The US general elections not only affect a nation, they affect the whole world. Yet the issues that move American citizens – the people who actually vote to decide who takes on the mantle of the “leader of the free world” – may be very different to the issues that concern the rest of the planet, a planet which has become increasingly under the influence of US politics, economics and culture. In order to find out where Saudi allegiances lie, and which way its interests swing, Saudi Gazette’s Joe Avancen?, Shahid Ali Khan and Sabahat F. Siddiqui went to the Kingdom’s three largest cities – Dammam, Riyadh and Jeddah respectively – to speak to a wide range of prominent figures in their various fields. Lawyers, rights activists, journalists, economists, academics and leading members of the business community all gave their personal viewpoints on who they were backing and why in one of the most important elections on earth.
Barack Obama should be the next president of the United States, a majority of Saudis feel. Eight out of ten Saudis interviewed by Saudi Gazette in the Eastern Province said they hoped Obama of the Democratic Party makes it to the White House, while two said they do not care who is elected president. None endorsed the Republican John McCain.
Those who wanted Obama in the White House said he could initiate changes in many US policies, including finding solutions to the problems of the global economy, change in foreign policy for the benefit of Americans and the world at large, an end to American occupation of Iraq, and a lasting solution to the problems of the Middle East.
Ismail S. Naser, leading lawyer and legal adviser to many companies, roots for Obama. “He is the better candidate, young, progressive in thinking, and he has charisma.
I think he will initiate changes in America. I feel that the US economy, as well as that of the world, will be the focus during his presidency.”
Sheikh Bin Daham Al-Shammary, human rights advocate, social activist, and representative of the Human Rights Commission in Eastern Province, endorses Obama.
“I hope Obama wins because I feel he will provide a long-term solution to problems in America and the world as well. He is not the typical politician but he is serious in making a change. I hope he will address the issue of global human rights.”
Dr. Ahmad A. Audhali, corporate lawyer and advocate of foreign workers’ rights, likes Obama.
“I like Obama, but I am not sure if America will make him president. Americans are not ready to have a black president; they may turn against him and vote for McCain instead. Between Obama and McCain, Obama talks more sense. McCain is not only aged, but hot tempered.
One thing I do not like was Obama’s statement about Jerusalem that it is the exclusive capital of Israel. He said this to please the Jewish voters. Nevertheless, I hope he will find a solution to the problems of the Middle East, including the Palestine issue.”
Abdullah S. Al-Ghamdi, finance adviser of a leading Saudi contracting company, finds Obama suitable for the job.
“He is young and has the vision of providing social welfare for the Americans. He can provide solutions to the global financial crisis facing us now. I like his ideas. The world really needs a change.”
Dr. Halim Hamid Redhwi, professor and assistant supervisor of Dhahran Techno-Valley, KFUPM, prefers Obama. “I like Obama’s attitude; he is sending the right message to Americans, as well as to the world. He might provide the right financial package to ease the current global crisis.”
Abdullah H. Al-Khaldi, CEO of a trading service company in Jubail, also endorses Obama. “I like his vision for a change, although I am not an American. If he can provide change in America, he can certainly provide change in the world economy and the way other people – the poor people – live in other countries. I hope he can find a solution to the current financial crisis.”
Faisal Hamdam Al-Dhfeeri, director of public relations, of an economic commission, likes Obama. “For a change, Obama could be the man. He is young, dynamic, serious, and not political, unlike McCain.”
Bidah Al-Gahtani, retiree and president of the Eastern Province Retirees Association, likes Obama. “I want him to be the next US president because I want a change in US foreign policy. I hate the Republican foreign policy. It created problems for Americans; it created hatred against Americans; it created problems for the world. The US was better during Clinton’s time. I want that foreign policy of fair dealing with the world to come back. Obama will bring back that period.”
Dr. Said J. Al-Qahtani, president of a large mining company, is non-committal. He said he favors neither Obama nor McCain. “I like Americans; I like the country. It is probably because I like their culture and ways of living, having resided there for over nine years. Nevertheless, whoever comes out top on Nov. 4, America will remain a great country. My feeling is still for the one who will be elected whether Obama or McCain.”
Salah S. Al-Shaiban, head of media department of a science research organization, says he does not care who wins the election. “Whoever is elected will follow the same American thinking and their perception as a country and as a people will stay. I am not endorsing either of the candidates.
In Riyadh, a large number of prominent Saudis endorsed Obama as the next most suitable president of the United States.
They blamed President George W. Bush’s administration for wrong and rigid decisions that put America in difficult situations, the worst among them being the current financial crisis.
