x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

The world responds to Obama's election

Around most of the world, the election of the United State's first African-American president is enthusiastically welcomed. Antipathy for George Bush is quickly being displaced by hopes invested in Barack Obama's new style of leadership. A notable exception is Russia where the US elections were largely ignored, while among those who followed the contest, the largest number expressed no preference about the outcome.

"Iraqis sat transfixed by their televisions watching Barack Obama's acceptance speech, then launched into vigorous debate about what his election means for them. Cafes and street markets were alive with chatter about the historic poll, which many Iraqis feel will affect their country more than any other outside of America," The Guardian reported. "Baghdad residents are not renowned as early risers, but thousands took to local coffee houses as the extent of Obama's sweeping victory became clear shortly after dawn. "'He will speak and talk rather than use a weapon,' said one elderly Baghdadi, who called himself Abu Issa, as he drank coffee in al-Amir cafe, in the capital's Karada neighbourhood. 'He will talk with Iran and prefer a peaceful track to more war. The situation in Iraq depends on the status of the relations between Iran and the US, so hopefully things will be better for Iraq.' "Iraqis appeared sharply divided on the election's ramifications, with many believing a sudden change from the painful but entrenched policies of the departing Bush regime could prove disastrous." Al Jazeera said: "At an election night gathering for American-Afghans and other foreign nationals, organised by the US embassy in Kabul, a mock poll saw 74 out of 77 votes cast in favour of Obama by the mixed group, according to Zubair Babakarkhail, who attended the event. "Babakarkhail, a journalist with the independent Afghan news agency Pajhwok, said event at Kabul's Serena Hotel was held in a room decorated with red and blue while badges of the two candidates were distributed. "However, it was the 'Obama badges that were being snapped up by most people. We in Afghanistan mainly supported Obama. It is a historic election not just for Americans but for the whole world,' he said." McClatchy Newspapers reported: "The election drew intense interest in the Middle East, where residents gathered before dawn in cafes, bars and army bases to watch the historic election unfold. "Even if they disagreed with his politics, Israelis and Palestinians, Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Arabs and Jews all saw Obama's victory as a transformative event for the United States and the world. Across the Middle East, there was broad recognition that Americans were embracing a new strategy for the region - one that relies on diplomacy. Many saw that as a change for the better. "In a Beirut restaurant, Miriam, a 28-year-old from southern Lebanon said her two brothers, both members of Hizbollah, see Obama as an American leader who is willing to take diplomatic risks to avoid military confrontations. "'They think Obama will not damage the Middle East the way Bush did, and they were afraid if McCain made it, the whole region would be in danger,' she said. "The daunting challenge facing Obama in trying to bring new stability to the Middle East was made clear Tuesday when Israel broke a relatively-stable, four-month-old cease fire with Hamas by staging a deadly air strike in the Gaza Strip and sending a small number of troops into the Hamas-controlled region. At least five Palestinians were killed in the attacks. "Perhaps the most serious reservations in the region about Obama can be found in Israel, where some worry that his pledge to engage America's adversaries is politically naive. "Those concerns were reflected in a poll in Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that showed Israelis favour McCain over Obama, 46 per cent to 34 per cent. "'Obama as president, it seems that our hands would be tied and we would be pressed to do things that we don't want to do,' said Yona Mishane, a Jerusalem plumber who expressed hope that the president-elect would eventually recognise that supporting Israel 'is the right thing to do'. "But Danny Ayalon, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States who is now part of the hawkish Yisrael Beitenu party, said that the fears about Obama's approach might be unfounded." Der Spiegel reported: "Just a few hours after Barack Obama was elected US president, Moscow hit out at Washington's 'selfish' foreign policy on Wednesday. In his first address to the nation, President Medvedev said Russia plans to install short-range missiles in its Kaliningrad enclave in Eastern Europe. "The world may have woken up to the election of a new president in the United States, but global political tensions haven't gone away. One of the many foreign policy issues President-elect Barack Obama will soon have to face is the increasingly frosty relationship with Russia. And if Wednesday marked the dawn of a new era in Washington, the tone coming from Moscow was decidedly reminiscent of the Cold War." RFE/RL said: "According to a recent public opinion poll by the independent Levada Center, nearly two-thirds of Russians did not even pay attention to the US election. Among the minority who followed the election, 35 per cent supported Obama, 14 per cent backed Republican John McCain, 37 per cent said they did not care who won, and 14 per cent were undecided. "In contrast, a recent BBC poll of 22,000 people in 22 countries showed Obama favoured by a four-to-one margin. The poll shows Obama enjoying the support of 62 per cent of the population in France, 61 per cent in Germany, 87 per cent in his deceased father's native Kenya, and 71 per cent in Nigeria. "'This rock-star phenomenon that exists in Europe and elsewhere doesn't exist in Russia,' says Andrei Piontkovsky, a Washington-based Russian political analyst. 'He will never be the romantic figure for Russians that Kennedy was during my youth.' "Part of the reason, Piontkovsky says, is the general anti-Western - and specifically anti-American - mood in Russia today. 'The propaganda coming from the Kremlin now identifies America as an enemy and any American president will be Russia's enemy,' he says. "Analysts also say that it is impossible to ignore the role of racism - both latent and manifest - and how it will affect Russians' opinion of Obama. "Piontkovsky notes, for example, that approximately 60 people were killed in racially motivated attacks this year alone in Russia. "Others point out that the Russia's state-controlled media often used subtle racial stereotypes and off-colour jokes to describe US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice during periods of tension between Moscow and Washington." The New York Times presented a survey of global opinion on the election result. "Francis Nyamnjoh, a Cameroonian novelist and social scientist, said he saw Mr Obama less as a black man than 'as a successful negotiator of identity margins'. "His ability to inhabit so many categories mirrors the African experience. Mr Nyamnjoh said that for America to choose as its citizen in chief such a skillful straddler of global identities could not help but transform the nation's image, making it once again the screen upon which the hopes and ambitions of the world are projected. "Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at the People's University of China, said Mr Obama's background, particularly his upbringing in Indonesia, made him suited to understanding the problems facing the world's poorer nations. "He and others say they hope the next American president will see their place more firmly within the community of nations, engaging in what Jairam Ramesh, junior commerce minister in the Indian government, called 'genuine multilateralism and not in muscular unilateralism'. "Assuming Mr Obama does play by international rules more fully, as he has promised, can his government live up to all the expectations? "'We have so many hopes and wishes that he will never be able to fulfil them,' said Susanne Grieshaber, 40, an art adviser in Berlin who was one of 200,000 Germans to attend a speech by Mr Obama there in July. She cited action to protect the environment, reducing the use of force and helping the less fortunate. In essence, she wants Mr Obama to make his country more like hers. But she is sober. 'I'm preparing myself for the fact that peace and happiness are not going to suddenly break out,' she said. "Many in less developed countries - especially in the Arab world - agree that Mr Obama will not carry out their wishes regarding American policy toward Israel and much else, and so they shrug off the results as ultimately making little difference. "'We will be optimistic for two months but that's it,' predicted Huda Naim, 38, a member of the Hamas parliament here who said her 15-year-old son had watched Mr Obama's rise with rapt attention." pwoodward@thenational.ae