World studies Tampa for U.S. policy clues 

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  • Melissa Griffin

The Tampa Convention Center ballrooms have been converted into a series of stalls for the news outfits in attendance. Each is separated by makeshift walls of fabric through which you can make out tables, computers, food and phones. Walking through the labyrinth of media pens, I was struck by how many other nations have outposts at this convention. News organizations from Japan, Italy and Morocco are all here, covering an event many Americans regard as somewhere below “Toddlers & Tiaras” in the queue of shows to watch.

“This is very American,” Ana Baron said when I asked if they have anything like this in Argentina, where she writes for a paper called Clarin.

Curious as to what these visitors think of America’s conventional conventions, I had the pleasure of interviewing several reporters who are here under the banner of the “foreign press.”

“In Egypt, every day there is a convention,” said Thomas Gorguissian of the Egyptian paper Al Tahrir. “They
are having discussions about how to run the country.”

But just as Egypt is a subject at our convention this year, this election is a subject at Egyptian conventions as well.

“A lot of people believe when the U.S. sneezes, all the world can catch its cold,” he told me. “Sneezing is a harmless act, but it will affect the world. [In Egypt] they are worried because if more neocons are coming, they may be looking for an enemy in Islam.”

For this reason, Gorguissian is especially interested in hearing from Condoleezza Rice and John McCain. Even though they aren’t speaking in an official capacity, he believes they influence the way their party views foreign policy.

“Look at their platform, it says, ‘American exceptionalism,’” he said. “We want to know what that means.” He’s also hoping to get some clarification from Mitt Romney himself.

Baron is equally concerned with the Romney speech. “For trade purposes, Republicans are good for our economy, but we are still a bit in love with [President Barack] Obama,” Baron said. “So what we writers are trying to do is educate Argentinians about Mitt Romney because they don’t know much about him.”

Moroccans also have benefited under the trade policies of Republican administrations, but they were very excited about Obama in 2008. According to Fouad Arif, Washington bureau chief of the Moroccan News Agency, “They even followed delegate counts to see who would get the nominations.” This year, the negative messaging has turned off those who follow U.S. politics.

“After Obama’s Cairo speech, expectations were really high in the Arab world, mainly because the new president promised a ‘new beginning’ with us,” Arif said. “But the people are waiting for concrete actions.”

Between the Rice, McCain and Romney speeches, Arif is hoping to get a glimpse into how Romney will approach the Arab world.

Said Gorguissian, “Egyptians are frustrated about Obama, but does that mean that most of them say, ‘Let’s try Romney!’? I don’t know.”

From Tampa to Tahrir, that’s the question people all over the world are asking right now.

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Melissa Griffin

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