November 5th, 2008
04:43 PM ET

Arabs extend warm "marhaba" to Obama

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/11/05/obama.aljazeera.jpg]
Octavia Nasr
CNN Arab Affairs Editor

The Arab world watched the US elections with much interest and a high level of conviction that the outcome will give them a crystal ball view into the future of relations between their countries and the United States of America.

On Arab media, on the streets, in chat rooms and in cafes, most Arabs were rooting for Barack Obama. Some say they were energized by Obama’s message, others blame what they call the failed Bush policies in the region and the fear that McCain will follow the same path. So, as soon as the announcement of Barack Obama’s victory came out, many people across the Middle East jumped for joy. The congratulatory commentaries also flew on FaceBook and other social networking sites.

Arab satellite channels gave their viewers a front seat view of the elections with explanations, guests and analysis. One thing commentators and ordinary citizens agreed on is that if the US chooses an African-American for president, they will usher in a true new era where “America will be preaching the same brands of democracy, tolerance and freedom it lives first at home.”

Now that the first test is over, on to the burning issues that President-elect Barack Obama receives from his predecessor. In one analyst’s words, “Obama has bought what Bush broke.” The “inherited” challenges are many and they’re serious, some even think they’re insurmountable. They can be broken down into what Arab media call “the hot files.”

Iran: The sizzling file that can’t wait

Iran’s unwavering nuclear ambitions are considered by many Arabs as the toughest challenge for the Obama presidency. Iran today is a far more powerful country from that of 2000 when George W. Bush took office. Iran proudly flexes its nuclear muscle –for peaceful purposes as it claims—and shows off alliances extending from Lebanon (Hezbollah) to the Palestinian territories (Hamas) to Syria and Iraq. Iran is seen as key to many of the US’ woes in the region and without a resolution of sorts to the deadlock in the relationship between the two countries, more regional tensions are feared to be on the horizon. An entire region now watches if Mr. Obama will act on his campaign rhetoric of engaging Iran, starting dialogue and trying sanctions first before resorting to a military response.

Iraq: Trouble, trouble everywhere

Barack Obama’s plan to pull US troops out of Iraq is a welcome proposition for the region. Prior to the Iraq war in 2003, very few Middle Easterners believed that Iraq had any weapons of mass destruction. As a result, the majority of people opposed the war and thought that there were “better” ways to remove Saddam Hussein from power than invasion. Now, the focus is on how President-elect Barack Obama will deal with the complicated situation. Particularly worrisome, is the inability so far for the US and Iraq to reach a security agreement for the future. With an Iraq still weighed down by sectarian divisions and insurgency attacks, can the Obama administration propose a security agreement that all Iraqi sides - Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis–will approve of?

Syria: Diplomacy or pressure in the new era?

Only a few weeks ago, a US raid against a target on the Syrian side of the Iraqi border, raised already heightened tensions between Syria and the United States. The US said the target was a Syrian smuggling ring of Arab terrorists into Iraq. Syria’s foreign minister lashed out at the attack and called it, “US aggression against innocent civilians” and demanded an apology. Following the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, the US’ rhetoric against Syria was raised to an all time high with President Bush calling on Syria repeatedly to “stop meddling in Lebanon’s business.” During his campaign Mr. Obama expressed his position on Syria’s actions saying they pose a threat to Israel as well as Iraq. The Syrian state-controlled Tishreen newspaper published a few days ago an editorial under the headline, “Everyone knows that the period of US foolishness is over.” In it the newspaper said, "It is better for them to recognize their mistakes publicly and apologize” from Americans, Arabs and Muslims.

These might be “the sizzling files” which Arab media believe should be addressed first. But, there are many more files needing immediate attention of course. Terrorism is on the mind of many in the face of a sharp rise in fundamentalism activity across the Middle East and North Africa. Extreme ideologies are spreading across the land with more terror groups pledging allegiance to al Qaeda and carrying out attacks in its name. Not to mention that Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri remain at large with no clear plan from Mr. Obama on how he plans to deal with their threat or what method he’ll follow to bring them and other terrorists to justice.

The ever-present Arab-Israeli conflict, the fate of the peace process, and the status of Jerusalem are subjects that always generate heated debate. This election is no different. During his campaign, Mr. Obama made his support for Israel clear. He articulated in no uncertain terms his rejection of any possibility of “having another Holocaust.” He had some conflicting opinions on the status of Jerusalem but at the end he left it to the Israelis and Palestinians to debate as a final agreement issue.

