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Large Segments of Arabs in Mideast Support Obama


A large segment of popular opinion, across the Middle East, appears to be supporting Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Barak Obama in Tuesday's contest against Republican John McCain. But, as Edward Yeranian reports from Cairo, portions of the political elite in the Gulf, as well as many Christians in Lebanon and Egypt appear to favor the latter.

Elections in the United States are a major topic of interest for Arab audiences. Popular satellite TV networks Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya are devoting large portions of their coverage to the subject. Political commentators on both networks say that Arab public opinion, across much of the Middle East, is widely in favor of Democratic candidate Barak Obama.

The Arab daily Asharqalawsat is running a caricature, in Monday's edition, of Obama and McCain wielding clubs and preparing to beat up an Arab man, who is supposed to represent the Middle East, in a subtle indication that the paper thinks neither candidate will be good for Arabs.

The Syrian government, which has made no secret it would prefer to see Barak Obama as the next American president, continues to blast John McCain in the official government media. The Syrian daily Techrine went to so far as to accuse the Bush Administration of mounting an alleged raid against the Syrian border town of Sukkariya to "help get McCain elected."

Meanwhile, a number of Gulf leaders are reported to prefer Republican candidate John McCain, because they think he will better for their business interests, in addition to continuing the Bush Administration's policy of isolating Iran, which is perceived as a threat by various Gulf States.

Professor Paul Salem, who heads Carnegie Center for Middle East Peace in Beirut, says that Obama is the favorite of popular opinion, but not of all Arab leaders:

"I am in Kuwait, now, for a couple of days, talking to people from the Gulf region and also following the Arab press, both television and print, and certainly the vast majority of the media and sort of the general public you talk to definitely liked Obama and favored him, whereas some sort of the elite and decision-makers in the Gulf countries, in particular, some of the government people liked McCain because he is tough on Iran, Syria and strong on Iraq - things that they care about," he said. "So, I would say public opinion is very much with Obama and some of the elite opinion might be with McCain."

In Lebanon, many Christians say that they favor McCain over Obama, because McCain will better represent their interests. Dany Beyrouthi, who supports the Christian Lebanese Forces Party, says that McCain represents the part of America that he admires most:

"John McCain, I think, is a good president because he is Christian and I am Christian, too. I like about McCain his fight in Vietnam and I fight here in Lebanon with the Lebanese Forces. I think that any man who fights for freedom in his country, I think he knows very well what he wants," he said.

Dr. Hassan Nafae, who is professor of political science at Cairo University and heads the Amman-based Arab Thought Forum, says that Obama is the clear favorite of the Arab public, and that he, too, hopes Obama will win:

"I think there is no question at all that most Arab people in all the region support Barak Obama, but they do not think he will be able to change radically the American foreign policy, but at least he will not commit again the same mistakes that have been done by Bush. America now needs the world much more than ever," said Nafae.

Nafae argues that many Islamic extremists in the Middle East are hoping that John McCain will win, because they think he will continue many of the same policies that President Bush has followed in the Middle East, which have made the United States unpopular. He says they are rooting for America's demise and that they think that McCain will take America to its final downfall.

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