In Egypt, attention Tuesday was on a court decision regarding the fate of its legislature, which was dissolved over the summer. Libyan leaders continued to squabble over the basics of their government even as a military assault on a rebellious town stretched into its second week. In Iran and Israel, there was little talk of a debate that spoke only glancingly of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts and deemphasized differences between Obama and Romney on stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Overall, analysts said, though Obama and Romney may disagree on their approach to arming rebels in Syria, or dealing with political Islamists – differences that were not discussed at their Monday night debate – America’s basic policy goals are not likely to change any time soon.
“Many Arabs have given up hope on the U.S. fundamentally changing its foreign policy in the region,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. “The U.S. is seen as less important to the region’s fortunes.”
In Egypt in particular – where Romney listed “a Muslim Brotherhood president,” Egypt’s first democratically-elected leader Mohammed Morsi, as among the factors in “a pretty dramatic reversal in the kind of hopes we had for that region,” discussion of the debate was minimal. Instead, attention on Tuesday focused on more practical issues – such as whether or not the country has a working legislature. A Cairo court kicked the decision up to the country’s top judges, who will decide within 45 days.
And in both Israel and Iran, there was also little focus on the election. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Tuesday to keep building homes in an area of Jerusalem that once belonged to the West Bank, another setback in international efforts to bring Palestinians and Israelis to the negotiating table. Iran’s state-run Fars News Agency focused meanwhile on new U.S. voter ID laws that may make it more difficult to vote.
In the debate, there was not a word on other major foreign policy topics confronting the United States – climate change and the euro crisis among them.
But there was discussion near the end about the U.S. relationship with China. Obama called China “both an adversary but also a potential partner.” Romney promised that “on day one, I will label them a currency manipulator.”
Most Chinese Internet users seemed unconcerned about the candidates’ tough talk. Instead, they viewed the debate process with admiration, as a kind of democratic theater. They commented mostly on the candidates’ intelligence, their skills at presenting their arguments, and who made the most jokes.