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Mixed Reactions in Middle East to Bush Victory

The U.S. presidential election was followed with particular interest in the Middle East, where the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism are close to home.

President Bush has been an unpopular U.S. president in much of the Middle East. Many Arabs oppose the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and are concerned about the impact on Muslims of the global war on terrorism. Many are also angry at President Bush's refusal to deal with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. So the editor of the Saudi newspaper Arab News, Khaled Al Maeena, says many Arabs were disappointed to see President Bush re-elected.

"There was a sense of disappointment here, not because people want Kerry to win, but more because they want Bush to lose, because Bush has been associated with the war on terror," said Khaled Al Maeena. "The war in Iraq, the killing of innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan, collateral damage, the support for Israel."

American University in Beirut Professor Sami Baroudi says many people in the region were hoping that a new president would take a fresh approach to regional issues, particularly to the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Mr. Baroudi also says he expects the Bush administration to continue confronting Syria over its military presence and political influence in Lebanon. But he says the Syrian-backed Lebanese government is not overly concerned.

"The government is bracing itself for more U.S. pressure, but I think there is a general mood in Lebanon that they can deal with this increased U.S. pressure," he said.

But not everyone in the Middle East is disappointed with President Bush's re-election. Religious minorities and some critics of authoritarian Arab governments have expressed satisfaction, saying President Bush is committed to bringing democracy to the Middle East. The host of an Iranian expatriate television show, Nouri Al Zadeh, said in an interview before the election that the majority of his viewers hoped Mr. Bush would be re-elected.

"[They say] Bush has got a clear policy towards Iran," said Nouri Al Zadeh. "And he is going to push, and he is the only president in the last 25 years who kept talking about the Iranian people's struggle against totalitarian regime of Iran, and he is the one who demands that the Iranian people should have a democracy."

In Egypt, the head of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies Mohamed Abdel Saiid, also welcomed President Bush's re-election, at least in the sense that he expects consistency in U.S. policy toward the Middle East. Mr. Saiid says it would have been difficult for Arab countries to start over with a new U.S. president.

"For instance there is a conference that will be held in Cairo on the 23rd of November regarding Iraq," said Mohamed Abdel Saiid. "I believe the winning of Bush at least will make that will go as it was planned. If Kerry won, it would have been a new beginning. We would not know what Kerry's policies would be regarding this conference, regarding the transition process in Iraq."

Mr. Saiid also echoes the often-heard argument in the region that Mr. Bush, as a second-term president, will be less susceptible to pressure from Israel's supporters in the United States and more able to negotiate a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians.