President Elect Obama – Middle Eastern Perceptions

By: Michael John McCrae

I have been living and working in various parts of the Middle East since April of 2004. I am based in Kuwait, but my work takes me into Iraq, Afghanistan, Qatar and other places within the gulf region.

The bulk of my news sources are from the American side of the internet, but one local source of news (The Kuwait Times) caught my eye today with the headline: “Gulf hails ‘Muslim-linked’ Obama”…I mean, who would not open that article?

The article begins: “Arabs in the oil-rich Gulf yesterday hailed Barack Obama’s election victory with hopes his perceived Muslim links could alter US policy toward Arab and Muslim issues and that he will pull out troops of Iraq.”

One of the major considerations in the Middle East is that if the father of a child is Muslim then that status is conferred to the child. That a child might determine an exception and opt for a separation from identification with his father would be a grave act of rebellion. In many Middle Eastern societies such rebellions are harshly dealt with by family and religious leadership.

The Middle Eastern perception that Barack Hussein Obama will not rebuke his Muslim relationship is widespread. An American might be surprised at how closely the November Election was followed by Arab nations as a whole and the almost euphoric atmosphere that now prevails over much of the Middle East.

I believe much of the euphoria is based on expectation more than actual reality. One of the persons interviewed for the article is quoted, saying: “God willing, he will be better, especially that he said he wants to withdraw US troops from Iraq…”

The speaker was cited as a casual “tourist” but I believe his sentiment resides with a majority of Arabs who have absorbed the reports of Middle Eastern news sources from the time of America’s March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Much of the local news has made a big deal of Obama’s many promises to withdraw American troop within 16 months of taking office. As the only candidate suggesting such timetables Obama spread what could turn out to be a false hope that, if dashed or changed in any appreciable way, could actually damage any of America’s remaining credibility in the region.

The many opinions expressed in the article lead one to believe that on the whole Muslims accept the election of Barack Hussein Obama as a positive sign for possible changes in American Middle Eastern policy.

One quote I found heartening was: “”This confirms that the United States and its people are not racist…” But this one: “”It also sends a message to (Islamic) fundamentalists in the Arab and Muslim worlds that our clash with America has no racial or religious
dimensions…” would be even more heartening if it could be proven a majority of Islamic “fundamentalists” actually worried about such things.

When you look deeply into the politics and the religious mentality behind these perceptions and sentiments you find a permeating double standard.

Too many people in the Middle East are greatly mistrusting of Israel and would prefer America not continue to ally itself to a nation considered their greatest security threat.

There is very little condemnation of terrorist Palestinians. It seems Hamas and Hezbollah are the victims of “Zionist” aggression and that Israel must be eliminated as a people and as a nation. On the whole this is an echo of Iranian policy toward Israel and by extension the United States.

Speaking of a possible Obama approach to the conflict between Arabs and Israel, one fellow was quoted: “I think he [Obama] will resort to dialogue and finding common ground between the United States and each of Syria and Iran,” he said, while hoping that Obama will avoid the “double-standard” approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Having been in the Middle East you find that the so-called “double-standard” is an Arab perception that America is completely supportive of Israel’s “occupation” of Arab lands. Arab nations do not recognize Israel. An American who must visit Israel for any reason must carry two passports. If a passport is stamped by Israeli customs it becomes something untouchable in most Middle Eastern ports of entry.

The true “double standard” is that Israel has no right to exist as a nation and that the terrorist state ruled by Hamas is entitled to all lands under Israeli control. America is wrong to support the one true democratic nation in the region and would be better off supporting the nations ruled by Islamic radicals and Arab tyrants.

The best example of the Arab double standard is found in the very last paragraph of the article.

“We hope that … he [Obama] adopts a just policy that restores to America its natural position of respect for humankind and democracy,” said Mohamed Mahdi Akef,
the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group and the main victim of Egyptian police repression for the past two years.”

On the surface these remarks might give one the idea that Mr. Mohamed Mahdi Akef is a simple politician who works within the law to achieve justice until you research “Muslim Brotherhood” and find out the “credo” of the Muslim Brotherhood is based largely in Islamic Jihad.

The Muslim Brotherhood from Wikipedia: “These groups are dedicated to the credo: Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope. The Brotherhood’s stated goal is to instill the Qur’an and Sunnah as the “sole reference point for … ordering the life of the Muslim family, individual, community … and state.”

Whenever I read anything from an Arab source I try to look at the senior point of view. There isn’t much editorializing in a vast majority of writing over here. If the piece is analysis the article will be so labeled and opinionated items are for the greater part reserved for actual opinion pages. There is a surprising amount of objective journalism at least in Kuwait. But I have sent the URL for the article and you may find others at .

I suppose if we are going to have a “Muslim Linked” president we should at least try to find out what that might mean in the greater scope of Middle East relations. See the article at:

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