All Arab Eyes on the Convention


Although people in the Middle East cannot vote in the U.S. presidential elections this coming November, Arab media is for the first time providing wall-to-wall coverage of the convention in New York, anxiously observing what pundits are dubbing the process of "Electing the Emperor."

Shortly after the fall of Saddam's statue on April 9 of last year at Firdos Square in Baghdad, newspapers such as the Egyptian Al Ahram started using the term "empire" when referring to the United States. Now they are debating the pros and cons of Kerry or Bush as the "emperor" of the new world order.

A few weeks ago, Al Jazeera Television provided its 40 million viewers with expansive coverage of the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Now its team in Washington is out full force at the Republican Convention in the Big Apple.

Arab media are not watching the conventions to see who will be the candidates. There will be no surprises there. What they are watching is the duel between an incumbent emperor and an emperor-in-waiting.

The incumbent has earned himself the title of "war president" by storming into the politically volatile Middle East like a raging bull in a china shop, knocking everything off balance and fracturing the entire region from Morocco to Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Senator Kerry has been competing to show that he also is capable of taking charge in a time of war by bringing his past Vietnam record to the forefront of his campaign.

There are two debates going on in the Arab world about the future emperor. One is transpiring secretly in the hallways of government buildings and palaces, and the other is taking place among the populace on television screens.

Networks such as Al Jazeera, Abu Dhabi, and Al Manar have been interviewing people on the street about their opinions on the U.S. presidential elections. Al Jazeera has added a new weekly show to its schedule titled: "The American Presidential Race."

The average Arab sees no difference between Bush and Kerry. To them "the lesser of the two evils is still evil." Recent declarations by the Senator about his position on the war on Iraq did not bring hope to "the man on the street" in the region. They understand that Senator Kerry does not want to end the occupation of Iraq, but merely wants to put a happy face on it by proposing to internationalize the occupation.

Arab television also showed images of Kerry's brother flying to Tel Aviv accompanied by 400 new Jewish immigrants to Israel in order to meet with Ariel Sharon. That sends Arabs a clear message that in regards to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Kerry would prefer to appease six million Israelis while dismissing the concerns of 300 million Arabs.

But the Arab governments have a different take on the election. While the Iraq war and the recent scandal at Abu Ghraib prison have dealt a major blow to the Bush administration's credibility in the region, many Arab regimes, with Saudi Arabia taking the lead, hope for the re-election of George W. Bush. They believe in the motto: "the devil you know is better than the devil you do not know."

The leaders of the oil producing countries in the Arab world are nervous about the notion of Kerry winning the U.S. elections given his promises to make the U.S. less dependent on Middle East oil. They paid close attention to Senator Kerry's veiled threat to them and to the Saudi royal family in particular during the Democratic National Convention where he declared to a cheering audience, "I want an America that relies on its own ingenuity and innovation - not the Saudi royal family." To them this means Senator Kerry wants to meddle with their bread and butter: oil. These regimes feel more at ease continuing to conduct business as usual with a familiar partner: President Bush.

While Arab governments and the Arab population differ on their choice of the next emperor, the facts on the ground remain the same. Images of American-made Apache helicopters, and American-made tanks wreaking havoc in both the West Bank and Iraq haunt their living rooms thanks to Arab satellite television and speak to a dismal future; a future that does not offer the slightest glimmer of hope for peace in the region.

The Arab masses view an Israeli occupation and an American occupation daily and they are not differentiating between the two. They are hoping for a new emperor who will someday end these horrific images they are subjected to on a daily basis.

So far, in the vast deserts of the Arab world, these hopes are nothing but a mirage.

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