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LEBANON: News of Obama's victory spreads via Facebook, text message and TV

November 5, 2008 | 10:33 am


Samer Jamal heard the news today on the radio as he drove to work.

The 26-year-old Lebanese employee of a Dubai-based television channel said he felt goosebumps.

The election of Barack Obama as president of the United States touched him personally.

"When I heard the news, frankly, I shivered," said Jamal, who said he congratulated his friends on Facebook after Obama's victory.

"I felt concretely what the American democracy was really about. I felt jealous. I wished we could have such a peaceful political transition in our part of the world."

Many people in Lebanon and in the Middle East were cheered that Obama, a Democrat whose father was born a Muslim, had won the election. People congratulated one another via cellphones and on online chatting services, sending simple messages of "mabrouk" -- congratulations.

At the American University of Beirut, founded by U.S. missionairies, students were overjoyed.

Amer Ghandour, a 20-year-old public administration student, said he was lying in bed when the phone calls and text messages arrived. "I was shocked to learn that Obama has made it," he said. "I think his charismatic, wise and rational personality will lead to the promised change and not anything else."

Though some people doubt whether a new American president can make a real difference in the Arab-Israeli conflict and other troubles in the Middle East, others say the victory of a man who believes more in diplomacy than the use of force was in itself a sign of hope for positive change.

"There won't be a lot of changes directly for Lebanon. But indirectly, if Obama opens negotiations with Iran and Syria, this will give Lebanon a break and allow for a transition period," said Kamel Wazne, a political analyst and director of the Beirut-based Center of American Strategic Studies.

In the past few years, Lebanon's western-backed government has enjoyed a wide support from President George Bush, who repeatedly made statements rebuking  neighboring Damascus for fostering instability in the country.

Bush also stood staunchly by the government of Fouad Siniora. "Those times are over," Wazne said. "Americans have bigger worries. With Europeans opening up to the Syrians and Israelis wanting to engage in a dialogue with Syria, nobody wants to antagonize the Syrians."

Indeed, on the television channel of the Iranian and Syrian-backed Shiite militia Hezbollah, coverage today bordered on praise for Obama.

"The United States changed its face," the presenter said during the main midday newscast. "Voters have rejected Republicans and the neocons.... Democrats took advantage of the accumulated mistakes of Bush."

Obama was described as, "charismatic," "transparent" and "realistic."

-- Raed Rafei and Khaled Hijab in Beirut

Photo: A Muslim cleric watches Barack Obama at an electronics shop in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon. Credit: Mohammed Zaatari / Associated Press

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