Obama’s Cairo Speech analysed
Jun 5, 2009 | AIJAC staff
June 5, 2009
Number 06/09 #03
This Update is devoted to analysing US President Obama’s important Cairo University speech – directed at the world’s Muslims – and the reactions to it. The full text of the address is here. Video of the address is available here.
First up, parsing closely and carefully what was said by Obama is Dr. Robert Satloff of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Satloff goes through all of the seven themes Obama raised and highlights the key wording, as well as what was not said. He points to some important over-arching themes, including limiting American objectives, accepting political Islam where non-violent, and the stress on building mutual respect rather than areas of common interest between the US and the region. For Satloff’s efforts, the best single detailed effort to understand the speech’s detail, CLICK HERE. Also parsing the speech’s specifics were Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post, Aluf Benn of Haaretz, and American foreign policy analyst Max Boot.
Next up, Israeli journalist and blogger Shmuel Rosner points out that, whatever the merits of his words, the key will be the implementation of the concepts that follow from them. He points out that despite Obama’s lofty rhetoric, in many ways his approach is more like that of the presidency of the elder Bush, where political realism was the key concept, and the intention was to scale back American international commitments. Rosner points out that achieving the broad goals Obama has set out is in tension with the cautious approach he favours, and the key will be what sort of policy follow-up emerges in coming weeks. For his full analysis, CLICK HERE. Additional broader analysis of the speech in the context of the region comes from Dr. Gerald Steinberg, former US Government official Peter Wehner, Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal, the always worth reading British author David Pryce-Jones, and American editor Jonathan Tobin.
Finally, given that the key audience for the speech was the Muslim states, especially of the Middle East, AIJAC has compiled some regional responses to the speech in both English and Arabic media. In general, responses were more positive than negative (and especially positive in host country Egypt), but were mostly focussed on the Arab-Israel conflict and demands America deliver more from Israel. Interestingly, the Iranian English-language outlets seem to have avoided reporting on or commenting on the speech at all, up until now. For AIJAC’s brief summary of some representative regional media, CLICK HERE. In other reactions, the Israeli government welcomed the speech and expressed hope it “heralds the opening of a new era that will bring an end to the conflict”, and the Palestinian Authority was also largely positive, while Hamas and other radical groups attacked the speech, as did Hezbollah. Some more stories on local reactions, mostly in terms of “man in the street” comments, are here, here and here.
Readers may also be interested in:
- Editorials on the speech from the Jerusalem Post, London Times, Haaretz, Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post.
- The right-leaning National Review featured a symposium of experts commenting on the speech, and expressing a variety of views.
- Primarily critical reviews of the speech come from Canadian-American speechwriter turned commentator David Frum, British columnist and author Melanie Phillips, Barry Rubin, American journalist Ira Stoll, and American columnist Charles Krauthammer.
- Peter Daou, former consultant to Obama’s own Democratic Party, is highly critical of the speech’s content on women’s rights.
- Polls (see here and here) show that Obama has to convince not only the Arab world, but a majority of the US public, who are sceptical of the success of both peacemaking efforts and efforts to reach out to Muslim states and peoples.
- Israeli President Shimon Peres – in a piece written before the actual Obama address – argues that the time is right to try to make peace.
By Robert Satloff
PolicyWatch #1527, June 4, 2009
Combining the roles of bridge builder and strategist, President Barack Obama delivered a wide-ranging 55-minute speech to the world’s Muslims today, designed to put flesh on the bones of his signature concept of “mutual interests and mutual respect” and to launch a “new beginning” in U.S.-Muslim relations.
Aspiring to speak to the world’s billion-plus Muslims has always been a controversial gambit. With Muslims living in every country of the world, speaking every language, and observing a kaleidoscope of religious practices, it is no simple task to say something meaningful and avoid a level of abstraction that would not have people asking, after the excitement of the event wears off, what did the president actually say. For many Muslims, the medium was the message: that a president would come to a major Muslim capital to address Muslims directly and that this president, with his compelling personal biography, would make a special effort to talk to Muslim youth — these are likely to be the most lasting impressions.
