November 8, 2012 Special Dispatch No. 5045

Following Obama's Reelection, Arab World Between Skepticism And Hope For Change In Policy

November 8, 2012
Special Dispatch No. 5045

Barack Obama's victory in the U.S. elections evoked lukewarm responses in the Arab world. While heads of state congratulated him for his victory and expressed hope for broad cooperation, tightening of relations, and promoting solutions to various Middle East problems, the Arab press also expressed a degree of disillusionment with the U.S. president.

The Gulf states, chiefly Saudi Arabia and Qatar, along with the Syrian opposition, expressed hope that Obama's second term would see a significant change in his foreign policy, particularly a more active and decisive position vis-à-vis the Assad regime. The Syrian regime, for its part, attacked U.S. policy under Obama and even warned America not to consider military intervention in Syria now, after the elections. In Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood (MB) officials stressed that Egypt could rely on itself and would no longer be subordinate to the U.S. Articles in the Egyptian press claimed that no change could be expected in the American policy, which had always served Israel. Palestinian responses, both by Fatah and by Hamas, likewise expressed disappointment with Obama's first term and handling of the Palestinian cause, and called to not have high expectations for his second term.

This document will review some of the responses to Obama's victory in the Arab world.

Gulf States Hope For Change In Obama's Position On Syria

The Saudi and Qatari press expressed hope that, with the elections over and the president free of campaign pressures, the U.S. would change its position on Syria and take a more active role in supporting the Syrian opposition.

Editorials in Gulf Press: Now Obama Has No Excuse To Avoid Helping The Syrian People

In an editorial, the Saudi daily Al-Yawm called on Obama to take a courageous stance and save the Syrian people: "A second term in office [means that] President Obama has a weighty political and moral obligation to fulfill in the Middle East. His first responsibility as part of this is [to address] the tragedy of the oppressed Syrian citizens, who, for the last two years, have been under deadly [attack] by planes, missiles and tanks, and have no hope except an international initiative that will save them from hell. [And] no international initiative can work without a courageous American decision to save the Syrians from the disgusting political bargaining [going on] in the U.N. and to overcome the obstacles set by the Security Council and the Russians... The Russian position, which is hostile to the Syrian people, must be countered by a courageous American position, in order to save the Syrians and stop [Assad's] killing machine...

"Now the American president has no excuse to be negligent in assisting the helpless and besieged Syrian people, which are [subject to] an open war by three of four countries and the militias [they support]... Syria is a test-case for the Americans, who must demonstrate... their ability to defend human rights and their commitment to the slogans and values of American society.[1]

An editorial in the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh also stressed the need for a more decisive American stance on Syria, stating that "[American] support for the [Syrian] opposition and the Free [Syrian] Army has become crucial..." [2]

The editorial of the Qatari daily Al-Watan stated, in a similar vein: "[Obama] must undertake a brave and comprehensive reassessment of his country's stance on various crises, and adjust his reading of [the situation] in various regions where deadly conflicts are underway, in order to rescue and help peoples whose rights have been usurped and who have been deprived of their right to freedom, dignity and social justice... Today, the world expects to see an America that helps the oppressed... and an American position... that is not [limited] to interests..."[3]

Al-Watan (Qatar), November 8, 2012

Al-Arabiya Director: "Obama Will Be The One To Destroy The Assad Regime And End The Threat Posed By The Iranian Regime"

'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, the director of Al-Arabiya TV and former editor of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, advised not to underestimate Obama's ability to confront the Syrian and Iranian regimes and ultimately defeat them:[4] "It is being claimed that the people of Tehran, Damascus, and Beirut's southern suburbs – where Hizbullah is based – celebrated Obama's reelection... or at least celebrated the defeat of his Republican rival. So, is Obama's victory a setback for those of us who stood up for the Syrian people and who rejected the policies of the Iranian ghoul?

"Personally, I don't think that this is the case at all. I think that the soft-spoken Obama will be the one to destroy the Assad regime and end the threat posed by the Iranian regime during his second term [in office]. Anyone who knows the U.S. administration's work mechanisms will be well aware of the extent of the president's influence in his second term. In these four years, the president will be stronger and more able to take decisive action. We must not disregard the fact that, four years ago, while President Obama was building positive relations with the Arabs and Muslims, he was simultaneously pursuing Osama bin Laden, until he ultimately managed to kill him. While he was withdrawing his troops from Iraq, Obama also imposed the heaviest sanctions on the regime of the Supreme Leader in Tehran, causing a near-collapse of the Iranian economy... Therefore, those who think that they can use Obama should think again. This soft-spoken man has achieved more victories in the Middle East than his predecessor, George W. Bush."