The failing world economy and the US’ petroleum policies under Mr. Obama are also topics of concern and intense debate in the Middle East. There are already conversations going on about how the Middle East region will be affected and the necessity to come up with new oil strategies and policies in the face of deadlines the President-elect has already set during his campaign for the US to switch to green energy and end its dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

In closing, the Iranians want to have what they believe is their right to “peaceful” nuclear energy. The Syrians want what they believe is their right to an apology. The Iraqis want what they believe is their right to their own version of a security plan. Add to that millions of Middle Easterners who want to see “change” they “can believe in.” An already full plate for President-elect Barack Obama; and that’s just one region of the world. Now that the campaigning is over and President Obama will take his oath of office in a few short weeks, all eyes will be watching whether campaign rhetoric will meet presidency pragmatism.

Filed under: Barack Obama • Octavia Nasr • Raw Politics
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Nathan Crean, lenoir NC

    and the band plays on....The world is definately a complicated place but with a little hope and perseverance maybe, just maybe, it can become a little calmer, quieter and more productive. We, the people of the US, now have the responsibility to do all we can to help the new President regain our place on the world stage for a beacon of hope and help to all races, genders and religions.

    Yes we can.

    November 6, 2008 at 12:00 pm |
  2. Trevin

    I feel as though the Obama administration will be well-respected by the Arab community. In addition to this I feel that he may be the one to find Osama Bin Laden. Obama seems like a negotiator and I know he will talk him out of his hole. Its not a racial thing anymore. I feel people are now being united no matter what color of skin you are and people around the world just want some type of change, which would start here in the US.

    November 6, 2008 at 12:00 pm |
  3. David C

    What the world needs now. I am excited about the opportunity to have more open dialogue around the globe and especially here at home in the United States. A crucial step in the healing process seems to have begun already.

    November 6, 2008 at 11:07 am |
  4. Julie San Diego, CA

    Octavia writes:
    "An entire region now watches if Mr. Obama will act on his campaign rhetoric of engaging Iran, starting dialogue and trying sanctions first before resorting to a military response."

    Octavia, anyone with half a brain can see that Iranian President I'mADinnerJacket (sorry, that is one that I will never be able to spell) REVERES our culture, is a Ladies-Man-I'm-A-Lover-Not-A-Fighter kind of guy (think Clinton), and if there's any "threat" from Iran, it will be because he's a bit of a Drama Queen...all smoke and no fire.

    Iran has more than enough money to BUY the bomb, and there's plenty of Osama-Wanna-Be's that would be willing to find one to sell it to him.

    If Iran wanted the bomb, they'd have it by now.

    Iran has been made out to be The Bad Guy because that was convenient for the Bush Administration.

    If handled appropriately, Iran could be the next Westernized Arab nation (think Turkey – Starbucks has already invaded). They're ripe for an infusion of our culture. That is how you "win wars" – a Starbucks and a Dunkin' Donuts on every corner.

    Thanks for spreading some hate and fear Octavia, but the tide has turned and America is optomistic again – it ain't gonna work this time.

    November 6, 2008 at 11:01 am |
  5. wanda shelton

    i have often wondered if his money for his presidency did not come from that area, lot of money raised. the day he takes office the whole world should be milk and honey according to him. maybe he will prove me wrong tell u it wasnt his color i did not like it was his inexperince . GOD BLESS AMERICA

    November 6, 2008 at 10:53 am |
  6. Bev

    It's already a good sign that most in the Arab world are pleased about the election results. Of course, the repugnicans will be using this as a battering ram against President-elect Obama down the road. I wonder how long the "cooperation" by repugnicans will last?

    November 6, 2008 at 9:14 am |
  7. Angel Almodovar

    i would not be surprised that now that the Israelis know who is going to be the next President: that they will attack Iran's nuclear sites before Jan 20th...

    November 5, 2008 at 8:18 pm |
  8. Larry

    Its about time we had an Arab-American president. The Arab world knows that obama is genealogically and DNA scientifically more of Arab heritage than he is African, on his dad's side.

    November 5, 2008 at 8:06 pm |
  9. Annie Kate

    Lot of issues – all of them important – hopefully we will do better by our global neighbors and ourselves under President-elect Obama than we did with the Bush administration.

    Annie Kate
    Birmingham AL

    November 5, 2008 at 8:00 pm |
  10. Mary V., Salt Lake City, UT

    Oh boy, I can imagine what the far-right will be saying about this. So in case, they start up with their attacks, let me remind the far-right that Bush and his family have had a long-intimate relationship with the Arabs!

    There are plenty of photos of Bush and the Saudi princes holding hands and kissing!

    There is no doubt that President-elect Obama will have his share of trials, crises and also......... triumphs!

    November 5, 2008 at 5:43 pm |