The Global View (3)

Views on the election and the convention from the English-language Arab media.

| Thu Jul. 29, 2004 12:00 AM PDT

In an election which may be won or lost on foreign policy, Americans are told that the world -- particularly the Arab world -- is watching this presidential contest more closely than any other. Here are some of views on Kerry's candidacy and the Democratic Convention from the English-language Arabic media.

If you're looking for unconventional convention coverage, Aljazeera's website is definitely not the place to go. The site's news and feature stories don't differ much from those found in mainstream U.S. publications. Take this Aljazeera piece on Senator Edward Kennedy:

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"Making a passionate plea for traditional Democratic values protecting the poor and the afflicted, Kennedy drew a sharp contrast between his party and a Bush administration he said had burned its bridges with the rest of the world.

'Interdependence defines our world. For all our might, for all our wealth, we know we are only as strong as the bonds we share with others,' he told the crowd.

Kennedy has for months been speaking out for Kerry, defending the Democratic candidate's vote in Congress for the Iraq invasion when he had voted against.

'I am personally convinced that if John Kerry was president of the United States during that time we never would have had an Iraq war. We never would have gone to war,' Kennedy said on Sunday."

As much as Bush's invasion of Iraq and unequivocal support of Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's has enraged many Arabs and Arab-Americans, there is not much optimism that a Kerry victory would bring about a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy. Kerry has publicly rejected an immediate pullout from Iraq and has said that more U.S. troops maybe sent there in the near future. As Aljazeera's chief correspondent Mohammed Alami, who is covering the convention, told the Christian Science Monitor:

"The margin of allowed movement on the Middle East is so small…Kerry might not have gone into Iraq, but the US is there now, and that's unlikely to change whoever wins. On this issue I just don't think there is much Kerry can do."

Neither is there much optimism about Kerry's ability to restart the Israeli-Palestinian talks, given his endorsement of Bush's support of Sharon's controversial construction of the wall running along and into the West Bank. Earlier in his campaign, Kerry got into hot water with some conservative Jewish groups by criticizing the wall and suggesting that President Jimmy Carter -- considered in some circles as insufficiently pro-Israeli -- be sent as an envoy to the region to restart the peace talks. Since then, Kerry has made sure not to give anyone further cause to question his commitment to Israel. (Click here to read this week's Daily Mojo on the subject).

Jimmy Carter's speech at the opening night of the Democratic Convention was one of the few to focus heavily on foreign policy, sharply criticizing Bush's invasion of Iraq, and the deterioration of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As the Qatar-based Gulf Times reported:

"Carter came out swinging at the Democratic convention on Monday, blasting George W Bush for an 'unbroken series of mistakes' he said had squandered the world's goodwill for the United States.

The United States has alienated its allies, dismayed its friends, and inadvertently gratified its enemies by proclaiming a confused and disturbing strategy of 'pre-emptive war,' Carter said.

'With our allies disunited, the world resenting us, and the Middle East ablaze, we need John Kerry to restore life to the global war against terrorism,' he said."

In an editorial in the Jordan Times, former Jordanian diplomat Hasan Abu Nimah argued that looking to the outcome of U.S. elections as a solution to the region's problems was misguided; that there is not much difference in how Democratic and Republican presidents approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and that until Arab countries form a more united foreign policy and institute democratic reforms, U.S. foreign policy in the region -- to the detriment of Arab countries -- will remain unchanged. As Nimah writes:

"Individually and collectively, most Arab states who, instead of Washington, should hold the keys of change are either incapable or unwilling to seize the initiative. The incapable are those struggling to protect their fragile political structures from collapse… The unwilling, on the other hand, are those whose situation is not as precarious yet, and for that reason they would never want to risk slipping into the dangerous territory of the precarious by unnecessarily involving themselves with "secondary" issues.

…No solutions for the problems of the region, the Arab-Israeli conflict in particular, will ever come from the United States. For decades, fragmented and arbitrary Arab policies have made it very easy for the United States to maintain its full support for Israel without fearing any negative consequences, as a result, from the Arab side. If the US could guarantee both the internal benefits of its support for Israel and the full benefits of securing its strategic and economic interests in the Arab region, why, and for what, would Washington sacrifice any of the two advantages?"

The Egyptian Al-Ahram draws attention to an interesting Zogby poll commissioned by the Arab American Institute which revealed a shift in party loyalties of Arab-Americans in the swing states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. 51 percent of those polled favored Kerry, 24 percent Bush, and 13 percent Raph Nader, who is of Lebanese descent. Kerry's lead marks a blow for Bush, who was the favored candidate of Arab-Americans in 2000. And conventional wisdom to the contrary, the economy -- not Iraq or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- was named the top issue of concern by Arab-American voters. As Al-Ahram sums up the poll's findings:

"The economy was described as 'very important' by 81 per cent of those polled, followed by terrorism/national security -- 74 per cent -- health care and Iraq.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict was regarded as 'very important' by 58 per cent, and only nine per cent of those polled approved of Bush's policy on the issue -- an unprecedented low. Zogby [James Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute and] noted that although 50 per cent of Arab Americans said they had no confidence that either Bush or Kerry would fairly deal with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, a clear majority still planned to vote for Kerry."

Lebanon's Daily Star trailed the some of the 43 Arab-American delegates at the Democratic Convention, who expressed their concern not only over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the war in Iraq, but also U.S. foreign policy towards Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Illinois Senate candidate Barack Obama was commanded for his keynote address in which he criticized the curtailing of civil liberties since 9/11 by saying: "If there's an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties." The Daily Star reports on the changes one delegate has experienced in how the party approaches Arab-American voters:

"Maya Berry remembers a time when, as an Arab-American delegate to the 1992 Democratic convention, she held aloft a placard that read - 'Palestinian Self-Determination' - and was trailed by security guards bearing walkie-talkies for her troubles. That incident came at a time when Arab-Americans were struggling to get onto the political map.

"Our issues are the national issues when it comes to the presidential race for the first time ever," says Berry. 'Now everybody's talking about Iraq, everybody's talking about the Patriot Act, everybody's talking about the Palestinian-Israeli problem.' "
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