International Papers

“Holding Our Collective Breath”

Arab papers react to the U.S. election.

The death of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayan, the president and founding father of the United Arab Emirates, overshadowed news of the U.S. election results in the Arab press. His passing on Election Day preoccupied most Arab satellite channels, but Bush’s victory got its share of the limelight in every single Arab paper.

Four years ago when Al Gore ran against George W. Bush, many if not most Arabs both in and outside the United States were rooting for the candidate they thought would follow in his father’s footsteps, who in his term as president got on so well with the Arab world and its leaders.

The picture now is markedly different. Unlike his father (who is remembered mostly for ousting Iraqi troops from Kuwait in 1991, putting pressure on Israel, and starting the Middle East peace process in Madrid), President George W. Bush is viewed with much suspicion in the Arab world.   

His re-election will likely increase apprehension about possible further violence in the region. Such was the discussion on the Lebanese based Future satellite channel in the immediate aftermath of the election, with one analyst saying that while pressure on Iran, the Palestinians, and Syria is likely to increase, America’s limitations have become widely visible in Iraq, and so it would be unable to execute another war.

In the run-up to the elections, there was also a general view (which still exists) among politicians, leaders, academics, and the intelligentsia in the Arab world that it would be better to deal with someone who had a track record and who is likely to moderate his policies in a second term, rather than Sen. John Kerry, who was likely to be restricted by the prospect of having to run for a second term.  

The pan-Arab Al Hayat led with the burial of the UAE leader and a picture of Bush smiling, giving a thumbs up, with a headline “Kerry concedes defeat … and America and the world’s problems in Bush’s new term.” In the editorial pages, the paper’s Washington correspondent said, “Its still not known yet, and perhaps it will never be known if external forces played a role in granting President George Bush another four years in the White House. … The last of these forces was the head of al-Qaeda, who interjected to tell the Americans, Bush had deceived them in the past four years. Both the Republican and Democratic parties agreed to condemn Bin Laden’s attempt, but the shadow of the Sept. 11 attacks in the last days before the election, without a doubt must have helped the Republican leaders, especially because it diverted attention from America’s quagmire in Iraq.”

The writer continued: “What was visible was that the majority of Arab Muslim Americans voted for the democratic candidate, exactly like the Jewish Americans … and despite the differences of the two groups … it is possible to say the American elections created comical alliances no one had anticipated.”

Egypt’s widely read Al Ahram was surprisingly mute, leading with President Mubarak’s visit to Germany, the death of the UAE president, and briefly footnoting the result of the U.S. elections on its front page.

In an editorial titled “Undoing the damage,” the Jordan Times called on the American president to “make drastic adjustments in his Iraqi involvement and start formulating an exit policy from the war-torn country … the US led war strained Washington’s relations with so many important capitals. He should know too that superpower arrogance cannot sustain or nurture a free and democratic world.”

Saudi Arabia’s Arab News editorial said the election debunked conventional wisdom and that now the Middle East faced three important issues that the president must tend to: the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Iraq, and a regional nuclear arms race. “Having established his reputation as a war leader, Bush should use his second four year term to become known as a peacemaker,” the paper advised.

The London based Al Quds al-Arabi seemed to cast a very pessimistic image of the future for the Arab world as a result of Bush’s re-election, maintaining that the current administration may not only continue with its present Middle East policies but accentuate them, perhaps with a further leaning to the right. In its leading article, “Conservative America grants Bush an open mandate,” the paper said, “America, which has fallen captive to the conservatives, granted Bush an open mandate … and the Arab street received news of Bush’s re-election depressingly with a great deal of anxiousness, even though hopes of Kerry winning weren’t great.”  

“Four more years of Bush turmoil,” is how the UAE’s Gulf News led, also anticipating a further shift to the right in American policy. “The American people have spoken and now the rest of us must hold our collective breath. And we must hope against hope that the dangerous adventurism which typified Bush’s first term is moderated this time, and that he will seek peace, stability, tolerance and long term solutions to the world’s manifest problems.”

Asharq Al Awsat, widely read by Arabs in and out side the region, subtly endorsed the re-election of Bush, leading with a picture of Bush and the first lady waving under the headline, “The world prepares itself for 4 more years with Bush.” An article by Mamoun Fandy titled “Bush’s victory … is a new American message” observed, “The American voter didn’t give any weight to criticism from Europe, especially from France and Britain, which saw that George Bush as the worst President of the United States … the Americans with a resounding majority said ‘No’ very clearly to the faces of those around the world who hated Bush and the politics of the neo-conservatives.”

On the page next to Fandy’s article was a caricature of elections in the West and the Arab world. Half of the picture showed Western elections as being transparent and open, while in contrast the Arab half was pitch black, mourning the lack of democracy, perhaps.