Al-Sharq Al-Awsat Editor: We Require A Gulf Diplomatic Campaign To Change U.S. Policy

Tariq Alhomayed, editor of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, published an article titled "Living with Obama for Another Four Years?" in which he expressed his disappointment at Obama's reelection: "I'm still convinced that President Obama committed several mistakes in our region during his first term. With regards to Iran, Obama ignored the Green Revolution, helped to place Iraq under Iranian influence, and overdid the soft diplomacy with Tehran when it came to the Iranian nuclear file. In the Arab world, Obama has made mistakes in his dealings with the Arab Spring states, particularly when strengthening the influence of political Islam there. Finally, he neglected the Syrian revolution and of course failed to accomplish anything of note with regards to the Palestinian cause...

"The question here is: What about our region, specifically Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states? The answer is that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf must pursue rapid diplomatic action. Washington can't leave our region, specifically the Gulf states, at the mercy of hostile parties, whether they are the followers of political Islam or those claiming to be activists, who are actually advocates of division and destabilization, serving the purposes of Islamic groups and even Iran. This is what was proven in the crisis of the Arab Spring, where the Arab 'activists,' as Washington saw them, were nothing but facades for the forces that eventually benefited. Criticizing Obama will not change anything, and waiting for the unknown will be a disaster, so what we need now is a diplomatic uprising with the best of expertise and a clear vision. This is so that we do not come up against any more surprises from Washington in the future, especially since action is long overdue when it comes to the Iranian nuclear issue."[5]

Egypt: Congratulations On Obama's Victory Alongside Calls To Disconnect From U.S.

Obama's victory received mixed responses in Egypt. President Muhammad Mursi sent Obama a congratulatory letter expressing hope that his reelection would realize the interests of both people, strengthen the friendship between the two countries, and promote their common goals of justice, freedom, and peace.[6] Among the congratulators was also Al-Azhar Sheikh Dr. Ahmad Al-Tayeb, who sent a letter to Obama expressing hope for cooperation between the Egyptian and American peoples that would serve the interests of both parties, and called on the American president to act for Muslims around the world and stop the oppression of Palestinians and the Muslims in Myanmar.[7] The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) party also published a message of congratulations calling on the U.S. to enact change and fulfill its expected role in dealing with the Palestinian issue.[8]

MB Officials: Egypt Will Not Be Subordinate To The U.S.

At the same time, some MB officials notably chose to respond to Obama's victory by stressing that Egypt would no longer be subordinate to the U.S. 'Izzat Mustafa, a member of the MB party's High Committee, said that the MB and its party would not allow Egypt to be subordinate to the U.S., as it had been in the past, and called on Egypt to ensure its national interest.[9] MB party deputy head 'Issam Al-Aryan wrote on his Facebook page that Obama's victory would not change the U.S.'s foreign policy, and called on Egypt to rely on itself and to disconnect from American influence: "The U.S.'s foreign policy will not change much. Accepting the will of the Arab people is the most important change. We must rely on ourselves and our resources, and build our country. Egypt, without direct American influence, can influence and lead the process of building a constitutional and democratic regime..."[10]

The message posted on 'Issam Al-Aryan's Facebook page

Al-Ahram Editorial: Do Not Expect Change In U.S. Policy; It Will Continue To Defend Israel

The Egyptian press expressed skepticism regarding a possible change in American policy, saying it would continue to serve Israel. An editorial in the daily Al-Ahram stated: "Many think [Obama] will continue the foreign policy of his first term, especially regarding the Arab Spring countries: Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, as well as Syria. He is likely to continue... pressuring Iran to relinquish its plan to produce nuclear weapons, even if this pressure contributes in some way or another to the increase of Iranian influence in Syria, Iraq, Libya and other Gulf states. It seems that Obama will [also] maintain his commitment to Israel's defense and its security, while pressuring it to avoid attacking the Iranian nuclear facilities."[11]

Similar statements were made by Egyptian journalist Suleiman Gouda in the daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm. Gouda claimed that U.S. presidents cared only about the Israel's security and about Middle East oil, and therefore it was unrealistic to expect too much of Obama's second term: "Arabs are betting that during his second term, Obama will achieve what he failed to achieve in his first term, or more accurately – what no U.S. president has achieved since the founding of Israel... [All] U.S. presidents who arrived at the White House since the day [of Israel's establishment]... were almost one and the same for us... They all addressed our region with [only] two goals in mind: Israel's security, and the oil – nothing else. The strange thing is that, although [we] know this well... every time a new American president [is elected], we once again hope... for something that is no more than a mirage and a waste of time..."[12]

