Among the questions I’ll be asking people – Iranians, Iraqis, Turks, Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians, Israelis and Palestinians – as I travel overland across this region over the next three weeks is how they feel about the upcoming presidential election in the United States.
Outside of the U.S. itself, it’s safe to say that the Middle East is the region most affected by this faraway vote that they have absolutely no control over. The George W. Bush era brought them the (failed) Road Map to Israeli-Palestinian peace, the invasion of Iraq, the rise of Mahmoud Ahmedinejad in Iran, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, the election (and international rejection) of Hamas in the Palestinian Territories, the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah and the now-stalled Annapolis peace process. All were considerably affected by the man who sat thousands of kilometres away in the White House.
So what next? Would a President Obama keep his promise to negotiate with Iran, and rapidly reduce the number of American soldiers in Iraq? Would he be a better mediator in the Middle East peace process? Or perhaps a President McCain would be a better pick for Israelis, who fear being pressured into a peace agreement with the Palestinians, or those pro-Western Lebanese who want U.S. support in facing down Hezbollah? Who do Turks, polarized into camps of secularists and Islamists, with the Iraq war lapping at the country’s southeastern fringe, want to see win the election?
To keep track of this project, I’ve come up with a system based on the U.S. Electoral College and its 538 members. I’ve distributed those 538 votes among the eight countries that I’m going to visit, according to their populations. The winner of this completely unscientific exercise will be known by election morning, Tuesday, Nov. 4.
Here’s the breakdown:
Kish Island, Iran – 8 electors
Iraq – 146 electors
Turkey – 175 electors
Syria – 98 electors
Lebanon – 21 electors
Jordan – 34 electors
Israel – 36 electors
Palestinian Authority – 20 electors
A few footnotes: I based Kish’s population on the one million Iranian tourists who visit Kish each year rather than the 16,500 who actually live on the island. I also allocated Turkey only half the electors its population of 70 million should receive, mostly just to keep the election from being decided solely by the Turkish vote.
Some early results are already in. Barack Obama had the support of 100 per cent of the Iranians I met during my week on Kish Island giving him all 12 Electoral College votes from there.
I won’t arrive in Israel or the Palestinian Territories until after the Nov. 4 election, but after living in Jerusalem for the past three-and-a-half years, I feel comfortable awarding the 36 Israeli votes to Senator John McCain. While polls of Israeli opinion on the election have returned mixed results, even the left-wing Haaretz newspaper has concluded that McCain will be better for Israel’s interests than that other guy with the Muslim-sounding middle name.
Similarly, the Palestinian Authority’s 20 Electoral College votes go to Obama for almost the complete opposite reasons. In fact, some Palestinians have gone so far as to run phone banks for Obama, dialing up unsuspecting voters in the U.S. to ask them to vote for Barack.
So, with 16 days to go – and five countries to travel through – before Election Day, the Middle East Electoral College looks like this:
John McCain (Rep.) – 36 votes
Barack Obama (Dem.) – 28 votes
Colour Iran and the Palestinian territories blue, and Israel red.
Next stop, Iraq. Stay tuned.