12/05/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

U.S. Election Fever Grips Arab Media

This year's U.S. presidential election has garnered more Arab media attention than most analysts remember given the two main contenders' contrasting promises, backgrounds and races, with audiences' reactions varying from excitement to nonchalance depending on their respective countries.

"America Today Faces Historic Choice: Black or White," headlined Lebanon's key daily An-Nahar with a report on how Americans were to decide if this election merited all the adjectives and superlatives describing the longest and most expensive presidential race on record.

Lebanon's An-Nahar daily (Abu-Fadil)

"America Changes its Color," said Lebanon's Al Akhbar, while the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat's led with "America on the Verge of Historic Change Today."

The latter's Washington correspondent wrote of fears that violence may break out if Sen. Barack Obama loses, as occurred followed the assassination of Martin Luther King and that racism had revived Sen. John McCain's chances in America's rural heartland.

For Kuwait's Al Seyassah, it was "Super Tuesday: The U.S. Chooses and the World Waits."

For months, Obama's racial roots and the prospect of having the first African-American leader of the free world have fascinated Arab media. They've recounted blow-by-blow details of the campaign and uncovered the confusing side of the Electoral College that ultimately decides who becomes commander in chief.

"Elections with a New Color" is a graphic that has appeared on Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV that has reinforced its U.S. bureau with a team of anchors and reporters from headquarters.

Al Jazeera TV anchor in Washington (Abu-Fadil)

Besides the obvious coverage of campaign stops, rallies, interest in Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin's expensive wardrobe, limited general knowledge, purported abuse of power and gullibility for falling for a phone prankster pretending to be French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Al Jazeera has also zeroed in on issues like poverty and thriving bigotry in America.

The satellite channel, like Dubai-based rival Al Arabiya, has also followed the Arab-American community which seems to have veered more toward Obama than Republican rival John McCain despite a tradition of backing GOP candidates.

Both networks aired live reports of Barack and Michelle Obama casting their ballots in Illinois as their daughters hovered around the voting machines.

Al Arabiya airs live coverage of Obama voting (Abu-Fadil)

While pleased at the thought someone whose father was a Muslim may occupy the White House, and that his pronouncements on world affairs have been more conciliatory than his opponent's, Arabs appearing on TV have been equally dismayed by his initial foray into the Middle East's thorniest issue by declaring Jerusalem was Israel's undivided capital, before backing down.

"I don't think McCain, Obama or any other president will make a difference as long as there isn't a united Arab position and as long as Arabs don't manage to create and a run a lobby that is as effective as AIPAC," said Faisal Abbas, media editor of the Saudi-owned pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat.

Faisal Abbas of Asharq Al-Awsat

His paper has provided extensive coverage of the presidential race, with voluminous copy on the intricacies of battle, colorful graphics describing the voting process, a color-coded map on how each state votes, and a feature on the candidates' wives entitled "Next First Lady: Rich Blonde or Black Lawyer?"

The article focused on how Cindy McCain had raised eyebrows by not making her tax records public while Michele Obama had ruffled the feathers of those who doubted her patriotism.

"Lebanon Has Been Below Radar for U.S. Presidential Rivals," reported that country's English-language paper The Daily Star. It quoted a number of skeptics who doubted any new administration would initiate major changes in the Middle East region, given past U.S. performance.

Maverick Ralph Nader, who is of Lebanese descent and has run as an independent in five U.S. presidential elections to date, told Beirut-based Assafir daily that both Obama and McCain would hurt Lebanon.

He said the Democratic and Republican candidates would be as harmful and dangerous to Lebanon as has been the administration of George W. Bush.

Lebanese citizens interviewed on Lebanon's Future TV News channel were mostly for Obama, while Iraqis were waiting for the election's results to determine their country's fate, according to an FTV report.

Palestinians, meanwhile, did not care one way or the other who won, the report added, as they'd seen little to assuage their fears of having their rights restored since the creation of the state of Israel 60 years ago.

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