Al-Ahram Columnist: Obama, Who Contributed To Mubarak's Ouster, Has Considerable Influence On Egypt's Affairs

An article titled "Our President Obama," by Al-Ahram columnist Mansour Abu Al-'Azem, took a notably different tone, stressing Obama's significance for Egypt due to his involvement in the country's affairs, including his contribution to Mubarak's ouster: "The election of an American president has become an Egyptian matter... Did the American president not play a part in ousting the regime of Hosni Mubarak when he clearly said that [Mubarak] had to leave "not today, but yesterday"? In addition, we receive yearly American military and material aid from Washington, and the president plays an important part [in deciding] whether to continue it, cancel it, or reduce it. When it comes to our relations with Israel, the U.S. and the American president, whoever he may be, is [once again] a major and influential party in these relations..."[13]

Syrian Regime Attacks Obama; Opposition Condemns His Passivity, Expects Change

The Syrian regime and opposition both blamed the U.S., explicitly or implicitly, for the crisis in Syria and expressed hope for a change in its position.

Following the news of Obama's victory, Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Al-Miqdad slammed America's policy and held it directly responsible for the situation in the Middle East, saying: "The Syrian people hopes that, in his second term in office, Obama will take part in seeking just solutions [for problems] in the Middle East, because the anomalous situation we have been witnessing over the last months and years, particularly in the Arab region, is the result of the destructive errors of the U.S. policy in the region." Al-Miqdad warned America not to intervene militarily in Syria, now that the elections are over, because "such a move [would] be destructive."[14]

An editorial in the Syrian government daily Teshreen likewise attacked the U.S. and called on its president to "stop the policy of direct military combat against peoples... and the political and military interference in the domestic affairs of various countries..." The editorial stated further that "America's policy in the last decades has involved hatred and hostility by the U.S. administrations towards the peoples of the world," and that "this attitude can only be changed by respecting the rights of the peoples and their sovereignty over their homelands."[15]

The Syrian opposition was likewise critical of Obama's policy, especially of his passivity in handling the Syrian crisis, but expressed hope that his second term in office would see a change in this respect. Syrian National Council (SNC) Chairman 'Abd Al-Basit Sida hoped that Obama's reelection heralded "a serious and responsible handling of the Syrian crisis, which is reaching a dangerous point," instead of "the helplessness [heretofore] shown by the U.S. and international community."[16]

Hussein Darwish, a Syrian journalist residing in Dubai, addressed Obama in a sarcastic article he posted on an oppositionist Syrian website: "Mr. President, I know, just like everyone else, that, had you wanted to put an end to the Syrian crisis, you would have done so. But you waited for the election results. [Now] you have four more years leading the world. How about turning your attention to the Middle East, and taking a step that will bring about real change, for us and for you? I am not asking you to [undertake] a military operation against Syria, God forbid... but [only] to take a step that will help us out of the impasse in which we are stuck thanks to your long silence."[17]

Al-Dustour (Jordan), November 8, 2012

PA Senior Officials Congratulate Obama; PA Newspapers Remain Skeptical

PA senior officials congratulated President Obama on his reelection, and expressed hope that he would work to advance the peace process and support the Palestinian bid for non-member state status in the U.N. General Assembly. PA President Mahmoud 'Abbas said he hoped for continued cooperation toward reaching a final settlement in the Middle East and a just and sustainable peace based on a two-state solution. He also praised Obama's past efforts to jumpstart the peace process in spite of difficulties and challenges.[18] PLO Executive Committee member Saeb 'Ereqat said he hoped Obama would promote the Palestinian U.N. bid and take action to stop Israel's settlement policy. He called on the president "to dry up the swamp of Israeli occupation, because [doing so] is the key to democracy."[19]

On the other hand, PLO newspapers ran numerous articles warning the Palestinians not to expect anything from Obama so as not to be let down. Some claimed that the first test of U.S. policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians would be the U.S. stance on the Palestinian U.N. bid.[20] Former PA MP Hassan 'Asfour, editor of a PLO-affiliated website, wrote: "Rather than seeing what they can get from the U.S. president, the Palestinians must learn [from past experience] and not fear [the U.S.], so that the Palestinian cause is not destroyed. The current leadership of the Palestinian people has no alternative but to continue pursuing U.N. membership and preparing adequately for the day after... Enough with the illusions that an American president will [advance] the Palestinian cause. [The path to] the liberation of Palestine and the freedom of its people does not pass through the White House..."[21]

