Arabs react to U.S. election results

Associated Press
Date: 11-08-06

By ROBERT H. REID, Associated Press Writer

AMMAN, Jordan - Angered by the Iraq war and new violence in Gaza, some Arabs reacted harshly Wednesday to the drubbing of President Bush's party, saying the Republicans paid for failed U.S. policies across the Middle East.

In Israel, on the other hand, some analysts worried that political infighting between Democrats and Republicans in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election might distract the Americans from looming crises in the Middle East, chief among them the prospect of a nuclear Iran.

"Israelis perceive the Iranian threat as imminent," said Prof. Menahem Blondheim of Hebrew University. "Without political support at home and in his party and among American public, a decisive military or diplomatic move against Iran seems less and less likely."

Most governments across the region had no official comment on the election results, but critics of the U.S. role were blunt.

"I was really thrilled when I learned that the Democrats won in Congress," said Mohammed Ali, a Cairo auto parts salesman. "They are far better than the Republicans led by Bush, who destroyed everything everywhere. Look at Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon."

"President Bush is no longer acceptable worldwide," said Suleiman Hadad, a lawmaker in Syria, whose autocratic government has been shunned by the U.S.

Even in pro-Western Jordan, newspaper editor Nabil al-Sharif said many Arabs believe U.S. policies under Bush are "dangerous to the region and to the world."

"We are delighted that the American voters have at least disassociated themselves from these dangerous policies," he said.

Iranian state television said in a commentary that the Republicans suffered losses because of "Bush's wrong strategy in the Middle East" as well as "financial corruption in the United States."

But overall, the U.S. election results were overshadowed in both Israeli and Arab media by the deaths of at least 18 people when Israeli tank shells blasted a residential neighborhood in Gaza early Wednesday.

Hamas' military wing in Gaza urged Muslims worldwide to attack U.S. targets, but the call was disavowed by the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

Nevertheless, many Arabs are highly critical of the United States for its support of Israel, especially during last summer's war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. The latest bloodshed in Gaza seemed certain to intensify that.

"Our experience is whether it is Democrats or Republicans, we don't see much difference when it comes to dealing with Israel," said Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.

He was not alone in dismissing the results because of seeing little difference between Democrats and Republicans on such hot-button issues as U.S. support for Israel.

"I don't believe there will be any change at all in U.S. policy," said Yousef Abu Hijra, who runs a mobile phone shop in Amman. "There's no difference between the two parties."

For many Arabs, the war in Iraq stands out as the defining event of the Bush administration.

Kuwaiti political analyst Abdul-Ridha Aseeri described Democrats' gains as a "normal reaction" to the president's "failed" policies in Iraq. Kuwait was among the few Arab countries where support for the war was strong when the conflict began in 2003.

Aseeri predicted the resurgent Democrats may succeed in pressuring Bush into a face-saving formula for withdrawing from Iraq.

But some analysts - even some who opposed the war from the start - saw dangers for the region in a quick American departure from Iraq.

"The problem for Arabs now is, an American withdrawal could be a security disaster for the entire region," said Mustafa Alani, an Iraqi analyst for the Gulf Research Center in Dubai.


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