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MIDDLE EAST: Blanket coverage of U.S. presidential elections

November 4, 2008 | 12:06 pm

Obamavote

It is 2 p.m. in Beirut. On Al-Jazeera TV, a correspondent is talking live from Arizona on how Republicans are preparing for the voting to start. A few minutes later, at the studio of the Qatar-based Arab satellite news channel, an American analyst is commenting on the results of the newest polls.

For Arab media, the U.S. presidential election is far from being simply another item of foreign news.

At least today, the election is being covered with almost the same intensity as on any U.S. news channel.

Starting this morning, the big satellite channels throughout the Middle East started extensive coverage of the election with commentators from around the world discussing the effect of the vote on the Middle East, charts and maps explaining where each of the two candidates are favored and several correspondents describing live the atmosphere of the voting day from various U.S. locales such as Virginia and  Florida.

The satellite channel Al Arabiya carried a report from Chicago's South Side showing images of the church where Obama attended services and the building where he worked as a community organizer.

On Al-Jazeera, a talk show addressed the future of Iraq after the election and whether the Democratic Party candidate Barack Obama was prepared to end the war there. The channel interviewed Iraqis on the street on whether security in their country would be improved under a new American president.

Many Arab newspapers clearly expressed their hope for Obama to win in their opinion and editorial articles and headlines published this morning.

The front page of the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar blared, "America changes its color today!" along with a photo of Obama making a victory sign.

Other headlines in other Arab newspapers read" “A peaceful revolution in America,” “America faces a historical decision today ... black or white" and “Black or white at the White House.”

The Saudi-owned, London-based Arab daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat published a caricature that read “leaning Obama” with the picture of a man representing the Middle East leaning towards Obama.

In an opinion piece in the paper entitled “The problem is not with the President," Ali Ibrahim wrote that Arabs should know how to “interact with and adjust to” the new American President whoever he is. He added that Arab countries did not know how “to deal” with American presidents in the past so as to guarantee maximum interests for their people.

The Lebanese daily Assafir called Obama the “candidate of change based on all criteria," and wrote that “the democratic candidate Barack Obama stands on the right side of American history with all his positions and his attractiveness.”

An opinion piece in the newspaper predicted that the new U.S. president, whoever he is, will lead a more pragmatic policy in the Middle East:

“Tomorrow a new American era starts marked by political pragmatism whether led by Obama or McCain after the world has rejected policies of force, arrogance and chauvinism that led to wars and economic catastrophes ... Americans will vote tomorrow. Will the snake only shed its skin or will the problems of the world push it back into its pit?”

The official Syrian newspaper, Al-Watan, published an op-ed piece entitled, “Who is less bad ... Obama or McCain?”

“Nobody should bet on a radical change in Washington’s foreign policy towards the Middle East,” said the article, adding that the U.S. had been showing a clear bias toward Israel for decades.

It concluded that Obama’s election might improve the U.S.-Syrian relations but would not end disputes between the two countries.

-- Raed Rafei in Beirut

P.S. Get news from the Middle East in your mailbox every day. The Los Angeles Times distributes a free daily newsletter with the latest headlines from the Middle East, including the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can subscribe by logging in at the website here, clicking on the box for "L.A. Times updates" and then clicking on the "World: Mideast" box.

Photo: Al Arabiya television broadcasts live coverage of Barack and Michelle Obama casting their votes in Chicago. Credit: Borzou Daragahi / Los Angeles Times

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