- June 8, 2009
Did Obama Fail to Deliver?
In one of the most anticipated events in Islam-West relations, Barack Obama, the US president, addressed Muslims from Cairo University in Egypt on June 4.
It is no coincidence that Obama chose Egypt as the launch-pad for his administration”s initiative to create an atmosphere of mutual respect and cooperation between the United States and the Muslim World.
Egypt is the most populous Arab country, home to the revered Al-Azhar, the highest institution for Islamic jurisprudence. An ancient land, it is the crossroads between Africa and the Middle East, host to the headquarters of the Arab League, and considered by many to be the cultural and political heart of the Arab World.
Egypt also contributed the greatest forces in the many wars with Israel since 1948 and was the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with the Israeli state.
But it is also where modern political Islam took root spawning the Muslim Brotherhood, which later expanded to other Arab countries; it is the birthplace of Ayman Al-Zawahri, co-founder of Al-Qaeda.
And Cairo University has been a hotbed of political activism, usually rocked by demonstrations protesting US policies in the region.
There have been mixed responses to his visit. Local opposition groups voiced concern that his trip to Cairo would solidify the position of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, and undermine efforts to reform Egypt”s democratic process. Others have welcomed the US president”s approach but warned that he must significantly steer his country”s policies away from those set by his predecessor.
It appears he may already be doing that. In interviews prior to arriving in the Middle East, Obama said: “Democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of religion — those are not simply principles of the West to be hoisted on these countries, but rather what I believe to be universal principles that they can embrace and affirm as part of their national identity.”
However, Obama said that change could not happen overnight and he did acknowledge the great media attention — and public expectations — surrounding his speech. He quoted from the Quran when addressing truthful attempts to find common ground and overcome differences between Islam and the West.
Islamonline.net interviewed a few historians and Middle East analysts to gauge how likely Obama”s speech will resonate with the world”s Muslims.
I had low expectations for President Obama. He has repeatedly disappointed peace-loving people by continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We can safely say he made “feel good” statements for people to work together for the prosperity of the world.
A major actionable Middle East peace announcement would require Israel”s active involvement. Israel is committed to achieving a one-state solution meaning Obama”s comments will be little more than momentary feel-good rhetoric.
If you would like me to hope he had said something useful, I would have hoped he would have called upon the Israeli government to immediately end the siege in Gaza.
Barack Obama”s centrepiece speech for the Muslim world contained no new policy proposals and reinforced continued funding for Israel. Effectively this means he is giving lip service to calling for the expansion of Israeli settlements to stop. In what has now become routine, Obama delivered slogans that may feel good at the moment, but do little. This is one reason why he did not criticize the horrific siege in Gaza.
I know everyone is paying so much attention to Cairo, but really I think it has little besides symbolic importance. As so many Arab/Muslim friends and colleagues around the region have said to me, all that matters is if the United States finally walks the talk of supporting freedom and democracy.
Obama started the trip going to Saudi Arabia, meeting with one of the most corrupt and brutal regimes in the world. Then he”s going to Egypt, whose leader gives the Saudis a run for their money on both counts. So who really cares about his talk of “shared roots, common experience, and mutual respect?”
What Obama should have said is: Mr. Mubarak, it”s time for you to release all political prisoners, close down your security state, hold fully fair elections, and retire. Otherwise the United States will have to re-evaluate our generous aid package to the Egyptian government.
He should also directly call on the leaders of the region to uphold international law, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international covenants, and explain from this point forward that the United State will be calibrating political, economic, and military support to all the governments of the region based on this metric.
In the end, the situation is quite simple, proclaim policies that reflect America”s ideals and then implement. Nothing less will do, and if he has the courage to do it, he will become a hero to the people of the world.
Afyare Abdi Elmi
I think this was a great speech. It aimed at building peace bridges between the Americans and Muslim world. I believe he achieved a lot in this. It was passionate and he seemed sincere in a lot of what he said.
It is always difficult to reconcile idealism and pragmatism. He talked about America”s commitment to the ideals of democracy, religious tolerance, and equality. Yet, he was realistic of what can be done. I personally liked the speech, and I hope implementation will follow.
But I think he should have talked more about America”s support for dictators in the Middle East and what he will do about it. Somalia, the third front of the war on terror, deserved a mention but never got it.
In short, unlike George W. Bush, President Obama reached out to Muslims and this was a long overdue.
I think Obama”s speech hit all the right notes and covered a lot of ground. I have been following Middle Eastern affairs for about 20 years, and based on this, I must say that the Obama administration has its ear to the ground in terms of how America is perceived by Arabs.
Quoting the Quran, using expressions like “Peace Be Upon Him”, citing Arab civilization and its contributions to knowledge, and above all, implicitly acknowledging that the Holocaust does not offer a justification for current-day Palestinian subjugation are all effective speaking points.
I think Obama is also broadly seen as sincere, and hence this speech must be viewed as an opening overture from a nation that must see itself as grossly misunderstood by the Arab and Islamic worlds.
There were no real surprises in Obama”s speech, despite the manufactured fanfare surrounding his self-aggrandized compromise to the Muslim world, a manufactured and over proclaimed enemy of America.
His unbreakable commitment to Apartheid Israel, the War of Terror waged against Iraq, Afghanistan, and now Pakistan, and his undying love for upholding American nationalism all maintained the same elements of the Bush-esque diatribe that has eaten at the core of this region.
For the people of Iraq, his words fell deaf on the ears of millions of widows and refugees, who are grappling with the repercussions of his maintenance of the occupation. For oppressive neo-liberal elements within the Muslim world, Obama”s speech ushered in a more intense era of theft and treachery.
Thank you Mr. President