A tweet from one of Saudi Arabia’s most influential clerics summed up the Middle East’s response to Barack Obama’s re-election:
“Obama isn’t good,” tweeted Salman al-Oudah, “But he is the lesser evil.”
After four years during which he largely kept Washington on the sidelines while the Arab Spring transformed the Middle East, Obama’s re-election was met more with relief than joy in a region that welcomed him in 2008 and still has bitter memories of his Republican predecessor George W. Bush.
There was cautious hope that he could reach a deal with Iran to defuse tension over its nuclear programme, and prod Israel and the Palestinians closer to reviving their frozen peace talks. Above all, people said Obama was less likely than his Republican opponent Mitt Romney to start another war.
“Obama was the better choice,” said Cairo schoolboy Mohammed Gamal. “At least no war had happened in his four-year term.”
Amin, a Tehran filmmaker, told Reuters by telephone: “We hate the policies of the U.S. and Israel, but Obama’s policies are wiser. The only chance we have for the situation not to get worse was an Obama victory.”
Mira, a 32-year-old dissident Iranian journalist reached by telephone, said: “Romney seemed willing to take U.S. foreign policy back to its Bush-era belligerent xenophobic milieu.”
The Middle East is hardly a region where any U.S. president can expect effusive praise, but surveys have shown that most there wanted Obama to win, if only because of bitter memories of Bush and the widely resented war in Iraq.
“An Obama win was expected and he is the best at this stage,” said Cairo doctor Mohamed el-Sanusy. “Let us not forget that Romney is a little Bush.”