President Donald Trump's first foreign trip — which kicked off in Saudi Arabia on Saturday — earned him a sort of coverage from Saudi officials and news publications over the weekend that may come as a surprise to many Americans.

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In an email featuring samples of front pages from newspapers around the region, the White House celebrated the "great coverage" on Monday. Part of the email was tweeted out by Bloomberg's White House reporter Jennifer Jacobs which showed covers that gave him outsized praise.

The three main points of interest in the papers concerned multi-billion-dollar deals the Trump administration struck with the Saudi government, his comments about Iran, and his speech calling for Muslim leaders to step up their efforts to combat extremist violence.

1. "Jobs, jobs, jobs."

At the close of his first day in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, Trump made a brief joint statement alongside Saudi King Salman, touting "tremendous investments" into the U.S., which he said would generate "jobs, jobs, jobs."

The business contracts and other investments amounted to about $300 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported. The investments are primarily concentrated in oil and defense deals, including a $110 billion arms deal that represented a break with the former President Barack Obama's administration.

Obama declined to sell certain weapons to Saudi Arabia that were included in the deal "over concerns that it would be used to kill civilians in the war in neighboring Yemen," The New York Times reported.

2. Taking a hard line on Iran.

Trump distanced himself from critical remarks he made about Saudi Arabia as a presidential candidate and citizen during his trip. Though he previously accused the Saudi government of playing a direct role in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and said the country wants "women as slaves and to kill gays" in a Facebook post last year, he shifted his criticism toward Iran over the weekend.

"From Lebanon to Iraq to Yemen, Iran funds arms and trains terrorists, militias, and other extremist groups that spread destruction and chaos across the region," he said during a speech to Muslim leaders on Sunday. "It is a government that speaks openly of mass murder, vowing the destruction of Israel, death to America, and ruin for many leaders and nations in this very room."

That shift played well in Saudi Arabia, a Sunni monarchy that has strained relations with Shiite-majority Iran. Both countries blame each other for the rise in extremist violence in the region — and the Obama administration was careful not to make it seem like it was choosing sides. Trump, meanwhile, pressed Sunni Muslim leaders to join together in a collective effort to fight terrorism and restrain Iran.

3. The big speech.

Political analysts worried that the main event of the Saudi Arabia stop — a speech to Muslim leaders by a president known for decrying "radical Islamic extremism," calling for a ban on Muslim immigration to the U.S., and suggesting that "Islam hates" Americans — would end up offending the Muslim world and hurt relations in the region.

But the speech ultimately surprised observers, as Trump did not use the divisive term "Islamic radical extremism" and instead offered tempered comments on the importance of unifying Muslim countries in the global fight against terrorism.

"We are not here to lecture — we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship," Trump said. "Instead, we are here to offer partnership — based on shared interests and values — to pursue a better future for us all."

The favorable reception of the speech by Saudi officials and newspapers is due, in part, to the lack of criticism directed at the country's documented human rights abuses, which is something Obama addressed when he first visited Saudi Arabia in 2009, NBC News reported.

All told, U.S. and foreign observers have expressed mixed reactions to Trump's visit to Saudi Arabia.

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Some conservatives described his approach as presidential and refreshingly restrained, while others felt he gave the country a pass over issues that Trump himself raised in the past. Liberals cited moments of apparent hypocrisy, such as Trump's slight bow before the Saudi king to accept an honorary medal, which he previously criticized Obama over, or the departure from his inflammatory anti-Muslim rhetoric in general.

For the Saudi government and media though, the trip seemed to go over well — for reasons that make sense in context.