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Around the world, much is expected from Obama

Gregory Katz

Still, for millions around the world, the fact that a black man has a strong chance to capture the White House is an inspiration that appears to outweigh concerns over policy matters.

In New Zealand, where indigenous people were robbed of land under British colonial rule, four lawmakers from the Maori Party called Obama’s nomination victory “one small step for America, one giant leap for people of color the world over.”

Perhaps most of all, people see his victory as a sign of a fundamental shift in race relations in the United States — one that might grow into a global movement for healing racial and cultural divisions.

“I think that the fact that today whites can choose a black as a candidate, it is a revolution in the mentalities of the United States,” said Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade.

In countries that suffered for centuries under the domination of Western powers and are re-emerging as world players, Obama’s message of “Yes we can!” strikes a particularly powerful chord.

“For the common man, in India, the fact that he’s a person of color, he represents the equivalent of the underdog,” said C. Uday Bhaskar, a New Delhi-based analyst with the Institute for Defense Studies. “I think Indians will connect with the underdog.”

“He’s not the red-necked white man that invokes the deepest kind of colonial anxiety in India,” Bhaskar said.

Some analysts said Obama’s multicultural background and vision of engaging the world on the key issues of the day would help repair America’s tattered world image.

“I do think Obama embodies the sort of change that would go the fastest and quickest toward changing the United States’ reputation abroad,” said Tomas Valasek, director of foreign policy and defense at the Center for European Reform in London.

“It’s because of his personal success story … it’s because of his optimism … it’s also because of his willingness to try different approaches to Iran, nuclear disarmament and so forth,” Valasek said.

The bumpy transition from being an inspirational icon to a flesh-and-blood prospective leader taking real stances on difficult issues is beginning to create complications.

For example, Obama’s initial comments embracing Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel — made last week in a speech before an influential Jewish lobbying group in Washington — has alienated Palestinians looking for an American leader to pressure Israel into key concessions.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he “rejected” Obama’s comments.

There was a similar reaction in Indonesia, where Obama spent four years as a child in elementary school. His statement this week that he would be “a true friend of Israel” dampened enthusiasm in the predominantly Muslim country, where the Palestinian cause enjoys wide support.

Maria Soraya, a business owner in Jakarta, said Obama’s statement is “proof” that there can never be peace in the Middle East.

“America can’t be trusted,” she said. “They hate Islam. They don’t want to see Islam advance, they would hate it. They can’t be trusted, whoever their president is.”

But Obama’s race has also sparked hope in Palestinian territories.

“Obama came from the black community, the community that has a long history of suffering in the U.S. Of course he would feel sympathy with those who suffered the same, like Palestinians,” said Fayez Abu Zeid, a 54-year-old baker in Jenin on the West Bank.

“In all aspects, Obama is much better for our part of this world. He is similar to us.”

There is still much skepticism in the Middle East and elsewhere about the possibility of an Obama victory because of deeply held beliefs about American racism.

“Obama will not be accepted by the majority of the American people because he is black,” said Sateh Noureddine, managing editor of the Lebanese newspaper As-Safir. “Also, neither U.S. traditions nor the political balance of power will allow this to happen.”

There is a tendency in some places to discount Obama’s campaign statements and assume that if he is elected he will largely embrace mainstream American economic and foreign policy as practiced in the last few decades.

Sheng Dingli, director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University in China, said that Obama’s criticism of China, for example, will likely fade if he is elected president.

“He’s harsh toward China on both human rights and trade issues,” Sheng said.

“But he will change, just like George [H.W.] Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. They were all harsh toward China during the campaign, but softened after the election. Their job is to protect America’s interests, and they know trade with China benefits America.”

Associated Press writers worldwide contributed to this report.

(Associated Press)