Clearly, the president had a lot on his mind. He touched on seven core themes, bracketed by a discourse on the historical and societal role Muslims have played and continue to play in America and by an appeal to young Muslims to “reimagine [and] remake” the world. The fundamental message was a call for partnership — the idea that U.S. goals and the objectives of Muslims around the world are not only congruent but also realizable by active and close cooperation. Obama did not, however, announce many new initiatives; at the close of the speech, he outlined a number of educational, exchange, and private-sector projects, but on no major policy issue, including the Middle East peace process, did the president make headlines.
The seven themes of the speech — violent extremism; the Arab-Israeli peace process; Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions; democracy and human rights; religious freedom and tolerance; women’s rights; and economic development — each contained important statements of government policy and revealing clues of how the president conceives of critical issues. Highlights included:
- an unapologetic opening statement that the president’s “first duty” is to protect American citizens, thereby explaining our efforts to “isolate the extremists” and persist with military action against al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and around the world
- a powerful defense of the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish homeland (though not a specific referral to Israel as a “Jewish state”), a condemnation of anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, and a call on Palestinians to reject violence in pursuit of political objectives as both immoral and counterproductive
- an empathetic description of Palestinian life under “occupation” as “intolerable”; a blunt call for a “stop” to Israeli settlements; and an affirmation of U.S. support for, and his own personal commitment to, Palestinians having a “state of their own”
- a repeat of Washington’s offer of negotiations with Iran without preconditions, coupled with a thinly disguised reference to Arab and Muslim sensibilities about Israel’s own nuclear arsenal
- a general reaffirmation of U.S. commitment to universal human rights and the pursuit of democracy, defined broadly by an accountable, law-abiding, service-providing government, rather than by elections alone. Though he neither mentioned his predecessor’s favorite term “freedom,” nor suggested how the United States would, in policy terms, operationalize its commitments, the president went a long way toward explicitly adopting the pillars of George W. Bush’s democracy agenda, including its support of human rights, women’s rights, religious freedom, and economic opportunity
- a stark, declarative commitment to recognize all “peaceful and law-abiding” political parties and peaceful and elected governments in Muslim-majority states
- a stirring call for religious freedom and tolerance, both inside Muslim countries and in the West. This included, on the one hand, specific references to the situation of Coptic Christians in Egypt (but, curiously, not the widely persecuted Bahais) and, on the other hand, a sweeping critique (though not by name) of a French law banning the wearing of the hijab in public schools as “intolerance hiding behind liberalism”
- a defense of the right of Muslim women to wear the hijab and to choose traditional roles coupled with an appeal for equal investment in education and literacy for Muslim girls and women as essential for economic development and prosperity.
Limited strategic objectives. Despite his often soaring rhetoric, the president actually outlined a strategic agenda for U.S. interests that is narrowly defined and limited in scope. On Iran, the president again focused on the limited objective of ensuring that Iran does not have nuclear weapons; no longer do senior Americans talk about preventing Iran from completing the nuclear fuel cycle, having a uranium enrichment capability, or even being able to develop a nuclear weapon. Additionally, in contrast to recent statements by Arab leaders, he made no reference to Iran’s state-sponsoring of terrorist groups Hizballah and Hamas, including their activities against host-country Egypt. On Iraq, the president defined America’s twin goals as building an undefined “better Iraq” and leaving Iraq to the Iraqis; he made no reference either to having democracy take root in that country or to aspirations for long-term U.S. alliance with a country that was a long-time adversary. Notably absent was any reference to Lebanon, viewed widely as a strategic fulcrum for both the current and the previous administrations, except for an odd reference to religious tolerance for Maronite Christians. And in terms of combating extremism, the president narrowly defined the objective as countering violence (i.e., counterterrorism), moving backward from the emerging consensus among professionals here and abroad that it is essential to compete against extremists far earlier in the process of radicalization (i.e., counterradicalization).
