I am really getting fed up with most Arab reactions regarding the election of Barack Obama as America’s 44th president.
Until this day, all I hear about is that “Americans have finally made the right choice” and that what has happened was a “victory for democracy and reason”, yet what is most interesting is listening to people in the Middle East talk about how beautiful it is to see an African American immigrant, who otherwise may have not had a chance to survive, become the President of the world’s number 1 superpower.
Now, I won’t claim this argument is my own as I have heard it over and over here in Europe, especially during Obama’s tour of Europe last summer. It goes something like this: People in France in general backed Barack Obama and urged Americans to vote for him…But when the time comes, would they themselves vote for a North African immigrant for example to sit in their prestigious Élysée Palace ?
And if this question is raised in France, one of the world’s oldest democracies, one only has to wonder what would the true Arab feeling be regarding a similar situation in a Middle Eastern country.
For the sake of argument, let us take The Gulf region (the name itself is the cause of an ongoing racial issue, as many are divided between calling it The Persian Gulf and The Arab Gulf) as an example.
GCC countries are uniquely distinguishable by the massive numbers of immigrants that are imported to fill huge gaps that locals can’t or choose not to fill in the labour market (particularly blue collar jobs such as: construction workers, janitors and drivers).
Indeed in a country like Saudi Arabia with a population of more than 28.5 million, there is an estimated foreign population of more than 8 million. These expatriates reportedly include 1.6 million Indians, 1.5 million Bangladeshis, 1.2 million Filipinos, 1 million Pakistanis, according to the International Religious Freedom Report 2008 published by the US Department of State.
In the United Arab Emirates, another Gulf country which is famed particularly for its ‘out of this world’ projects such as man-made islands and skyscrapers that make New York City look like a miniature park, the locals forms only 20% of the total population, again with massive numbers of the immigrants being imported to join the workforce needed to build and maintain these humongous developments.
So how would an Arab feel if a young, well educated and charismatic descendant of one of these immigrants decides to run for Presidency in an Arab country?
This perhaps could be an interesting basis for a large scale opinion poll in the region; I would be very keen on finding out the results, if such a poll was allowed to be conducted, of course.
In the mean time, one indicator of what could be the general mood lies in the comments of the Dubai Police Chief in a recent Emirati ‘National Identity’ conference which was held last April in Abu Dhabi, the UAE’s capital.
According to the London based Asharq Al Awsat http://www.asharqalawsat.com/details.asp?section=4&issueno=10732&article=467144&feature=
Dubai Police Chief – Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan Tamim said that “in 70 years time, we will be well off, if the sons of our Emirates Crown Princes maintain their rule”.
Tamim also said reportedly: “If Obama can run for President and he is of Kenyan origins, what guarantees do we have that Koti (a common Asian name that indicates to immigrant workforce according to Asharq Al Awsat) won’t come and compete for Presidency (in the UAE)?”.
Such statements might push you to start thinking that perhaps it is a good thing that most Arab countries aren’t democracies; I for one would be ashamed to have a democracy where people are elected on the basis of race, color or religion, rather than political program and agenda.
In fact we do have one of example of this in the so-called democracy of Lebanon; where a President ‘has to be’ a Maronite Christian, a Prime Minister ‘has to be’ a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of the Parliament ‘has to be’ a Shiite Muslim.
The conclusion is if we, Arabs, want to praise Americans for doing what we think is that the right thing… that is fine by me, but let us not give others a standing ovation for overcoming racism while we ourselves are sitting on piles of it, not to mention not having a true democratic process to start with!
This whole situation reminds me of a sad joke: An Arab visits the US for the first time; so he goes to Washington DC to see the White House and ends up arriving on the day of a massive protest against President Bush by Americans who disagree with his policies.
The Arab stops and laughs, so one of the American protesters asks him what he finds so amusing and the Arab replies: “I just discovered that it turns out we don’t lack democracy as you people claim…we are no different than you”.
The American asks how this is so, and the Arab replies: “Well, you are allowed to protest against your president anytime you wish, right?’, so the American replies “Yes, and?”.
“Well, we have the same rights! We can protest against YOUR president anytime we like”, concluded the Arab.