Dr. Hani Al-'Aqqad, a columnist on a Fatah-affiliated website, wrote: "Obama's weak policy on… intervening in the conflict and promoting a just resolution will remain lukewarm and futile, even if Obama promises otherwise in a new official speech to the Arab world, modeled after his previous speech [in Cairo] during his first term... From that point and until his present victory, Obama has taken neither full nor partial responsibility for implementing the two-state program or for establishing peace for all the peoples of the region and the world... Since then, he has not involved himself positively in the Middle East cause, which proves that his speech was a thing of the moment, just a PR speech and nothing more."[22]

Hamas likewise expressed pessimism regarding Obama's second term in office. Senior officials in the movement stressed the U.S. bias toward Israel in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and called on Washington to alter this policy. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhairi called on the U.S. to reassess its pro-Israel policy. Faiz Abu Shamala, a columnist for websites close to Hamas, wrote cynically that 'Abbas could now launch four more years of futile negotiations, but that the Palestinians would have to wait for the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential elections for any hope of ending these negotiations.[23]

Tunisian Journalist: "The Middle East Is Hopeful That The U.S. Will Play A More Active Role In Promoting Palestinian-Israeli Peace"

Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of Tunisia's leading Al-Nahda party, wrote "Barack Hussein Obama" a letter in Arabic, in which he congratulated him on his win and wished him "more success in his quest for democracy and peace in the world."[24]

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki highlighted the strong relations between the two countries, which, he said, were further strengthened after the revolution of freedom and dignity in Tunisia. He added that he was confident Obama's new term would give a fresh impetus to the Tunisian-American relations and hoist them to the level of "strategic partnership."[25]

Tunisian journalist Asma Ghribi praised the American democracy and hoped for greater U.S. involvement in the Palestinian and Syrian issues: "As a Tunisian, I could not help comparing the political conduct in the long-established democracy of the U.S. with and the fragile nascent democracy in Tunisia. Naturally, Tunisia lacks a strong electoral tradition after decades of fake elections… in which the president would win more than 90% of the votes…

"[After Obama's reelection,] The Middle East is hopeful that the U.S. will play a more active role in promoting the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and halt the bloodshed in Syria."[26]

Al-Hayat (London), November 8, 2012

Al-Hayat Editor: Arab World Should Learn From American Democracy

Contrary to responses in the Arab world that focused on the political aspect and consequences of Obama's reelection, the editor of the London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat, Ghassan Charbel, took a different line, calling on the Arab world to learn from the American democracy and from the hope its government gives to the people. He called to enact change by amending curricula in schools: "Clearly, we are facing a long-term trial. The first challenge is to improve the living conditions of the people, in terms of work, dignity, equal opportunity, respect for others, and the empowerment of women. Perhaps the first key is to consider our schools and universities, and their curricula, which must be updated and modernized. Otherwise, we will [merely] follow the U.S. elections every four years, and the Arab Spring will be nothing more than a passing cloud of false hope that quickly scattered."[27]


[1] Al-Yawm (Saudi Arabia), November 8, 2012.

[2] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), November 8, 2012.

[3] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), November 8, 2012.

[4] English edition of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 10, 2012. The text has been lightly edited for clarity.

[5] English edition of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 8, 2012. It should be mentioned that, in an article he published on November 6, 2012, on the eve of the U.S. elections, Alhomayed detailed Obama's mistakes during his first term in handling the Syrian and Iranian issues, and praised Romney, whom he defined as a politician that could be worked with and who has decisive positions on Syria and Iran. Alhomayed said that if Obama was reelected, there would be need for intense Saudi-Gulf diplomatic activity to prompt him to act on the Syrian issue. Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), November 6, 2012.

[6]Al-Wafd (Egypt), November 8, 2012.

[7], November 7, 2012.

[8], November 7, 2012.

[9]Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), November 8, 2012.


[11]Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 8, 2012.

[12]Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), November 8, 2012.

[13]Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 8, 2012.

[14] Al-Watan (Syria), November 8, 2012.

[15] Teshreen (Syria), November 8, 2012.

[16] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), November 8, 2012.

[17], November 8, 2012.

[18] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), November 8, 2012.

[19], November 7, 2012.

[20] Al-Ayyam (PA), November 8, 2012.

[21], November 8, 2012.

[22], November 7, 2012.

[23], November 7, 2012.

[24], November 7, 2012.

[25], November 8, 2012.

[26], November 7, 2012.

[27] English edition of Al-Hayat (London), November 8, 2012.

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