Opinion

Arabs following US election even more closely than many Americans

American presidential politics is always closely watched by many outside the U.S., since who ever becomes putative leader of the free world can have such a profound effect on the rest of the world. 

This year, however, the 2012 presidential race is of particular interest to a very special new constituency—Arabs, and especially the young Arabs, who helped ignite the fires of revolution that became the Arab Spring

Beginning with Barrack Obama’s inspirational speech two years and a half years ago in Cairo, Arabs have been scrupulous in analyzing every remark, insinuation, nuance, and action not only of Obama, but of each of the Republican candidates hoping to unseat him next November. 

This new generation of Arabs now has Al Jazeera, Facebook, and Twitter to source and exchange views on the likely reaction of the U.S. and its leaders to any utterance which may impact on the Arab world. 

This new generation of Arabs, who have opened the fight for reform, for human rights, freedom of expression, good governance, the rule of law, and the promise of real democracy, are seeking respect and support for their efforts from whomever shall occupy the White House a year from now. 

They are watching and waiting for signs that Obama and his Republican opponents understand the historic changes unfolding throughout North Africa and the Middle East and hope to detect from their speeches and pronouncements some indication of how the United States will respond.

Some Arab leaders, like Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, were quick to respond to Arab Spring events and promptly initiated not only major reforms, but also freely elected governments representative of the electorate and thus Morocco was set as a model for other Arab nations. 

Others, like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, were less fortunate and have now been replaced by newly elected parliaments. But these reforms are ongoing and it remains unclear how the revolution in Libya, for example, will unfold what powers Egypt’s elected officials may actually enjoy, and what the future holds for Bahrain, Yemen, or Syria.

President Obama’s inspirational words still ring in the ears of many Arab youth, but not a few complain that those words have not yet been backed up by action. 

That the U.S. has too long adopted a double standard toward the Middle East and that many Americans may inclined to favor isolationism rather than support and inspiration as the Arab Spring unfolds into a long, unpredictable Arab Winter. 

That’s why so many Arabs are scrutinizing every word, every promise, and every policy statement in the campaign rhetoric that is pouring out of the airwaves and overflowing into social media throughout the Arab world. 

GOP candidates should know that the Arab world is listening and be sensitive to unfounded or inaccurate statements they may make in an attempt to impress America’s far right wing isolationists. Governor Rick Perry’s ill advised (and untrue) comments about Turkey during a debate in South Carolina, for example, cannot be taken as official U.S. policy, but how is the Arab world to respond when they are bombarded with this kind of misinformation? 

Turkey’s Ambassador in Washington immediately discredited Perry’s remarks and confirmed Turkey’s strong ties to the U.S., but the incident could easily have erupted into a major conflict between two longstanding allies.

In his State of the Union speech, President Obama said, "Anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned doesn't know what they're talking about ..."

Sadly, that's not how people feel from Tokyo to Berlin; from Cape Town to Rio; where opinions of America are higher than they've been in years." 

President Obama should not have left out Arab and Muslim nations, where popular opinion of the U.S. appears to have gone downhill or remained unchanged after the spring 2011 reformist uprisings in the Middle East. 

A Pew Research Center survey in May found that in predominantly Muslim countries such as Turkey, Jordan and Pakistan, views of the U.S. were worse than a year earlier. 

That is why it is so vitally important that each of these candidates, including President Obama, understands and appreciates how important and how influential their campaign words and actions will be for this post-Arab Spring generation now on the threshold of such monumental change.

Said Temsamani is a Moroccan political observer and consultant, who follows events in his country and across North Africa. 

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