Categorized | Election Blog

BLOG: View of the Election from the Middle East

Robert Underwood, an English teacher in Qatar and an American from Illinois writes about hearing the results of the presidential election in Doha, the capital city. Underwood is a relative of one of the reporters on the El Cerrito Focus team.

“On election night, we were clicking through channels, hoping to hear something new. Doha is eight hours ahead of East Coast time, so I knew we probably wouldn’t hear any real results till at least the middle of the night. I flipped through CNN, Al Jazeera, the BBC and a few other channels that we get in Doha. My wife Carmel (a Modesto native) and I stayed up past 2 a.m., anxiously listening to the few results that were coming in. Then it was off to bed, but I was back up at 4 a.m. – there were reports of polling irregularities, but not enough to keep Obama from winning. Carmel and I were up again at seven, on the computer searching for news. ‘We won!’ I heard Carmel yelling, ‘Big time!’ she said. Kenya was declaring a national holiday. America was cheering.

We drove to our classes at Qatar University around noon, and our sweet students were all congratulating me and Carmel on the Obama victory. I hadn’t said anything about the presidential race until the day before, when I was ending a media lab class. I projected my ‘Obama’ campaign button that my sister Peggie had given me onto the big screen in the class before letting the students go. Today, the students seemed as confused as some of the McCain and Palin supporters, as I heard talk in Arabic about a new Muslim president, or something like that.

After classes, Carmel and I drove to a big villa behind the Spanish embassy and across from the Arabian Gulf to the Brookings Institution event – an election party we were invited to through the Georgetown University branch in Doha. There wasn’t a big crowd, but it was an interesting one, full of many nationalities. Surprisingly, some of the people we knew – an African woman, an Indian woman and a few others – announced that they had voted for the first time and were new American citizens. We had known them for more than a year and had not known they held a U.S. passport until today.

A good discussion ensued, with much dialogue on what the future would bring for the world, the Middle East, the world economy, health care in America, etc. CNN was mutely playing on a large screen, and I remember the images: Jesse Jackson with tears streaming down his cheeks, Obama and his lovely daughters waving, the totals coming in and emotions rising. Pizza and soft drinks were passed around, and the microphone was passed from one person to another. There were lots of good comments and interesting questions and answers about how the electoral system works and how the power will flow between now and January.

Many were interested in how the situation in the world could change. Iran is very close to Doha, and with Iran standing firmly in favor of nuclear power and the U.S. adamant about the impossibility of a nuclear Iran, people wondered how this divide could be healed diplomatically.

It seemed that ‘hope’ and dialogue might lead to some solutions. The audience was hopeful, but also quarreling and questioning. Most thought that perhaps the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council, a political body that includes many of the Arabian Gulf states) could play a role with Obama’s stated desire to involve other parties in decisions and not go at things unilaterally – and if this was the case, then there could be hope. Who would benefit more from a rational and peaceful solution than the individuals in that room and all of their families and loved ones?

Soon the event was over, and I was driving back along the blue waters of the Gulf, the beautiful golf course, and onto the Qatar University campus to drop Carmel off to teach her next class. I was done for the day and drove home. For some reason, the phrase ‘a chicken in every pot’ kept playing through my mind – was that Hoover or FDR? I think it was Hoover, but I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind. So, I stopped at the little grocery store in our housing compound and walked in. I ‘salaamed’ the fellows working there who were my friends and headed to the freezer section. There were tiny chickens, frozen like ice and shipped from Brazil, but prepared for shipment in the Islamic ‘Halal’ fashion as stated clearly on the wrapper. One of the chickens could easily thaw in a little cool water before Carmel got home. I bounced a couple around in my palm, picked up a few onions and potatoes, passed a few Qatari Riyals to the gentlemen at the cash register (when I mentioned Obama had won, they smiled) and headed home to put a chicken in our pot for dinner tonight.

As I write this, Carmel is euphoric. She is happy, happy and declaring her new faith in the American people and America. Something good has happened! The moon on this historic night is just a small crescent in a starless sky in the Arabian Gulf. I know it will grow larger and stronger. Tomorrow will be a better and brighter day and may those who rejoice with hope retain their euphoria.”

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