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Friday, November 07, 2008

The Obama Effect on the Middle East

Obama overlaid with a picture of a boy throwing  a stone against a tank in Israel
It's been quite extraordinary here recently, to have Arabs and locals both so excited about the election of an American man, and so positive, for a change, about something happening in America.

Few here thought a black man could win the election, for they see black people persecuted as many Arabs (though not so many Qataris) themselves feel to be persecuted.

"Not much will change," my Palestinian friend told me, before she confided to me, "But I hope he wins anyway." After his election, she was flushed with joy at work the next day.

In one stroke Americans have undone a fair chunk of the damage caused by the last eight years of the Bush administration. Of course, Israel is and always will be an issue, but the torture in Al Ghraib and the removal of fair trials for terrorist suspects have also been very damaging. Of course this goes on in much of the Arab world anyway, but that's the whole point - any gain the Americans made strategically was more than made up for in the loss of moral superiority, in the loss of respect (however grudgingly given), and by the swell in support for Al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations.

Al Qaeda will be worried. They rely on American aggression and stupidity to create the anger and desperation which they rely on. The huge swelling in support for Obama can only do their cause damage.

Of course, there are dangers too. I am not a military strategist, but I have heard of at least one senior Qatari express a hope that Mc Cain will win, if only because of the Iraq issue. The Americans should never have gone into Iraq, but with the balance of power completely changed in the area (in favour of Iran) their presence is seen by some as a balancing factor, and, whatever is stated publicly, their departure may be viewed with trepidation.

Iran will have at once the temptation of a weak Iraq and its majority Shia population on its border - and much greater pressure to compromise. Facing off the hugely unpopular Bush and his hawkish Republican party is one thing, but refusing to deal with the hugely popular Obama, a man with a lot of momentum behind him, will be a lot harder.

The Palestinian issue is incredibly complex, and few could hope to solve it. Yet as a vehicle for terrorist recruitment, the issue is also of importance far beyond the small slip of territory concerned.

Whatever Obama's personal opinion, the reality of politics in America means he has to support Israel. At least, however, he does not support the right wing party in Israel, and as he has stated he favours negotiation over conflict. Even if negotiations go nowhere very far, talking is better than conflict.

There are perhaps two main dangers, beyond that of Iran and Iraq. One is that people will expect too much, too soon, and Obama will be unable to live up to the hope he has created.

The second is the one that is at the back of everybody's mind - that he will be assassinated, an event which would leave behind anguish, anger and animosity.

Disclaimer: I do not have a PHD in Middle Eastern politics, this is a blog not a newspaper, and all the opinions here may be complete tosh!

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Also see: Barrack the Blessed on Mr Q

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