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October 29, 2004 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 194

Arab and Iranian Media on the U.S. Presidential Election

October 29, 2004 | By Y. Yehoshua
Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 194

The upcoming U.S. presidential election has been closely reported in the Arab and Muslim world. However, unlike in the previous election, when George W. Bush was the favorite candidate of Arabs and Muslims, there is no clear trend of support for either candidate in the Middle East's media this time. Moreover, most high-ranking Arab officials are not expressing their views on the matter. [1]

While some articles support either President Bush or Senator Kerry, others claim that statements by both candidates on Middle East issues prove that one is just as bad as the other. However, a number of groups representing Arabs and Muslims in the U.S. have expressed support for Senator Kerry. The following are some examples of reactions in the Arab and Iranian media to the elections:

'If You were Palestinian, Saudi … Iraqi, Syrian, or Egyptian, Who Would You Vote For?'

Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, former editor-in-chief of the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat and director-general of Al-Arabiyya TV,wrote two consecutive articles for Al-Sharq Al-Awsat,titled"If You Were a Palestinian or Saudi, Who Would You Vote For?" and "If You Were Iraqi, Syrian, or Egyptian, Who Would You Vote For?" in which he analyzed the positions of the major Arab countries on the U.S. election.

In the first article, he wrote: "The Palestinians are never satisfied with any president who leaves the White House - and a month later, they cry because of every new president, and acknowledge that his predecessor was not as bad as he. Kerry's plan for the future surpasses that of his rival Bush for pro-Israel bias. [Kerry] has a history of unquestioning support for Israel [throughout his term] in the Senate, in accordance with [the policy of the] Democratic Party, which is biased towards the Jewish State. We must not forget that Kerry, who leads the polls, also aspires to remain in the White House for eight years, and will inevitably try harder to please the Jews.

"Regarding Bush, the truth is that he is the only president who publicly undertook to support the establishment of a Palestinian state … and he is the only American president who undertook to recognize an independent Palestinian state. And perhaps he is [also] the only one who can do this in the next four years, [as he will be] less subject to pressure - as was done by his predecessor Bill Clinton, who gave the Palestinians the greatest hope they had ever had in their entire history to be liberated from the occupation.

"With regard to the Saudis - however angry they are at Bush, they perhaps do not realize the enormity of the danger they are facing following the 9/11 attacks. There is no doubt [that Bush] used good judgment when he rejected the many media and political pressures [calling for] making Saudi Arabia a target on the political level and perhaps also on the military level, claiming it was the source of the new fundamentalist threat… Had Kerry been in power, perhaps the face of history would have been different, and we would long for Bush's petty demands, like changing a few words in the school curricula, delays in giving visas, or supervising the organizations that call themselves charity associations." [2]

Regarding Iraq, he wrote: "Whatever the complaints on behalf of the Iraqis that appear in the Arab media, most Iraqis rejoiced at what Bush did. The persecution and oppression in their lives justified the war. But in the view of some Iraqis, the continuation of Bush's [regime] may prevent the possibility of reconciliation [in Iraq]… Therefore, Kerry's rise to power [those Iraqis may think] will be a bridge to dissipate the continuing pressure, and hence, sacrificing Bush may mean saving his Iraqi project.

"With regard to the Syrians, they desire Bush's downfall more than the rest of the Arabs, in hopes that the internal political incitement and external pressure will end. If Bush gets a second term, Syria will, in the opinion of many, be his next target. Setting Syria as a target will be, for the Republicans, the first of many regional solutions compatible with [their] great political plan for the region. If Kerry wins the election, he will not make peace with Syria - due to genuine disputes connected to the security of his forces in Iraq, he also would not withdraw in the next four years - but at the same time he would not enter into unnecessary military adventures.

"The Egyptians always prefer the new; every new president attaches great importance to them [as mediators] in order to solve his problems in the region. This expensive mediation [by Egypt] is unnecessary for an old president such as Bush - particularly in light of his increasing hatred for Arafat, the end of the crisis with Al-Qaddafi, his direct intervention regarding Sudan, and Cairo's disgust at direct involvement in Baghdad. Even the Egyptian street, inflamed against Bush by the [Egyptian] media, wants Bush to leave [the White House], [even] more than Kerry…" [3]

The Arab Regimes Prefer Bush, While the Masses Hate Him

Some columnists have made a distinction between the Arab regimes, who they claim support Bush, and the Arab masses, which are hostile towards him. Columnist 'Ali Ibrahimwrote in the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat:"The Middle Eastern region, more than anyone, follows the American election because of the U.S.'s increasing role in [the region]. In the past, interest [in U.S. elections] was in most cases [strictly] on the governmental level. But currently, the interest has [also] reached the popular level. This is because U.S. involvement is not limited only to the Arab-Israeli conflict, but also covers [such] regional issues [such as the war in] Iraq, reform in the region, the war on terror, and so on…

"It is no secret that on the popular level Bush has won no popularity in the region. [Bush] is a wartime president, as he himself said post-9/11 … [while] Kerry is a new face. On the other hand, on the inter-governmental level, it is easier to conduct relations with a familiar president [because] his policies and his commitments [are already] known; contacts have already been made with the pillars of his cabinet, and connections have been developed with them over the years. Therefore, [Bush's] second term will be a continuation of his policy, while the new president will need time in which the pillars of his cabinet must fill in [the gaps] and study the burning issues. Only then will he [the president] decide regarding policy… The region cannot afford to wait." [4]

Raghida Dughram wrote in her column in the London Arabic-language daily Al-Hayat:"Most of the Arab governments have decided [to bet on] George W. Bush for a second term, since they have already reached the conclusion that the U.S. presidential elections have already been decided in favor of the Republican candidate. Many governments, among them Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, and Lebanon are acting on the assumption that Democratic candidate John Kerry will lose…

"The motivation to host conferences [with the U.S.], and daring to cooperate and tighten ties between [their] intelligence [apparatuses and those of the U.S.] are the Arab governments' 'vote' for Bush in the U.S. presidential election…

"The Arab governments' [gamble] on a second Bush term comes amid a sea of popular hatred towards the American president and towards his policy for the region - beginning with the war in Iraq and including support for Israel at the expense of the Palestinians. These governments have reached the conclusion that they prefer to 'aid' Bush in the elections, so that maybe Bush will then exempt them from the change of [dictatorial] regimes that he wants." [5]

Columnist Radhwan Al-Sayedwrote in the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal: "Most of the Arab regimes think that it is in their interest to stick with Bush Jr., even if they are somewhat concerned by his administration… The Arab public, on the other hand, despairs greatly of America in general, and of Bush's administration in particular… But this trend is not the trend of the Arab regimes in general… Most regimes today, even if they do not explicitly declare it - except for Saudi Ambassador to Washington Prince Bandar - think that it is better for them to stick with President Bush for another four years." [6]

There is No Difference between Bush and Kerry Policies, so It Doesn't Matter Who's Elected

Syrian Information Minister Mahdi DahlallahtoldHibzullah's Al-ManarTV: " Regardless of who the American president will be, if Syrian-Lebanese relations weaken and, as a result, the resistance weakens … then the Arabs will be weaker, and the new American president will find himself under total Israeli pressure. Whether it is Bush or Kerry, he will present the Israeli solutions and the Arabs will have to take it." He added: " The question is not who will be president of the United States. This isn't important. [The question is] how can the Arabs … and how can Syria and Lebanon … apply counter-pressure globally in order to bring about a relatively balanced policy. " [7]

Galal Dwidar, editor of the Egyptian government daily Al-Akhbar, wrote: "The two rivals competed during their debate in emphasizing Washington's determination to employ a double-standard policy towards all Arab and Islamic issues - first and foremost the issue of weapons of mass destruction, which aggressive Israel is permitted to possess while every Arab or Islamic country is forbidden from even thinking about using them for peaceful purposes. Under the influence of the trend of flattery and hypocrisy toward the Zionist vote, Bush and Kerry - despite the claim of a dispute between them - stressed that the war in Iraq sought to defend Israel's interests. In order to avoid losing any Jewish or Zionist vote, the two made sure not to discuss in any way [the issue] of advancing towards the solution of peace in the Middle East.

"After the Bush-Kerry debate, there is no place for optimism. We must realize that the solution to our problems as Arabs and as Muslims is in our hands only, and that Arab solidarity is the only path to salvation…" [8]

The Saudi-owned Iqra TV hosted a political debate on March 24. The moderator asked the panel their opinions on voting for Kerry or Bush, "Sir, do you believe the American voter will vote for Kerry as a reaction to the position of Bush junior, who always supports Sharon?" Abd Al-Qader Yassin, a Palestinian politician and writer, rejected both choices, comparing it to being forced to choose "between cholera and the plague." [9]

The Solution is to Influence Via Establishing an Arab-Islamic Lobby in the U.S.

In his column in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa, Muhammad Zein wrote: "These days, we are preoccupied with the U.S. presidential elections. Our leaders and intellectuals are following these elections as if they were one of the issues essential to the Arab fate. I remember that when President Bush Jr. won the previous election, the Arabs showed great satisfaction because they thought that the policy of Clinton, who had gone and was never to return, was one of double-standard. [This was because] he [Clinton] favored Israel and applied pressure and threats against the Palestinians so that they would give in on important issues such as Jerusalem and the return of the refugees.

"[At that time], we read some of the Arab political reports and analyses, according to which Bush Jr. would show solidarity with the issues of the Arab and Islamic nation, and that he will show more solidarity with the Palestinian cause. The satisfaction with Bush's arrival [was so great] that [they thought] that perhaps during his time the U.S. would fight alongside the Arabs against Israel…

"Today, most Arab intellectuals and some Arab leaders stand alongside John Kerry. They hope that Kerry will win and that Bush, who abandoned the Arab nation and helped the Hebrew nation, will fall. This shows that the Arab mind has not matured and does not work according to conditions and developments, and does not learn a lesson every day and every hour.

"The Arab mind is still thinking that the policy in [countries like] Israel and the U.S. or Europe is the product of one man or of certain individuals. The Arab mind is still convinced that the policy of the world outside [the Arab world] changes when the people change, and that if Sharon, who fed us bitter herbs, goes, it means that whoever comes after him will be better than he. If Bush goes, will Kerry be closer to our heart and sensibilities?...

"Instead of being satisfied with the arrival of a new leader, [the Arab mind] must think of a new mechanism that will suit the reality in which we live. We must begin to think about establishing an Arab-Islamic lobby in the U.S. to work for unity in ourforeign policies and to exercise influence on American decision-making…" [10]

Arabs and Muslims in the U.S. Call to Vote for Kerry

The Political Action Committee of the American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections (AMT-PAC) issued a statement calling to support Senator Kerry. The statement read: "We believe that our vote is the best guarantee of our civil rights and the
best expression of our citizenship. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has been insensitive to the civil liberties and human rights of American Muslims, Arab-Americans and South Asians. Today, American Muslims are being treated like second-class citizens. American Muslims are also disappointed with a number of domestic and foreign policies instituted by the Bush administration since the 9/11 terror attacks…

"Mindful of disagreements with Sen. Kerry on some domestic and international issues, including the war in Iraq, we are willing to work with him to help restore due process and equal justice in accordance with the U.S. Constitution." [11]

Arab American Institute President James Zogbywrote in an article titled "My Vote," that appeared in several Arab English-language papers: " This November, I will vote for John Kerry for president of the United States… A dangerous and arrogant ideological group in the White House and the Pentagon lied our nation into war… The American people, the Iraqi people, the world, and our nation's image and standing in the world, are paying the price for this deceit and arrogance...

"I believe that Arab Americans are better served by the coalition of peace activists and minority groups that comprise the base of the Democratic Party than they are by the Republican coalition that is driven by the religious right and neo-conservative ideologues. … I believe our concerns are better met by the party that includes: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, and Congresspersons like John Conyers, John Dingell, Marcy Kaptur, Dennis Kucinich, Jim Moran, Nick Rahall, Maxine Waters, and so many other champions of peace and justice...." [12]

Iran and the U.S. Presidential Election

Iran's attitude to the U.S. is unique. Hostility towards the U.S. has been a cornerstone of the Iranian regime for over 25 years. Iran is the only country in the Middle East with no diplomatic relations with the U.S.

In addition to perceiving the U.S. as Iran's main enemy, since 9/11 and subsequent developments in the Middle East, Iran has lived in fear of being encircled by U.S. forces on all four sides. [13] Iran is also currently facing a decision on its nuclear dossier by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the U.S. is pressuring the IAEA to transfer the dossier to the U.N. Security Council. [14] Thus, it is a fundamental assumption in Iran that a Bush win would be worse for Iran, because it would surely involve an escalation in the pressure on it. [15]

Nevertheless, on the official level both Iran's conservatives and reformists state that Iran has no preference. In an editorial, the reformist daily Aftab-e Yazd wrote, "The world sees no essential difference in American diplomacy [between Democratic and Republican administrations] regarding the Middle East and Iran… The U.S. elections were run and won on domestic U.S. affairs… There are [Iranian] politicians who believe that if Democratic candidate John Kerry replaces President Bush, it will give a shot of encouragement to the Middle East peace initiative. But this isn't so." [16]

Writing in the same vein, the reformist daily Sharqwrote in an editorial that Senator Kerry is like George Bush, and that no change in policy on Iran should be expected if the Democrats win. The paper stated that Kerry needs "Jewish money" while Bush, who cannot serve a third term, will be free to implement his true policy and increase pressure on Iran. [17]

In contrast, former Iranian foreign minister and the leader of the banned Iranian Freedom Movement opposition group Dr. Ibrahim Yazdiexpressed his explicit support for Senator Kerry, saying that as president he would benefit Iran more. In an article in the reformist daily Sharq, Yazdi wrote that Bush was the Jews' "New Messiah" and that if he was reelected the U.S. would continue in its unilateral Middle East and Iranian policy. Bush, who would not be reelected again for a third term, would be able to implement his policy with greater determination, whereas if Kerry won the election, said Yazdi, he would seek cooperation with and consideration of the European Union countries, and even cooperation with Japan, China, and Russia. As a result of this policy of cooperation, the U.S. and Europe would change their policy in favor of Iran's nuclear program. [18]

*Y. Yehoshua is Director of Research at MEMRI


[1] Among the few leading personalities who have expressed their views are former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, who called on American Muslims to " Vote Bush out of office. It is truly an ibadah (worship) that you perform … [Ensure that] Bush will not be able to determine our fate for four more years." (http://www.gulf-daily-news.com/story.asp?Article=94422&Sn=WORL&IssueID=27213 ).

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'athtold the BBC: "If Kerry wins, it is reasonable to assume that Clinton's staff will return, and this is a good thing" (see Al-Dustour, Jordan, October 18, 2004). However, the next day he told a London press conference that he "expects no significant change in U.S. policy whether the Democratic candidate goes to the White House or George Bush stays," Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), October 18, 2004.

Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallahsaid: "We cannot remove America from Iraq, but we can remove Bush from the White House if we heat things up in Iraq." Amir Taheri, New York Post, August 18, 2004.

[2] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), October 16, 2004.

[3] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), October 17, 2004.

[4] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), October 26, 2004.

[5] Al-Hayat (London), October 2, 2004.

[6] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), October 14, 2004.

[7] Al-Manar TV (Lebanon), October 21, 2004. See MEMRI TV, http://memritv.org/clip_transcript/en/300.htm

[8] Al-Akhbar (Egypt), October 3, 2004.

[9] Iqra TV (Saudi Arabia), March 24, 2004. MEMRI TV Clip No. 13: http://wwsw.http://memritv.org/clip/en/13.htm

[10] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), October 24, 2004.

[11] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), October 22, 2004.

http://www.americanmuslimvoter.net/images/special/AMT%20GIVES%20QUALIFIED%20ENDORSEMENT.doc

[12] Jordan Times (Jordan), October 19, 2004; Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt), October 21, 2004; Syria Times (Syria), October 22, 2004.

[13] That is, encircling Iran from Afghanistan, the Gulf states, Iraq, and Turkey, along with American influence in the Central Asian countries. The reformist daily Aftab-e Yazdcalled on reformists and conservatives to stop playing honor games and to unite to confront the U.S., particularly when "today, whether we want it or not … the U.S. is surrounding us … from four directions." Aftab-e Yazd (Iran), October 24, 2004.

[14] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 191: "Iran Rejects European Offer to Supply it With Nuclear Fuel", October 21, 2004, Iran Rejects the European Offer to Supply it With Nuclear Fuel ; Inquiry and Analysis No. 189: "Iran's Nuclear Policy Crisis", September 21, 2004, Iran's Nuclear Policy Crisis ; Inquiry and Analysis No. 181: "The Internal Debate in Iran: How to Respond to Western Pressure Regarding its Nuclear Program", June 17, 2004, The Internal Debate in Iran: How to Respond to Western Pressure Regarding Its Nuclear Program

[15] Nonetheless, Iran's National Security Council Secretary Hassan Rohani, who is in charge of talks on Iran's nuclear dossier with Europe and the IAEA,said in response to a direct question on whether Iran would not prefer to see Kerry the Democrat in the White House that "it doesn't matter to us which of the two parties wins the election - we have not seen favors from the Democrats and therefore we will not rejoice if the Democrats win." Rohani turned to the Western audience and stated, "We must not forget that most of the sanctions and the economic pressure were applied on Iran under the Clinton administration… We do not fear the U.S., because even if the Republicans win, they have already discovered that, at least in this region, aggression and acts of bullying will only end in their interests being under threat… We also must not forget that while under Bush's [administration], there were harsh, empty, and baseless slogans, [but] no practical steps were taken against Iran." See AP, October 19, 2004.

[16] Aftab-e Yazd (Iran), October 24, 2004.

[17] Sharq (Iran), July 19, 2004.

[18] Sharq (Iran), September 11, 2004.

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