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November 07, 2008

Obama and my Grandmother
Posted by Shadi Hamid

My father called my grandmother in Cairo yesterday. He told me that she was very excited about Obama's victory, and that she said she was "praying for Obama." (In Arabic, it was even more striking. She used the verb da'a, which is translated as "to pray for," but more accurately means "to make a supplication for." Da'a is usually used in the context of praying for those who are most dear to you, sons, mothers, nephews, close friends).

Keep in mind that my grandmother doesn't speak a word of English, and that she almost never talks about politics, except in the context of telling other people not to talk about it. But she's thrilled about Obama. You've all heard these stories before, but there's still something amazing, to me at least, about an Egyptian cheering for an American president (God, who would have thought!). What a reversal. After 8 years of seeing the U.S. as an enemy, after seeing our country as the source of so many of their problems, (some) Arabs and Muslims are willing to believe again. This is not totally surprising. It always seemed to me that their "hate" for America was always a function of the fact that they held us to a higher standard, and that they felt personally betrayed. When a prominent Muslim Brotherhood activist told my colleague Steven Brooke that he had a giant American flag up on his wall when he was a teenager, I wasn't that surprised. I knew why he had it up.

But the fact that people are willing to give us a chance again, means that we will once again be subject to great, and greater expectations. This can be a good thing. But it also can a bad thing, if we fail to meet them, or, worse, if we fail to try.


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