Moreover, they said if one looked into history the Republicans followed a more belligerent policy and that proved self-destructive both in achieving economic goals and in having better foreign relations.
However, the majority of those interviewed in the survey believed no forthcoming American president would have a magic wand to bring immediate economic recovery and prosperity for Americans.
They argued that the corrective measures taken up by the Bush administration will have to continue in the future irrespective of who wins the Nov. 4 elections.
Ihsan Bo-Hulaiga, a leading economist, did not foresee any major difference in the post-election United States. “We are now talking about recession and economic slowdown, that’s already taking place in America. The Bush administration has already announced corrective measures to rescue the US economy from the current financial crisis. This will go on for quite some time irrespective of who wins the elections,” he said.
Jasir Al-Jasir, a prominent columnist and managing editor of a leading Arabic daily, however, sees in Barack Obama some qualities which may bring a quick recovery to the US economic slowdown.
“The reasons why I believe Obama can bring some quick change is because he has excellent financial consultants. Besides, Joe Biden as his running mate has been an expert on global economic issues, which will help make Obama a better president,” he said.
He said: “Republicans have a history of looking into issues outside their own country while Democrats tended to concentrate more on the domestic well-being.”
Ahmed Aba Al-Khail, a prominent journalist said he endorsed Obama as the most suitable presidential candidate for America because of his “calm diplomacy.”
“Unlike John McCain, Obama has been consistently focusing on the current economic situation in the country and throughout the campaign he has been convincingly offering possible solutions to rescue the country’s economy,” he said.
“Obama has some revolutionary ideas and that’s what Americans need now,” said Aba Al-Khail.
Thaiseer Al-Qonaizi, a research scholar and professor of politico-economics hoped Obama’s slogan, “Change we need,” would come true.
He said this was indicative of the way the political campaign had been going on these past few weeks. The two leaders – McCain and Obama – have been pointing fingers at each other more than presenting any solution or action plan they would take after becoming president.
“America is in a bad economic situation now. The whole US economic system is collapsing and I don’t think any future president will be in a position to handle the current crisis,” said Al-Qonaizi.
Sultan Al-Bazie, a prominent Saudi businessman said he takes little interest in the current presidential elections largely because the US foreign policy will remain the same irrespective of who wins the elections.
He said for him the US presidential elections are always like a football game that takes place every four years.
As regards the financial crisis, “I think the Obama camp could do better than McCain because the former is young and has innovative ideas.”
Solaiman Al-Buthi, a US-educated public sector employee, believes that the current financial crisis that erupted first in the US was mainly due to President Bush’s wrong decisions during his “war on terror.”
“America is spending $1 trillion on war expenses per year,” he said adding that any country that was involved in prolonged wars would collapse financially. However, I have always supported Democrats as a party and not who was running for the presidency,” Al-Buthi said.
He said Obama has an edge over McCain just because he represented the Democratic Party, which has been known for creating jobs and hence more economic prosperity for Americans.
“If you look back into history, Americans have been always better with presidents elected from the Democratic Party. Moreover, the current America, under President Bush has drifted a lot from its traditional ethics of ‘justice for all.’ Unless this is attained, Americans will continue to suffer both financially and politically irrespective of who wins the elections,” Al-Buthi said.
In Jeddah, Saudi Gazette found that many Saudis foresaw Obama as a better leader with a good chance of occupying the White House. A cross-section of the people in right places contacted by Saudi Gazette hoped for a victory for Obama and the changes he has promised in his election campaign.
The Democratic candidate has clearly overwhelmed Ali Tawati, a well-known political analyst, who has always been a Republican supporter. “They have now changed their policies,” he said. The wide range of Republican policies, he said, was missing this time around and that has “put the focus on Obama.”
Salema Banajah, an economist, does not see any far-reaching changes in the post-poll US scenario, especially after the current financial meltdown.
Ahmed Al-Shahlan, an architect, said many Saudis consider Obama to be a revolutionary. “His straight forward speeches and clear-cut style indicate that he will bring positive changes,” he said. “We all are fed up with listening about terror and attacks. We need peace, we need peace of mind. And I am sure Obama has that trait,” he said.
Saleh Al-Jedani, a businessman, hoped that Obama wins the presidency even though he may “not be able to solve the lingering Middle East crisis.”
Mustafa Al-Afandi, a senior economist, said both Obama and McCain have their own ideologies regarding the world economy and politics. “Both of them should think beyond the boundaries.” When pressed for his preference for the next White House occupant, Al-Afandi sounded non-committal.
Syed Hussain, a chartered accountant, wished for victory for Obama and said American policies would change for the better if he occupies the White House. Hussain said McCain would, in all probability, follow the hawkish policies of President Bush.