Arabs heed Obama's call for change

Could the Democrat hopeful help the US rebuild its relationship with the Arab world?


    The US invasion of Iraq deepened the mistrust Arabs
    feel toward the US [EPA]
    If it were not for Barack Obama, many Arabs would not even bother to follow the results of the US presidential race on Super Tuesday.

    Such gloomy views could be attributed to Arabs' negative attitudes toward governments and politics in general.

    Arabs have been living under authoritarian governments, many of them US allies, for decades.

    And the US's traditional support for Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian land, coupled with the war on Iraq, has meant Arab mistrust of the US has dipped to new lows in recent years.

    Against this backdrop, it is easy to see why many Arabs will not be following the latest news from the US presidential primary elections.

    'Offensive' rhetoric

    Many do not see any serious differences between the Republican and Democratic candidates who are taking part in the race.

    Republican candidates have been broadly supportive of the Bush administration's foreign policies toward Iraq and Israel and often use rhetoric about Islam and terrorism that many Arabs find offensive.

    Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, has spoken at length about the theological nature of the "war of terrorism."

    Rudy Giuliani, who dropped out of the race last week, also alienated many in the Middle East by appointing pro-Israeli advisors such as Norman Podhoretz and Martin Kramer, who are well known for their rejection of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

    Disappointing Democrats

    Leading Democratic candidates have, in may ways, been even more disappointing for Arabs.

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    John Edwards, who has presented himself domestically as a champion for the rights of the poor, adopted a hawkish stance on the Israel-Palestinian conflict by backing the illegal separation barrier, Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and its reluctance to engage Palestinians in serious peace negotiations.

    Senator Hillary Clinton has also been a big disappointment.

    As First Lady, she was known, and lauded, for her support of the establishment on an independent Palestinian state.

    However, since she decided to run for the US senate her position on the Middle East has changed.

    Clinton, like Edwards, backed pro-Israeli positions on the status of Jerusalem and has also taken a hawkish position on US military action against Iran.

    The Obama factor

    Super Tuesday

    A total of 24 US states are holding primaries or caucuses on 5 Feb

    It is the day when the largest number of nominating delegates for both Republicans and Democrats are up for grabs

    52 per cent of Democratic delegates and 41 per cent of Republican delegates are at stake

    Key states include California - with the most amount of delegates for a single state - Georgia, Illinois and New York

    Started in 1988 after some southern US states decided to hold primaries simultaneously to boost southern influence in choosing a candidate

    However, many Arabs look at Obama differently.

    This could be because of his distant Islamic and African roots or because of the fact that he is an African-American.

    Many Arabs are all too familiar with the discrimination and inequality that Africans-Americans have traditionally suffered in America.

    Consequently, they may believe that an African-American president is more capable of understanding their grievances when it comes to the negative impact that US foreign policy has on their lives.

    However, Obama's foreign policy positions are still unclear to many Arabs hoping to a see a different kind of US president.

    Obama's focus on change and hope in his rhetoric may resonate in the Arab world and, accordingly, some Arabs will be watching him on Super Tuesday.

    Ultimately, ordinary Arabs cannot follow the details of the American presidential election and the specific policies of each candidate.

    They only see the big picture on the ground in Gaza, Iraq, and Lebanon.

    Nonetheless, a victory for Obama on Tuesday may give Arabs some justification to follow the US's long presidential race until November with some enthusiasm.

    Alaa Bayoumi is an Al Jazeera Middle East analyst.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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