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Middle East: Many Arabs See Little Difference Between Bush And Kerry

  • Peyman Pejman

http://gdb.rferl.org/F6EB98BE-20B7-4ED8-953B-91D46F535131_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/F6EB98BE-20B7-4ED8-953B-91D46F535131_mw800_mh600.jpg The winner of today's election in the United States will have a strong impact on people around the world. This is particularly true for those in the Gulf and Middle East. The Iraq war, the war on terror, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and the price of oil -- all important regional issues -- have also been major campaign issues.

Dubai, 2 November 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Leaders in the Middle East have not openly said whom they would like to see in the White House the next four years, incumbent George W. Bush or Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry.

But that has not stopped the analysts and experts from expressing their views.

They say regional leaders are split in their choice of the next U.S. president, but add that at least as far as the people of the Middle East are concerned, there may not be much real difference between the two candidates.

Respected Egyptian journalist and head of Cairo's Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, Seyd Saeed, says, in his personal opinion, people in the Middle East do not have high expectations of either candidate. He says this is -- mistakenly or not -- they feel that neither candidate truly represents their interests.
"I doubt that anyone would be good for the Arab world, except for the Arab world themselves, in the sense that people have to take care of their own and not have their fate decided by reaction to what is happening outside."


"While Arab public opinion has no particular preference in the present U.S. elections, different Arab governments have different preferences. But the dominant theory in the Arab street is the theory of 'no difference.' [In other words that] the two are [generally] seen to be anti-Arab, anti-Islamic, and the two are seen to be absolutely aligned to Israel," Saeed says.

Saeed says that different governments in the region, privately, support one or the other candidate based on their own interests. He says he believes, for example, that the Saudi and Egyptian governments are rooting for different men.

"For example, Saudi Arabia has a special and very close connection to the Bush family and they have traditionally preferred Republicans over Democrats for the fact that liberals in the United States were constantly assaulting the Saudi kingdom over a variety of accusations and suspicions. Egypt certainly prefers Kerry for the fact that he might open or unleash new dynamics in regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict," Saeed says.

Saeed and other analysts in the region refer to comments made by Kerry advisers that, if elected, Kerry would appoint a high-profile special envoy to the Middle East. Among the names frequently mentioned for this post are former presidents Bill Clinton or Jimmy Carter.

Many Arabs say they are disappointed that the Bush administration, despite early attempts, has toned down its involvement in bringing Palestinian and Israeli negotiators closer to each other. Arabs, and many Israelis, see the Bush presidency as having been more pro-Israel than most other U.S. presidencies.

Others in the Middle East say Arabs should pay little attention to the U.S. elections, arguing that the Arab world must stop looking to the outside for a resolution to its internal problems.

Khaled al-Maeena, a leading Saudi commentator and the editor of the "Arab News" daily, says there is little Bush or Kerry will do to help the Middle East solve its problems.

"I doubt that anyone would be good for the Arab world, except for the Arab world themselves, in the sense that people have to take care of their own and not have their fate decided by reaction to what is happening outside. The problems of the Arab world lie with themselves, bad governance, lack of imagination, bureaucracy, wallowing in self-pity. These are the problems that we made," al-Maeena said.

Al-Maeena says, realistically, there may be little that either man, Bush or Kerry, can do to resolve the crises in Iraq or the Palestinian territories.
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