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Winning Over Hearts & Minds

November 6, 2008 by  


By Sumayyah Meehan MMNS Middle East Correspondent

2008-11-05T095302Z_01_AFR04_RTRMDNP_3_USA-ELECTION-NIGERIA

Nigerians celebrate U.S. President-elect Senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) historic White House victory in Lagos November 5, 2008. People across Africa sang and danced with joy on Wednesday as the Illinois senator they see as one of their own became the first black U.S. president.

REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye (NIGERIA)

The brunt of the failed Bush administration has impacted the Middle East more than anywhere else in the World. Bush’s War on Terror, purported “Axis of Evil,” and the continued aggressions in Iraq and Afghanistan, are just a few of the reasons why most people living in the Gulf not only abhor the West but are also mistrustful of anything America has to say.

All that changed in an instant.

It changed the moment President-Elect Barack ‘Hussein’ Obama was declared the hands-down winner in this past Tuesday’s US Presidential election.

The historic election, which has seen the first African-American to ever elected president, was not a sure thing despite favorable polls predicting an Obama win–because many factors were working against him from the beginning.

The Republicans tied Obama to both domestic and Islamic terrorism for no other reason than to make sure Republican Candidate John McCain won, whether ‘by hook or by crook’. 

President-Elect Barack Obama’s race was also feared to be a factor with many racial slurs being promoted online. In one popular email forward voters were warned from turning the White House ‘black’. However, throughout it all, President-elect Obama carried on in dignity, walking with that dignity all the way to the presidency.

In America, his middle name ‘Hussein’ was often used against him with many misguided Americans accusing President-Elect Obama of being a Muslim ‘in hiding’.

However, his middle name has made him more likeable in the Gulf, as a common name in the region. Also, the fact that President-elect Obama’s father was raised as a Muslim and that he attended school with Muslims makes most Gulf residents feel he will be more sensitive to Islamic issues than his predecessor, and those who surrounded his predecessor, whose every word seemed to indicate contempt for Islam and a severe aversion to having any cultural or religious understanding.  

In this way Obama, has won over the hearts of many living in the Gulf who believe him when he said, in his Victory Speech, “And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.”

However, politically speaking, most Gulf countries are more conservative in their thinking and have more in common with Republicans than the Democrats.

As President-elect Obama sets to work choosing his Cabinet, and prepares for his official inaugraturtation on January 20, 2009, there is a sense that many heads of Gulf States are collectively holding their breaths as they keep a watchful eye on President-Elect Obama’s next move.

The most pressing issue is what stance the new president will take with Iran. Will he allow the supposed nuclear proliferation of Iran to go on unabated, which could make it a force to be reckoned with in the future?

Or will he take measures to ensure that Iran poses no danger to its’ neighbors as well as Western interests? These questions will hopefully be answered as soon as President-elect Obama takes his seat in the Oval Office where he will have to work hard to win over the minds of many in the Middle East.

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