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What Obama’s election means abroad

Barack Obama’s victory was met with euphoria in many nations by those who see him as restoring their faith in American ideals.

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer / November 5, 2008

Jubilation in Sydney: Students at the University of Sydney react to the announcement that Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States.

Rob Griffith/AP


Johannesburg, South Africa

As Wednesday dawned rainy and gray on the Champs- Élysées, a Parisian waiter spontaneously gave a fist pump and shouted, “Obamamania! Yeah!”

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The world, which has tracked this American election like no other, sees Barack Hussein Obama as their president, their choice. And they see him through their own geographical and cultural prisms. To many, he represents the restoration of faith in American democratic ideals, of equality. The global euphoria over the election of the first black US president is also partly an expression of a populace that wants to believe that the same principles can apply to their lives, too.

Of course, as the son of a Kenyan goatherd, he’ll be Africa’s man at the White House, say Kenyans. But his appeal seems to transcend his heritage or his skin color. In Pakistan, for example, where politics has been the province of a wealthy elite, Mr. Obama is a powerful symbol for the dispossessed masses. Yes, he went to Harvard University. But also went to a Muslim elementary school in Indonesia. “They will say, ‘He is one of us,’” says Rasul Baksh Rais, a political scientist at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

In Saudi Arabia, many young Saudis have been affectionately using his middle name, dubbing him “Abu Hussein,” or “Father of Hussein.” Here, he symbolizes a restoration of faith in the democratic freedoms that Saudis don’t yet have. “Saudis … did not really believe in the American version of democracy. How could they when all the presidents of the so-called ‘melting pot’ were Anglo,” writes Eman Al-Nafjan in her post on the Saudiwoman’s Weblog. “But now they are rubbing their eyes in disbelief.”

Similarly, Liu Na, a high school teacher in Beijing, China, said Wednesday that “his victory proves that there is real democracy in the United States.” She added, “He is not from a family of profound influence…. Obama has a very international background, which represents America’s special situation; so many citizens are immigrants. He relied on his own hard work and abilities to go so far.”

The Anti-Bush reaction

The global enthusiasm for Obama also has a lot to do with the way the world views America in the post-9/11 world. It’s a reaction. Even America’s allies had grown tired of the Bush administration’s dogged go-it-alone unilateralism in its war on terror, and later its appeals for help in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The current financial crisis, seeded in decades of laissez-faire regulation of American banks and hedge funds, also persuaded many that America needed new leadership. But while global citizens knew they couldn’t cast votes, it was clear that they felt they had as much at stake in the US presidential elections – and indeed, in the very idea of America as a democracy – as Americans do.