• Obama
  • October 9, 2009
  • 5 minutes read

What Arabs think of Obama’s Peace Prize

What Arabs think of Obama’s Peace Prize

The announcement of American President Barack Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize has been met with widespread surprise in the Arab world. For many, it seems premature, an award given to an individual that has done little than create a new perception of America that is not tied to the anti-Islam and arrogance of the previous George W. Bush administration. Overall, there appears to be a sense that the awarding of President Obama with the prestigious honor is not warranted.

Obama won the award based on his alleged international efforts to forge a new world community that is not hindered by stereotypes and other remnants of the Bush administration’s antagonism globally. The Norwegian committee said that they “attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons,” but also argued that his involvement with the United Nations, climate change and the “strengthening” of democracy and human rights were part of the decision to award the President the honor.

“Not exactly shocking I guess, the Nobel has always been colored by Western interests. Nothing new there. But what’s crazy is that he got it after being in office for less than a year and after accomplishing nothing substantia,” said Deena Khalil, an Egyptian blogger. “He basically got it for talking a good talk, without having to walk the walk.”

Khalil believes that speeches are one thing, but “results are another. But, I guess if Begin could win it then really, anybody can.”

Like many Egyptians and Arabs, the belief is Obama has yet to accomplish much in deserving to win the prize. Khalil says that this is not surprising, as the President has only been in power for less than one year.

“What are they giving him the Nobel for, if not his actions?” she questioned.

Democracy promotion and human rights as part of Obama’s awarding has left a sour taste in the mouths of many Arabs, especially Palestinians in Gaza, who have long called on the young President to step up in the face of an economic blockade that has left Palestinians impoverished and downtrodden.

“What are they thinking awarding Obama the Peace Prize? Has he really done anything to change the world for the better already?” questioned Amr Zahran, a Palestinian aid worker who lives and works in Gaza. He told Bikya Masr in a phone conversation that he believes Obama won the award because “he is black and is the first African-American to be president, but it is almost racist to give him the award simply for that. I thought we could move past these superficial issues.”

Zahran wonders what perceptions Obama has changed. “America is still seen as supporting Israel no matter what and even his speech in Cairo, which gave us hope, has left nothing of substance to the approach of changing how politics and peace are discussed in the region. We feel left behind.”

Back in Cairo, the sentiments are similar. Many Egyptians, Arabs and Africans argue that there are many other worthy candidates that should have been given the award before Obama.

Abdullahi Osman, a Somali refugee who runs a local NGO for refugees, says that the president’s “blackness” should not be rewarded, especially as “the president has been outspoken against using race as something in politics.”

Osman says Obama should not accept the award, instead refusing it to show the world that the award is based on actions, not “what could happen. Maybe he could win it in the future, but right now, there is nothing to give an impression he is equal to Sadat, Jimmy Carter, Martin Luther King or the others who have won the award. It will not be good for him or the world now that he has won it, because people are not supporting the decision.”

This appears to be the crux of the matter in the region. Most Arabs are not convinced Obama deserves an award. They feel it is premature to reward the president for actions he has only talked about.

“With the region stuck in the past, looking for Obama to change things dramatically across the world, the award gives him the idea that he is succeeding, but the realities in the Middle East show differently. More and more people are losing faith in an Obama that was supposed to bring change to the world, but has done nothing,” said a young Muslim Brotherhood activist who said he is waiting for the leadership to issue a statement.

Arabs hope Obama will take this award to make real change possible, but for many, they question how the prestigious award could have been handed to someone without achieving much in his short time in power.