Gulf hails 'Muslim-linked' Obama


DUBAI: November 6, 2008. 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. "I believe that h

There must be a change in policy towards Arabs and Muslims," said Saudi tourist Abdul Ilah Al-Bakri as he wandered in a Dubai mall for early morning shopping just after Obama was declared president-elect. "God willing, he will be better, especially that he said he wants to withdraw US troops from Iraq," Bakri said. Saudi businessman Ali Al-Harithi hailed the US democracy, which brought a man with a Muslim father to the White House. "This confirms that the United States and its people are not racist. The American people chose Obama, who is African (by origin) and whose father is Muslim, to voice rejection of policies of the conservatives in the outgoing administration," he said. "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," Harithi added. Obama's Kenyan father was a non-observant Muslim, but the president-elect struggled during his campaign to deny reports that he was a Muslim himself, stressing that he were "unapologetically Christian". People in the Gulf also felt that regional issues will be in safer hands with Obama after the charged two terms of President George W Bush. "I am optimistic ... I expect drastic changes in the way the White House handles regional issues," said employee Ahmed Azzam in Qatar. Although the forthcoming American administration will follow the (common) American strategies concerning its national security and our region, I believe the style will change with Obama," he said. "I think he 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. Jassem Mohammed Ali, a Qatari computer engineer, thought that Obama will not be "aggressive" in foreign policy and will concentrate on domestic social issues. "US foreign policy will not be reckless and aggressive as it has been under Bush, especially when he intervened in Iraq without an international mandate. In Bahrain, advertising executive Adel Shams expressed optimism, saying he expected an "80 percent change in US policies". "I believe that he can do something to solve the Palestinian question, and that he will withdraw US troops from Iraq. I also think that he will resolve the Iran nuclear standoff," he said. But his compatriot Khalil Al-Rumaythi was less optimistic, despite being happy to see Obama heading towards the White House. "US policies never change no matter who is the president... I am happy tha t Obama won, but I have nothing but wishes ... I think that Obama nwill follow in Bush's footsteps with just a little change. I do hope that his election will be the start of a change, but I am not so sure about it," he said. Kuwaiti political analyst Mohammed Al-Ajmi hailed the win of a "young and energetic black man who overcame colour and race barriers," as a victory for US democracy. "His victory gives hope that US policy will improve especially with regards to the Middle East... It also gives hope that it will be possible to leave behind the failures of Bush's term," he added. Several leaders of Arab states in the Gulf, which are close US allies, promptly congratulated Obama on his historic win. Elsewhere, Middle Eastern countries hailed Obama's win after the turbulent years of the Bush administration but Iraq said it does not expect any overnight change in policy. The challenges facing Obama when he turns to theMiddle East peace process were underlined by overnight bloodshed in Gaza, where six Palestinians were killed in Israeli strikes and dozens of rockets fired on the Jewish state. Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Obama's win yesterday was "an evident sign" of the American people's demand for "basic changes in US foreign and domestic policy" after the two terms of President George W Bush. Tehran and Washington have had no diplomatic relations for nearly three decades since students took American diplomats hostage following the 1979 Islamic revolution which toppled the US-backed shah. Gholamali Haddadadel, a senior adviser to Iran's most powerful figure Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said: "Obama's election displays the failure of America's policies around the globe. Americans have to change their policies to rescue themselves from the quagmire created by Bush." Ali Aghamohammadi, another close aide to Khamenei, said: "We are not fully optimistic but with a real change in American policy there will be a capacity to improve ties between the two countries. Of course the Zionist lobby in America will do its utmost to prevent the improvement of ties. Despite Arab calls for a perceived more even-handed approach to the Middle East, Israel's outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he was certain US-Israeli ties would strengthen under Obama's presidency. "Israeli-US relations are a special relationship based on values and common interest, with tight cooperation. Israel and the United States both desire to maintain and strengthen these relations," said Olmert. In a message of congratulations, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas urged Obama to accelerate efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Abbas "hopes he will speed up efforts to achieve peace, particularly since a resolution of the Palestinian problem and the Israeli-Arab conflict is key to world peace," his spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina said. Jordan's King Abdullah II, a key US ally in the troubled Middle East, sent Obama a cable congratulating him and said he looked forward to cooperation with Washington to "resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in line with a two-state solution." Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak, whose country is also a staunch US ally, said in a message that he too hoped Obama would work toward a just peace settlement in the Middle East. The region has many expectations. We hope (Obama) will help efforts to bring about permanent and just peace," said Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki. Abdel Galil Mustafa, the coordinator of the Egyptian protest movement Kefaya, added: "Obama is a good choice, because he is after change in American policies, from which we have suffered much over the last several decades. Saudi King Abdullah also sent Obama a congratulatory message, hailing the "historic and close" ties between the two countries. Arab League chief Amr Mussa said he hoped for "an American policy based on honest brokership" in the Middle East. That was echoed by Syria where Information Minister Mohsen Bilal said he hoped Obama's win "will help change US policy from one of wars and embargos to one of diplomacy and dialogue". Leading Syrian journalist Thabet Salem said the Arab world rejoiced at Obama's victory . "Not because he won but because it meant that President George W Bush, who is regarded as a bloodsucker, and his clique, were gone," he said. The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, urged the Democratic Obama to learn from the "mistakes" of previous US administrations in dealing with Muslim and Arab countries. Spokesman Fawzi Barhum accused the Bush's Republican administration of having "destroyed Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine".

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