Dubai: With hope and tears in their eyes, American Democrat supporters in the UAE watched as their president-elect spoke after a historic election victory on Wednesday.
Thunderous applause broke out at a hall in the Movenpick hotel in Bur Dubai when senator Barack Obama's victory in the US presidential race was confirmed.
A crowd of mostly Democrats, a few Republicans and enthusiastic non-Americans gathered at the hotel to watch the election results come in and celebrate the Democrat's victory.
Whether it was the racial glass ceiling Obama had broken, the American dignity he had "restored" or the promises for economic recovery he had made, American Democrats in Dubai were united in celebration of the Chicago Senator's victory.
"This is a historic night for all of us. You're seeing a culmination of a huge wave that has crashed in American politics with this election," said Chris Hansen, Chair of the UAE chapter of Democrats Abroad. "Obama represents a stark departure from the last eight years of Bush's policies," he said.
Divisions in American society run deep however, said Sarah, a lawyer from Texas. "For the first time in my life, I feel like I can't talk to my Republican friends," she said, noting that her Democratic leanings were due to her family's social justice-oriented background in traditionally Republican Texas.
"America has been a depressed country... there is a sense of relief," she said, adding that while John McCain had been a good public servant, his choice of Alaska governor Sarah Palin for governor confirmed his fall.
No more shame
Robert Welks, a finance analyst from Colorado, who has been voting since 1984, said he had supported Hillary Clinton thinking America was not ready for a black president. "But honestly when we heard about Obama's win my wife and I cried...there have been days over the last eight years that I have felt ashamed for being an American, and today is not one of those days," he said.
Welks said what had impressed him about Obama most was his ability to have apathetic voters become active in the voting process. "My 18-year-old voted for the first time too, and I've never seen anyone so happy to vote," he said.
Orlando Taylor, a Texan investment manager, said the enthusiasm about Obama's victory was a combination of relief that a Republican government was voted out, and excitement for Obama becoming the next president. "Bush was a warmonger," he said.
"Americans have been very unsure of the future, which is a unique thing for Americans to experience. Questions of the economy, national debt, the two wars, and a possible third, all had Americans concerned," he said.
Residents have mixed feelings
Al Ain, Dubai, Sharjah & Abu Dhabi: While many have welcomed America's choice around the world, residents throughout the UAE have responded with mixed emotions about the future of US-Middle East relations.
Mahmoud Ali, an Indian IT professional, Al Ain, said: "American foreign policy has never changed over the years. It will remain the same with just cosmetic make-ups." Barack Obama's focus will continue to remain on the US economy as it was in the past. The so-called war on terror will certainly take new shape as the president elect has promised shifting of his focus from Iraq to Afghanistan in his election campaign, he said.
Ali said Obama won the majority of popular votes and this was good for the US. Other countries, particularly Asians, must not pin much hopes on the new President.
"The US will continue to play safe with India, China, and Russia. For the Middle East, I don't see any major policy change. Obama has already shown favour for Israel and promised to work closely with Tel Aviv. It's the simple logic, when you favour one of the two parties you cannot do the justice," he said.
Keith Alaska, an American pediatric optometrist, 34, said: "I am optimistic, although I am a bit hesitant to be overly happy because I wish he had more experience. The domestic policy in the US will not change that much with regard to the financial institutions. Having Obama as President will undoubtedly change the world's view on America."
Emirati businessman Mohammad Al Ali hoped that Obama's mentality would be different from his predecessors. "We Arabs believe that one has to be nice with his own people first to be nice with others. He has to take a strong stand on Israel if he needs support from Middle East countries."
Senussi Yousef, a Libyan/Canadian, feels Obama won't stay president for long and didn't expect him to win. "I find it a bit strange that he won the elections after the 9/11 incident and given his background: being from Kenya and having a Muslim father. I'm also not sure how he would handle and treat the Palestinian cause and Muslims and Arabs across the world. Let's see how it goes."