Fri, Nov 05, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Kuwaitis happy with Bush win

ARAB REACTION MIXED Several people said they hoped that a second term would allow Bush to focus on achieving a solution to the Israeli-Palesintian crisis


President George W. Bush was the first US president to call for an independent Palestinian state and has pledged that his administration, unlike its predecessors, won't shore up Arab dictators.

Many Arabs, though, complain he hasn't backed up such words with action. The second term that Bush won on Wednesday will be a second chance for him to show the region whether he means what he says about finding a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and shepherding in a new era of peace and democracy in the Middle East.

"The re-election of President Bush frees him from pressure ... to re-elect him again. Therefore, this strengthens hope for a [US] foreign policy in which Bush's name could be linked with achieving important things such as a solution to the Middle East crisis," Lebanese Information Minister Elie Ferzli Ferzli told the Future television channel on Wednesday night.

However, Bush does face angry suspicion. His support for a Palestinian state and for democratic reform "do weigh in, but I don't think they outweigh other issues on the Arab street," said Glen Johnson, executive director of the Center for American Studies and Research at the American University in Cairo.

Chief among Arab concerns is Iraq, toppled into chaos by a US-led invasion. Before the invasion, Bush had vowed Iraq would emerge as a model for Arab democracy.

US and Iraqi officials say elections there will go ahead in January. But amid almost daily kidnappings and car bombings, Baghdad secretary Samar Abdul-Ridha said she's afraid no US president can do much to help Iraq.

"We've lost faith in any one," Abdul-Ridha said.

While many doubt Bush is the man to fix Iraq, let alone usher in reforms elsewhere, Kuwaiti lawyer and human rights activist Salah al-Hashem was optimistic about Bush's push for more political freedom in the region.

"We know Bush's policy well and it is in our interest," al-Hashem said.

Sami al-Nisf, the press adviser to Kuwait's prime minister, also said Bush would be good for civil liberties in the Middle East.

Bush "has a democratic project for the area, which needs such projects," al-Nisf said, adding Bush was committed to elections in Iraq.

Kuwaitis were virtually alone among Arabs in welcoming the Bush victory as most Arab opinion makers had said Senator John Kerry would be better for the Middle East. Kuwaitis see Bush as the son of George H. W. Bush, the president who liberated Kuwait from Iraqi occupation in the 1991 Gulf War.

"We Kuwaitis are happy about Bush's victory because we owe the Republican Party for liberating Kuwait and Iraq," said lawyer Najib al-Wugayyan, referring to the Gulf War and last year's toppling of Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, whom Kuwaitis had long feared.

"We are happy. The American people made the right choice," said Kuwait University political scientist Ahmed al-Baghdadi. "Bush is a man capable of making decisions ... I hope he will win his war against terrorism and bring the terrorists in Fallujah to their feet."

On the Arab-Israeli conflict, despite his historic endorsement of a Palestinian state, Arabs see Bush as an unabashed supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

"There is a need for US policy in the world to change, to push forward the peace process in the Middle East, stop house demolitions and bloodshed," Asma Khader, the Jordanian government spokeswoman, said on Wednesday.

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