CAIRO (AFP) – Middle Eastern newspapers on Thursday welcomed Barack Obama’s election victory, but warned against hopes of rapid or radical policy change in the region ravaged most by Obama’s predecessor.
Newspaper editorials hailed Obama’s historic win as a welcome change for the United States after eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency, but cautioned that Washington’s regional priorities would always be Israel and oil.
Egypt’s official Al-Ahram daily headlined with, “Obama rewrites American history,” describing election night as “an evening to get rid of racism in an American way.”
Egypt’s independent Al-Badil newspaper headlined with “Obama is president… and America changes its stripes.”
But Obama’s victory “doesn’t mean that we’re about to witness a radical change in American policy,” Al-Badil’s editorial wrote, because change “doesn’t depend on the colour of your skin.”
Obama’s presidency would not change the way “Arab affairs” are dealt with, the paper said, as US policy consists of “preserving Israel’s superiority over all its Arab neighbours and (having) oil at an acceptable price.”
Damascus, long targeted by Bush’s administration for allegedly sponsoring terrorism in neighbouring Iraq and Lebanon, appealed again for dialogue and for the United State to “tell the truth.”
“Syria extends the hand of dialogue, and expects the hand of president-elect Barack Obama,” the official Ath Thawra daily said in an editorial.
Lebanon’s As-Safir, close to Syrian and Iranian-backed parties, said that “Obama reconciles the US with itself and the world.”
“What happened yesterday was beautiful, wonderful and brings hope to America,” said an editorial. “But what will Obama do to erase the negative image of the United States overseas left over by the Bush administration?
“It won’t serve Obama to have won the United States but to lose the rest of the world like his predecessors,” the editorial said.
An editorial in the English-language Daily Star said that “Obama’s election is just the beginning of a long and uncertain road.” In light of Bush’s many “monstrous” mistakes and his “colossal failures” Obama faced a daunting task.
“Following one of the worst leaders of modern times allows plenty of room for improvement, but it also means negotiating a minefield of hotspots in which a single misstep can make matters even worse,” it added.
Iran, long in the crosshairs of the US and Israel for its controversial nuclear programme, hailed the African-American’s victory but warned that Obama’s stated desire for dialogue with Iran should be treated with caution.
“History changed, first black US president,” the Etemad Melli daily headlined, while the hardline Kayhan newspaper’s front page read “The hawk came dressed as a dove.”
“Obama’s view on talks with Iran is not strategic, it is a hostile tactic,” read its editorial. “He does not regard talks as a means to reach a solution but as a way to increase pressures on Iran.”
The Saudi daily Al-Riyadh hailed the significance of Obama’s ability to “shatter the culture of racial discrimination” by grabbing the Oval Office, but warned Arabs and Muslims not to expect him to change US policies toward their causes unless they learn to uphold their own interests.
“Obama will not roll out his prayer rug in a mosque,” the paper said, “nor will he convert to Islam or be an enemy of Israel or pull his troops out of blazing spots such as Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The Emirati daily Al-Khaleej sounded a similar note of caution.
“Arabs who believe that the president who brought change to America will return the compliment simply because they prayed for his triumph are wrong.”
Obama’s approach to the Middle East “will be dictated by US interests, which include Israel’s interests, until such a time when the Arabs act to impose a different policy,” the paper said.