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Thursday, October 30, 2008

The American Election in Qatar

Finally a safe topic of conversation...

Sometimes the topics of conversation between expats and locals in Qatar can be a bit limited. It's best not to ask men about their wives (the opposite does not seem to apply), unless you are Muslim you probably don't want to talk too much about religion (it is taken a lot more seriously than in my country, the UK) and there are a number of other topics it's usually best to stay clear of. (See Qatar Do's and Don'ts!)

So the US election makes a great change. It's a really safe topic of conversation, in that nobody in the world outside America wants Mc Cain to win - in the Doha debates only 13% of the audience voted in favour of Mc Cain, and similar figures appear to have been reflected around the world - and everyone can agree with each other quite happily that Obama would be the better choice.

Nevertheless, there is scepticism as to whether he will actually be allowed to win. Several Arabs I have spoken have expressed doubt over whether an America much of the Arab world perceive to be racist will allow a black man to win the election.

It's interesting that William Baker, an American brought up in a Palestinian village, argued in Arabs, Islam and the Middle East that Arabs do not really perceive coloured people from America to be American, but more as a fellow oppressed people. Perhaps this is why Obama is so popular in the Middle East, but it also bodes well for negotiations in the area should he win.

Muslims in the area will note that Obama had a Muslim stepfather, and hope that he may have more understanding of them. Having spent years in Indonesia as a child, he may well have more ideas of how to deal with a completely different culture and mindset, so alien from America, and be able to put aside the bludgeon approach of the Bush years. Certainly more than Palin, who first went abroad in 2007 and whose "gosh-darn I'm a hockey mum" approach bespeaks of a simplicity that would be worrying when dealing with the minefield of Middle Eastern politics.

So, it's nice to have a topic of conversation that you can agree on, assuming that you and the person speaking to are in the 87% of people who approve of Obama. But it will be even nicer if Obama wins the election and manages to restore America's reputation in the Middle East!

Update: It seems that Mc Cain may have even less support than this amongst Qatar Internet Users! A Qatar Living poll gave just 10% to Mc Cain. Obama should be happy with 60%, although a massive 30% say that they just don't care!