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The Arabs and Obama | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Various reactions to Obama’s nomination have begun appearing across the Arab world. A few days ago, I was discussing the topic with some Arab friends, and the myriad of opinions they expressed were as interesting as they were surprising.

Jalal, an Egyptian engineer in his late forties, asserted that one should not be optimistic about any changes Obama might implement if he is elected President, for they would be largely artificial. As a minority, Jalal argued, Obama has an inferiority complex that renders him too eager to prove himself to the Israeli lobby in the US.

Imad, a Palestinian accountant in his late thirties, had a different opinion. He represents the party of Arabs who support Obama for his well-known objection to the US invasion of Iraq. Nevertheless, Obama has displayed strong support for indefinite military action in Afghanistan and has not objected to the frenzied Israeli policy of building settlements on occupied Palestinian land or to the Israeli aggression toward Lebanon in 2006, making him no different from the others.

Jassim, a Kuwaiti businessperson in his early fifties, concluded that Obama can only follow the agenda of American society and institutions and cannot depart appreciably from the aims and strategies prepared by a seasoned administration in possession of extraordinary capabilities. Consequently, he warned, one cannot expect radical changes should Obama be elected.

Hadi, a Tunisian doctor in his early forties, sees Obama as coming from an oppressed background. Obama, he says, has witnessed first-hand the negative image of the US in many countries around the world. Hadi believes that these experiences will compel Obama to focus on promoting respect for rights and duties and international treaties and covenants. He will work against injustice and oppression around the world by means of international treaties and diplomacy, rather than constraint and the use of humiliating force, argues Hadi.

Hadi expects that under Obama the Arab world will receive its fair share of such developments. Moreover, he anticipates the criminalization of all forms of discrimination and penalization of all forms of moral and material transgressions. Hadi believes Obama will prioritize contesting such offenses, which cause sedition, division and the spread of legalized class systems within societies and between states.

It seems that Arabs are unsure of how to regard Obama if he becomes president. They caution against excessive optimism due to a history of disappointments by US presidents of whom they were initially enthusiastic. At the same time, they cannot overlook the fact that Obama is a historic candidate who may fall closer in line with their values than previous candidates. Obama might better understand Arab grievances and show concern for the causes of the troubled Arab relations with the United States. It seems likely that Obama’s arrival at the White House would usher a new chapter in US-Arab relations. The question remains: will he make it to the White House and make history? We are only a few months away from knowing, and the world, too, is waiting.