Yemenis and the US elections [Archives:2008/1188/Viewpoint]

September 8 2008

Nadia Al-Saqqaf
A running joke in the Yemeni community has it that Yemenis should be allowed to vote in the US elections instead of Yemen's, because “the result of Yemeni elections is predefined so their vote doesn't make a difference, whereas, since the United States of America rule the world, they have the right to decide who the next American president will be.”

Regardless of the extent of truth in this joke, the fact is that Yemenis are very concerned by the current American elections because they believe that whether Obama or McCain is elected will make a difference in US policy in the Middle East.

Many members of the Muslim community in the US were, until recently, in favor of Obama since he represents minorities and has Muslim origins. When Obama denied the latter and took a pro-Israel stand during his visit to the Middle East, many of his potential supporters started changing their minds. Yet, despite how disappointing Obama has turned out to be to the Muslim community in the US, McCain will not get their votes, or so they say in blogs on the internet.

With an internet participation of less than one percent in Yemen, and with less than ten percent of the country's population tuning into English media, the heated debates between Obama and McCain are not part of the average Yemeni's sphere of knowledge.

However, Yemenis know that the continuing war in the Middle East, especially in Iraq, is one of the debated points between Democrats and Republicans. They realize that, unlike Bush's Republican administration, the Democrats oppose great spending on the war in Iraq and think of it as a waste of both Americans' tax money and lives. For this reason only, Yemenis are following the progress of the race to the White House, with some actually praying that the Democrats win.

Even active Yemeni women are hoping that the Democrats win because they admire Hillary Clinton. The fact that Sarah Palin is the first female republican nominee as vice president does not change their attitude, as they are still pro-Hillary and will support whoever she is supporting. “We know Hillary and admire her, but we have never heard of this Palin woman, so we'd rather stick to what we know,” they often comment on this point.

What Yemenis don't realize is that US policy towards the Middle East is not really going to change with a new president. The amount and allocation of spending might differ, but priorities will remain more or less the same.

Perhaps it is part of the conspiracy theory the Arab world is so blinded by that makes Yemenis hope that the Middle East's rescue will come at the hands of a new American president. Perhaps this is why they hope, despite history repeatedly showing that politicians in the Oval Office don't carry all the keys to closed doors and often don't have all the answers.