Wildcard in Iran election: Obama
His Cairo speech, combined with other early decisions, may have influenced Lebanon's election Sunday – and could have an impact on Iran's presidential vote Friday.
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These factors and more laid the groundwork for Obama's words from Cairo to fall on receptive ears.Skip to next paragraph
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Referring to Vice-President Biden's March visit and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's earlier stop in Lebanon, he says that kind of sustained attention from a new administration helped Obama's words ring true to skeptical Muslims.
"Everybody was complaining about Biden and Clinton in Lebanon," that it would be seen as interference or heavy-handed, adds Mr. Spiegel. "But now everyone is saying it was a brilliant move."
Any "Obama factor" in Iran's presidential contest will be difficult to gauge, Iran experts say, because the overriding issue in the campaign is the economy and what is widely perceived domestically as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's poor stewardship of it.
But even in that context, Iranians who see Obama's promise of closer international ties (as opposed to the threat of deeper economic sanctions) as one avenue to economic recovery may reject Mr. Ahmadinejad's confrontational style as better suited to the era of President Bush.
Still, even some regional analysts who found strong elements in Obama's speech say they are dubious of any short-term impact as concrete as influencing an election.
"It's hard for me to imagine a significant number of Lebanese voters changing their mind based on what President Obama said in Cairo a few days before," says James Phillips, a Middle East expert at the Heritage Foundation in Washington.
If anything, Mr. Phillips sees a better likelihood of some marginal influence in Iran. "The sanctions have had an impact on the Iranian economy, and the poor state of US-Iran relations is directly tied to that," he says.
Then there are some pro-reform forces who worry that any "Obama effect" may be the comfort the president's speech has been construed by some as offering to the Muslim world's entrenched powers.
"The reaction has been largely positive, but less so among the activists who would have liked to see stronger support for democracy and human rights and some condemnation of the Egyptian status quo," says Dina Guirguis, executive director of Voices for a Democratic Egypt in Washington.
Obama's speech "indulged" a traditional interpretation of Islam, she says, in particular as it pertains to women, that is not likely to encourage a wave of modernization across the region.