For many, Obama's election came with an almost visceral sense of relief that it signaled the beginning of the end for the administration of President Bush, who has become extremely unpopular in much of the world.
From the cafes of Beirut to the town named Obama, Japan, much of the world viewed Barack Obama’s electoral triumph as a transformative event that could repair the battered reputation of the United States, lift the aspirations of minorities everywhere and renew the chances for diplomacy rather than war.
Huge numbers of foreigners and U.S. citizens abroad jammed venues for live broadcasts of vote counting. In Rio de Janeiro, Ryan Steers, a 23-year-old Brazilian documentary filmmaker, said that Obama could improve the United States’ image abroad.
“Obama is someone the world can trust,” Steers said. “That is the most important thing for American right now: regaining its trust in the world community.”
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For many, Obama’s election came with an almost visceral sense of relief that it signaled the beginning of the end for the administration of President Bush, who has become extremely unpopular in much of the world.
A recent BBC poll found that people in all 22 nations the network surveyed preferred Obama by a wide margin to McCain, who was widely identified with Bush and the Republican Party.
“At a time when we have to confront immense challenges together, your election raises great hopes in France, in Europe and in the rest of the world,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy said in a congratulations letter to Obama.
“As a black British woman, I can’t believe that America has voted in a black president,” said Jackie Humphries, 49, a librarian who partied with 1,500 people at the U.S. Embassy in London Tuesday night.
“It makes me feel like there is a future that includes all of us,” she said, wrapping her arm around a life-size cardboard likeness of the new U.S. president-elect.
“Americans overcame the racial divide and elected Obama because they wanted the real thing: a candidate who spoke from the bottom of his heart,” said Terumi Hino, a photographer and painter in Tokyo. “I think this means the United States can go back to being admired as the country of dreams.”
In South Africa, Nelson Mandela, the civil rights icon who helped bring down his country’s apartheid regime, released a letter to Obama that said, “Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better place.”
Desmond Tutu, another iconic anti-apartheid leader and the retired Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, said Obama’s victory tells “people of color that for them, the sky is the limit.”
“We have a new spring in our walk and our shoulders are straighter,” Tutu said, echoing a commonly held sentiment across the continent.
The world sees Obama as more than a racial standard-bearer, of course, and many praised Obama for his policies on everything from Iraq to health care, which are known to the world in remarkable detail.
“I’m glad that a person who talks about change has won,” Lech Walesa, the former Polish president and anti-communist icon, said on Polish television Wednesday. “Now I want to know what changes he wants to introduce.”
In Mexico City, Mexicans say a focus on solving America’s economic woes would go a long way toward fixing their country’s financial troubles, too.
Said Alejandro Orozco, 52, who sells passport binders outside the U.S. embassy: “Any trouble that the U.S. has affects Mexico. If he can make that better, we would be grateful.”
Nicaragua’s leftist leader Daniel Ortega is another who is celebrating Obama’s victory. “Really it’s a miracle that the United States for the first time in its history has a black president who has shown he is willing to dialogue with Latin American countries and is open to reviewing free-trade agreements,” Ortega said Wednesday.
Many around the world found hope in Obama’s international roots.
In Indonesia, where Obama lived as a child, hundreds of students at his former elementary school erupted in cheers when he was declared the winner, pouring into the courtyard where they hugged, danced in the rain and chanted “Obama! Obama!”
“What an inspiration. He is the first truly global U.S. president the world has ever had,” said Pracha Kanjananont, a 29-year-old Thai sitting at a Starbuck’s in Bangkok.
Some said Obama’s victory was a call to re-examine racial issues in their own countries.
“The Maoris and the Pacific Islanders are going to take inspiration from him,” said Calum McKenzie, 34, speaking from the Mustang Saloon & Grill in Auckland, New Zealand.
The campaign drew intense interest in the Middle East, where residents gathered before dawn in cafes, bars and shops to watch the historic election unfold.
Even if they disagreed with his politics, Israelis and Palestinians, Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Arabs and Jews all saw Obama’s victory as a transforming event for the United States and the world. There was broad belief that Americans were embracing a new strategy for the region, one that relies on diplomacy. Many saw that as a change for the better.
In a Beirut restaurant, Miriam, a 28-year-old from southern Lebanon, said that her two brothers, both members of the militant Islamic group Hezbollah, saw Obama as a leader who was willing to take diplomatic risks to avoid military confrontations.
“They think Obama will not damage the Middle East the way Bush did, and they were afraid if McCain made it, the whole region would be in danger,” she said.
“For the first time I feel the phrase, ‘I hereby declare that all men are created equal,’ from the U.S. Declaration of Independence, really came to life for me today,” said architect Mamdouh al-Sobaihi, a guest at a post-election reception Wednesday in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. “U.S. history has returned to its roots. The forefathers would be very pleased with today’s election,” he said.
Saudi journalist Samir Saadi said that Obama’s election means “the U.S. has won the war on terror.”
“Given Obama’s name, his background, the doubts about his religion, Americans still voted for him and this proved that America is a democracy,” he said. “People here are starting to believe in the U.S. again.”
Compiled from the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers, The Associated Press and Chicago Tribune