Reactions to Obama's Election Victory in the Islamic World

A Call for Change – in the Islamic World Too?

Not unexpectedly, Barack Obama's election as the next president of the United States harvested a mainly positive echo in the Arab states and Iran, where people are hopeful for a change in US policy. Peter Philipp sums up the reactions

Barack Obama and John McCain (image: AP/DW)
A large part of the Islamic world reacted with relief at Obama's election victory over his rival Mc Cain, as a change of policy in the Middle East is now anticipated

​​ The Middle East "celebrated" America's election day in its own way: Israeli troops entered the Gaza Strip and killed a number of Palestinians there, who had allegedly been preparing to kidnap Israeli soldiers.

Not much later, dozens of Kazzam rockets rained down on south Israel, for the first time since the Islamist "Hamas" announced – and had previously observed - a ceasefire in June. And in Teheran, an Iranian spokesperson warned against an American attack: US helicopters were said to have been sighted threateningly close to the Iraq-Iran border, and Washington was reminded that Iran is capable of defending itself against any aggression.

About-face on Israel?

Whether intentional or not, fitting or not, this is how the newly elected US president was welcomed to the realities of the Middle East. The region had looked to election day with mixed feelings. Particularly in Israel, observers were concerned over whether Obama's election would toll the end of the era in which Israel had the almost unlimited support of the White House.

And even those who consoled themselves that no one president alone could carry out a drastic about-face on Israel were still unsettled by the prospect of Obama taking a new line on Iran – as he had announced. The possibility of direct contacts between Washington and Teheran has prompted great mistrust in Israel.

Time to fulfil promises

There has been little news of such a possibility coming out of Iran to date. If Teheran is even willing to take such a step, it will still be on condition that Washington apologises for its interference in the past. In Teheran, the former parliamentary chairman Hadad Adel announced that the call for change in the USA was an admission that George W. Bush's policies had been wrong. Obama, he said, now had to make good on his promises.

Iran had otherwise been reserved about expressing preferences for either Obama or McCain, although the general public clearly hopes that Obama's election will enable a new beginning in the countries' mutual relations.

Between hope and scepticism

Similar reactions came out of Syria, where even before election day, the Information Minister Mohsen Bilal stated in an interview that Damascus was hoping for change in the USA. And he left no room for doubt who he meant by that.

The Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas welcomed Obama's election, saying he hoped the new president would succeed in bringing the peace process to a positive close. "Hamas", in contrast, has voiced only scepticism – nothing will change in Washington, according to the organisation.

Baghdad is not expecting immediate changes either, aware of course that Obama's announcement of a withdrawal of US troops within 18 months could well just be electioneering, and that the realities on the ground could require very different actions from Obama as president than his words as a candidate.

And it was these realities that the Middle East seemingly wanted to remind Obama of – with Iran's warning against an attack and the renewed violence between Israel and "Hamas" in the Gaza Strip.

Peter Philipp

© Deutsche Welle / 2008

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