Four years on, 'Obamamania' conspicuously absent in Egypt

Dina Ezzat , Wednesday 7 Nov 2012

Unlike four years ago, there was little euphoria greeting the victory of Obama at the US polls, though most are happy his opponent lost

President Obama
President Obama's Cairo University speech in 2009 (Photo: Reuters)

At the age of 65, Abdel-Wahid has been selling newspapers around Heliopolis for over 35 years. He remembers days when people were very keen on getting their copy of their favourite dailies but does not see Wednesday, where most papers were announcing the victory of US President Barack Obama over opponent Mitt Romney, as one of those days.

“It was different last time. People had already known from TV, of course, but they still seemed keen enough to get the papers and read more details on the new ‘black’ president and his victory,” Abdel-Wahid said.

The decline in interest, in the view of Nader, an Egyptian activist in his late 30s, can be attributed in part to the “now overwhelming influence of the social media." Obamamania, that took the world by storm in 2008, is over.

Nader spent “a few hours” Tuesday evening following the results of the US elections, he says. He also followed social media responses, on Facebook and Twitter, and found little support for Romney. “It was predominantly Obama that was getting support from Egyptians,” he said.

He added: “But it was clear that the support was not very keen or intense."

Nader was hoping Obama would win, thinking this would be “somewhat better for Egypt and for the Arab world." “I know that our dreams of an Obama who would have the courage and vision to act in an unprecedented way on (Middle East) issues are no longer valid. He was there for four years and he did not do any of this. But I still think he is a better choice than Romney, who was clearly going to take the side of Israel in a much worse way than Obama could do,” he explained.

When Nader woke up Wednesday morning, Cairo local time, it was the early hours of dawn on the East Coast of the US and Obama was already a winner. “I was pleased, but of course it was nothing like last time,” he said.

Four years ago Nader — and many others in Egypt and around the world — was on tenterhooks waiting for the outcome of the presidential race between Obama — then a daring Democrat of African and Muslim origins — and Republican John McCain. Like many around the world, Nader was hoping Obama would make it.

As a Copt, Nader found it inspiring that a minority — a black American — could make it to the top executive post of arguably the world’s preeminent power. As an Arab and an Egyptian, Nader was hoping for an end to the neoconservative policies George W Bush had pursued for eight years, “leading to the devastation of Iraqis and Palestinians, among other disasters.”

But Nader learned after the first year of Obama’s presidency that whoever sits in the Oval Office is bound by limitations. “But still, it was good to get rid of the smug Republican approach,” he said.

Nader did not like anything about Obama’s predecessor — not even the way he supported calls for democracy in the face of the rule of Washington’s long time ally, ousted President Hosni Mubarak. “There was something about him that was off-putting and arrogant,” he said.

Today, Nader has no high expectations of the next Obama administration when it comes to matters of democracy and freedom in Egypt. “I think that (the Americans) care more about having an agreement with the Muslim Brotherhood on Israel rather than urging them to observe fair citizenship in Egypt,” he said.

For Nader, Obamamania is “long over.”

Nader is not alone. According to the staff of a popular Heliopolis café that had hosted numerous viewers from Cairo’s middle class, this Tuesday evening was very pale in comparison.

“We had clients, the average for an evening of November, and we had the TV on, but we did not see that following with a great deal of interest,” said Maher, a waiter.

According to Maher, when breaking news announced the victory of Obama, “There were signs of joy, but nothing like last time; last time people really celebrated and they were very euphoric.”

According to Hadiyah and Sally, a pharmacologist and an interior designer, both in their late 30s, the victory of Obama was not assured but seemed possible. This was part of the reason they chose not to stay late, following the outcome of the elections on TV.

“I followed Twitter, and I have many friends in the US. When it was becoming clear that Obama was making headway, I went to bed,” said Sally.

Hadiyah is glad that Obama is still in the White House, because “in the final analysis he was a good US president, in the sense that he did not start wars or threaten disasters as Bush did, and as we feared that Romney would.”

Like Nader, Hadiyah has no great expectations of Obama when it comes to promoting democracy in Egypt, or Arab-Israeli peace. “When we made the 25 January Revolution it was us who removed Mubarak, not the Americans, or American pressure. And it would be us who would eventually force (President Mohamed) Morsi to act in line with the will of the entire Egyptian people, and not just a group of it – whatever Obama will or will not do regarding Egypt,” she argued.

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