Cairo — Many in the Middle East believe Barack Obama failed to deliver on promises of a new U.S. approach in the region but still prefer him to presidential rival Mitt Romney, who they see as too close to Israel and too keen to project U.S. military might.
Whoever wins the Nov. 6 election faces a knot of regional issues that will not be easy to unravel. World powers are split over the Syria conflict, a row about Iran’s nuclear ambitions rumbles on and Palestinian-Israeli peacemaking is going nowhere.
Compounding the challenge, the Middle East is a region where perceptions of fading U.S. influence have been hardened by Arab uprisings that have toppled dictators who were longtime U.S. allies, bringing Islamists in their place.
“I am one of those who is very much disappointed with Obama,” said Hassan Nafaa, a professor at Cairo University, where the U.S. president, in his first months in office, spoke of “a new beginning” between America and Muslims.
“He didn’t deliver … But I think he is much better than Romney,” said Nafaa, who listened to the Cairo speech in June 2009. “I don’t appreciate at all the right wing in the United States with their preference to use extensive military force.”
Much of the Middle East has changed dramatically during Obama’s first term. But the upheavals of the “Arab Spring” that ousted entrenched autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and Libya were driven by the street rather than U.S. policy, even if U.S. and European warplanes assisted Libyan rebels.
Far from winning praise, some Egyptian activists criticised Obama’s administration for being slow to embrace the change.
“Obama was easy on Mubarak at points and the American administration did not play a full role in supporting the Egyptian revolution,” said Mohamed Adel, a spokesman for the April 6 movement that was at the forefront of the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak after 30 years in power.
But he said Romney was not an attractive alternative for Egypt or the region, describing him as more “aggressive” and citing the Republican’s threats to U.S. aid to Egypt during September protests at the U.S. embassy over an anti-Islam film.