Wednesday 5 November 2008

YES WE CAN work with Obama.

Reactions from Muslims and the Muslim world to the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States.

Relations between the United States and the Muslim World -- not to forget the country's government and its own Muslim citizens -- have not exactly warmed under George W. Bush's watch at the White House. Not surprisingly then that the election of Barack Obama rises expections for an imminent improvement of these relations, although many remain cautious. Here are some reactions from Muslim quarters to the Democrat's victory.

The altmuslim website, based -- of all places -- in Austin (Texas), greeted Barack Obama with a special three-part report entitled 'Assalamu aleikum, Mr. President: Obama prevailed. So will we', "exploring what an Obama victory means for Muslims in the US and around the world"

The Muslim Council of Britain said it was "confident the vast majority of Muslims, not just in the UK, but worldwide, would welcome an Obama victory. The last eight years under Bush are viewed as hugely damaging ones, not just for America, but for the world" [...] "Obama is seen as a person who will hopefully be more inclined to take into consideration the views of other people. We hope Obama will work with other countries. "As someone from a minority background, he embodies America's best ideals in practice. Obama's victory in the election is living proof of America as a symbol of hope around the world."

French Press Bureau AFP reports that, in the Middle East, the Obama win was hailed "amid mixed expectations of change". Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and Palestian Authority President Abbas are looking forward to Obama's plans for restarting the Peace Process. Banned from participating on the grounds that the US 'does not negotiate with terrorists', the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas was reserved in its response. But it 'urged the Democrat leader to learn from the "mistakes" of previous US administrations in dealing with the Muslim and Arab worlds'. Spokesman Fawzi Barhum accused the Bush administration of having "destroyed Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine".

Gamil Matar, director of the Arab Centre for Development and Futuristic Research, warned that even with Obama in the White House and the Democrats a majority in Congress, "the policies of the neocons are not going to vanish overnight." Meanwhile in Saudi Arabia it was 'business as usual', as Saudi King Abdullah sent Obama a congratulatory message, hailing the "historic and close" ties between the two countries.

Put in the 'Axis of Evil' by outgoing President Bush, many Iranians have their hopes pinned on president-elect Obama, but a BBC assessment of the prospects for any immediate improvement of relations is not overly optimistic for the near future.

Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, a senior adviser to Iran's Surpeme Leader, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei, said: "Obama's election displays the failure of America's policies around the globe. Americans have to change their policies to rescue themselves from the quagmire created by Bush." Prominent MP Hamid Reza Haji Baba'i said Obama's victory was an "opportunity and test" and that the Islamic republic had been waiting for a change.

In neighbouring Iraq, the sentiments of Shi'ite leaders were not very different from their Iranian counterparts, although the movement of Iraq's anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr welcomed Obama's victory. "We consider his victory as a wish of the American public to withdraw forces from Iraq. This is what we are looking for," spokesman Sheikh Saleh al-Obeidi said in the holy city of Najaf.

For a detailed account of the intricacies of the US relationship with the Middle East, and Iraq in particular, read Juan Cole's Informed Comment

One country appears to be unreserved in its welcome of the new president. Indonesia is not only the world's most populous Muslim country, but Barack Obama lived there for four years (1967-1971) after his mother married geologist Lolo Soetoro. Obama's halfsister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, even addressed the Democratic National Convention. One of the top stories carried by The Jakarta Post reports on the reactions at Obama's former school in Jakarta's Menteng District. The country's president Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, meanwhile, "welcomed Mr Obama's election", but concentrated in his comments on economical issues, rather than the disturbed relationship between the US and the many parts of the Muslim world: "I want to congratulate Senator Obama for his success in being elected as US President. I also want to congratulate US citizens [...] Indonesia hopes that the US will continue to play a role in bringing peace and security in the world and a fair global economy. [...] In particular, Indonesia hopes the US can take concrete measures to settle the global economic crisis and the financial crisis in the United States."

Ulil Abshar-Abdalla, founder of the Liberal Islam Network and one of Indonesia's most prominent young Muslim intellectuals, commented from Boston, where he is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at Harvard University, that "The election of Obama is clearly a punishment for [a] miserable four years of Bush administration! Salute to [the] American people".

On the Northwestern fringe of the Muslim world, in Turkey, the focus is also on economic issues rather than anything else. Prime Minister Erdogan, whose AKP or Justice and Development Party walks a tightrope between its own stress on 'Islamic values' and the country's staunchly secular constitution, congratulated the newly elected president, but added that "I believe that Turkish-American relations should be defined by the strategic ties between Turkey and the United States, not by government changes there". He went on to say that Obama would "have to shoulder a heavy burden at a time of global financial crisis and compelling international issues." Turkish media are cautiously optimistic, pinning their hope for a better future on Obama, or adopting a 'wait-and-see' attitude.

This somewhat lukewarm response can be explained by the Turkish reservations towards Vice-President-elect Joe Biden, who as a senator went on record stating that the emergence of a Kurdish state in the border regions of Iraq, Iran, and Turkey would have to be reckoned with as a feasible possibility. In addition there is apprehension over Americans of Armenian descent advocating the Armenian issue with a Democrat occupant of the White House. The largest contingent of American-Armenians lives in California, the state of the current Democrat Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, who would be in a position to facilitate access to the new administration.

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