Obama vs. Romney in Arabic
For years, the Arabic press promoted the conspiracy that Jews fixed U.S. elections. That’s changing.
Ubaydli’s ideas are not new to ruling elites in the Gulf who read Al-Watan. To the extent Gulf rulers use such tools like oil-price fixing, as Saudis have in the past, they would probably put them at the service of the Republican Party. “There is a broad consensus here that Romney would be better for us,” Abdullah Elmadani, a royalist intellectual in Bahrain with ties to the monarchy, told me. Elmadani noted the Gulf sheikhs’ enduring gratitude to Republicans for liberating Kuwait, their hawkish stand on Iran (known thanks to Wikileaks cables), thinly veiled anger at the Obama Administration for abandoning Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak last year, and sympathy for the plight of Syria’s rebels. Yet Gulf rulers’ internal deliberations are notoriously opaque, which invites speculation as to why the Bahraini kingdom would allow Ubaydli’s piece to run in a newspaper it controls. Perhaps it amounts to a warning of sorts.
But while elites in the Gulf favor Romney, others in the region prefer the incumbent. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior Brotherhood source told me that the movement’s affiliates in the United States understandably regret their support for George W. Bush in 2000 and recognize that their unpopularity among Americans means that any expression of support by the Brotherhood for a given candidate would only hurt him. Nonetheless, R’hayyil Gharaibeh, chief of the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood’s political bureau, told me his preference: “Of course Obama is better,” he said. “He is a big improvement on Bush in terms of the tone of his rhetoric and his decision to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.” My sense from travel and reporting in North Africa and the Middle East since the Arab Spring is that most Arab Muslims share Gharaibeh’s preference to see Obama win this November—and that some will find ways to say as much in English in the remaining weeks of the campaign.
Arabs’ growing recognition that American power is fluid probably owes something to the novelty of free elections in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia. The natural human tendency to project one’s own reality onto others means that a person living under tyranny would be more likely to believe that America, too, is unfree—whereas newly liberated societies can more easily reexamine the United States with an open mind. Last month’s tragedy in Libya reminded Americans how little even a superpower can do to affect the course of distant peoples. Yet the reverberations of our domestic politics in the Arab world this season demonstrate that the power of our example may have a greater impact than we know.
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Judith Butler is the perfect recipient for a prize named after the patron saint of obfuscation