Obama's "Change" Inspires Controversy in Arab Online Media

Palestinian journalist and blogger Daoud Kuttab has an interesting essay up today about cultural ripples from Obama's election throughout the Arab world.

It seems like an appropriate enough cartoon. The depiction of the president elect Barack Obama with the US flag behind him and the bubble quoting Obama as saying the change has come to Washington. Looking up to the Obama depiction was an excited Egyptian woman congratulating the African American senator, reminding him not to forget that people around the world have been hoping and praying for his success. This was followed by the Arabic phrase uqbal inna, meaning "may the same [change] happen to us."

According to the opposition weekly Sawt al Umma, the cartoon appearing the leading Egyptian daily Al Ahram, caused a sense of an emergency among the Egyptian leadership. The independent weekly stated that 150,000 copies of the paper's first edition were quickly removed from the streets and destroyed and the "troublesome" phrase disappeared from future prints that day. The before and after cartoon depiction appeared in Sawt al Umma.

This is certainly not the first time that a political cartoon has caused powers in our region to be worried about losing their powers. But the paranoia of the Mubarak regime is a reflection of the concern by many Arab autocrats about the Obama euphoria empowering those calling for change. Obama's victory on the change mantra was not lost to people around the world yearning for political reform. Jordan's leading blogger Mohammad Omar says that the victory of the son of a Kenyan immigrant gives minorities, immigrants and unrepresented groups hope. Imagine a Palestinian who was born in Jordan fifty or sixty years ago and has tried very hard to be part of the political scene looking at the son of an immigrant in America being elected to the top executive position. The winds of hope don't stop at the American shores, Omar insists.

Undemocratic Arab regimes afraid of Obama's change (Daoud Kuttab)


  1. The United States couldn’t buy that kind of publicity. I’ve been a foreign policy critic and wonk for fifty years, and I am absolutely stunned by the implications for our image around the world. It’s, it’s … mind-blowing. Never in my wildest dreams….

  2. It’s fascinating and exciting how the Obama narrative has transcended the politician himself and become a motivating force for all sorts of social movements.

    Let’s hope that inspiration leads to organizing in the US and abroad towards real fundamental systemic social change…before Obama inevitably crushes his own narrative as a depressingly centrist, establishment politician.

    There’s a lot of potential in the air right now. Grab it! Make it do good things! Make it real!

  3. I’m not optimistic; Obama is still a bourgeois centrist; but what an opportunity for doing good! A window like this doesn’t come along but every forty or fifty years.

  4. I’ll take the Democrats’ version of “centrism” over the Republican version of “centrism” any day.

  5. So will I, you betcha! The last couple of years I’ve felt like that guy in “Runaway Train,” crouching on top of the engine as it roars towards its destruction.

    Sure, I’ll settle for sanity. Obama may not be the answer, but at least he’s not crazy.

  6. I am optimistic. Because Obama combines inspirational rhetorics and the ability to create a movement with rational, analytic and pragmatic instincts and views.

    He is of the reality based community, he is not swinging the pendulum wildly back to the other extreme. Hopefully he will land it softly firmly on the progressive side.

    But what makes hopeful above all is that the hope, change and inspiration are in the hands of reason and not in the hands of ideologists anymore. That is something to build a 21st century on.

  7. Well he is choosing hardened generals for the political battles he will pick. Lets at least wait to see what direction he sets them to march into.

    The key is this: In Germany universal health care, some degree of same sex marriage and abortion are not in question. They are the position of the center and political discourse might go on about where to draw certain lines but they are not fundamentally in question.

    That hasn’t always been the case but the center has shifted. To create long lasting, meaningful change you don’t need a bunch of people at the fringe to pull away from everyone, you need those who define what the center is to move to the left.

  8. Takuan “Watch the party machine blow it.”
    There’s a party machine now? Wow. And to think that I’ve been doing parties by hand all this time. Worked my fingers to the nub, I have.

    What a terrible job at redaction for that comic. If you’re going to try to fool the people, at least put some work into it, I say.

  9. Change starts when people get sick of “the way things are.” There are many possible outcomes for revolt, most of them not very happy for the revolutionaries. Your change can be co-opted by corporations, as was the American Hippie movement in the late 1960’s. Your change can get you killed in a third-world dictatorship like Egypt. You can only offer yourself up for the change you seek. Maybe no one will follow you, maybe you’ll start a successful revolution. Who can say? As American unionists used to say, “You have to let your ass hang out in the wind, and take a chance.”

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