An implicit acceptance of political Islam. The president waded into heated political debate within Muslim societies and, either by design or by inattention, came down in favor of local Islamists, not local liberals or even anti-Islamists. Islamist parties across the region will cheer the fact that Obama cited only two benchmarks for U.S. recognition of Islamist parties, i.e., “peaceful and law-abiding,” when the content of their message and the values they project — including the imposition of sharia (Islamic law) — can often be antithetical to our own. He made no reference to the frequent cooperation of autocrats and Islamists in denying political space to non-Islamist political parties, especially liberals who often do share American values. Most strikingly, no fewer than three times the president defended the right of Muslim women to wear the hijab, but at no point did he defend the right of Muslim women not to wear the hijab. (Indeed, immediately after the speech, the White House website put up a full-screen picture of a hijab-wearing woman, an eerie echo of an amateurish post-September 11 State Department brochure about Muslim life in America in which all American Muslim women were depicted wearing hijabs. Millions of Muslims — including Muslim women — will not be heartened by this message.
Lots of respect, not enough interest. In charting his proposed “new beginning,” the president’s words certainly emphasized the “mutual respect” part of his signature formula over the “mutual interests” part. His forceful words on terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and other difficult policy questions notwithstanding, the speech was notable for its often manufactured parallelism between blemishes in Muslim societies and blemishes in America and the West. From his opening refrain of decrying a “cycle of suspicion and discord,” the president suggested that we are all equally at fault for bringing down the U.S.-Muslim relationship. This is problematic on two levels. First, this approach inflates the gravity of current problems and thereby aggravates the search for a solution; the reality is that America has excellent relations with numerous Muslim-majority countries, from Africa to Asia, and equally harmonious relations with hundreds of millions of Muslim citizens of those countries. Second, this approach equates heinous crimes in the name of religion — e.g., the state-approved killing of apostates, adulterers, and others in some Muslim countries — with laws adopted in Western countries for legitimate political and security objectives (e.g., France’s law to ban headscarves in public schools or U.S. laws to prevent the illegal funding of terrorism via the cover of charitable organizations). More generally, in its appeal to “our common humanity” — its recitation of largely discredited population statistics for Muslims in America and strikingly defensive declaration that “America and Islam are not exclusive” (who, after all, suggests this is the case?) — the speech conjured up uneasy reminders of the “I’m OK, you’re OK; we’re all just moms and dads” speeches of previous failed attempts at public diplomacy.
This parallelism was perhaps most artificial in the president’s discussion of the contours of the Arab-Israeli conflict. While no impartial observer can dispute the hardship of Palestinian life, it runs counter to history to suggest that Palestinians have “suffered in pursuit of a homeland,” when, since 1937, Palestinian leaders have rejected no fewer than six proposals to achieve just that goal. Similarly, the president’s statement about Palestinians who “wait in refugee camps . . . for a life of peace and security” says as much about Arab governments’ indifference to their fate as the inability to reach a diplomatic solution with Israel. And the president’s drawing of a connection from the Palestinian conflict with Israel to the fight for civil rights in America or the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa will be interpreted by many as an endorsement of the moral righteousness of the Palestinian cause, not — as he apparently intended — a call for strict nonviolence.
This focus on respect was not matched by a focus on interest. On no issue, except when discussing plans for economic development projects, did he go beyond generalities and offer specific policy initiatives or definitive positions. While the president said a lot, he also didn’t say much, choosing to leave many critical questions unanswered: What is the U.S. view of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, for example, a party that may be peaceful (for now) but is not legal? What will be the U.S. position if the Hizballah-led alliance wins Lebanon’s parliamentary elections? What will the United States do if Iran persists in its pursuit of nuclear weapons? What implications will there be for U.S. relations if Arab and Muslim autocrats do not move toward accountable, transparent, democratic rule? What will the United States do if Saudi Arabia, generally recognized as among the world’s foremost violators of religious freedom, moves at glacial speed on its promised reforms? And, perhaps most importantly, how will the United States, as a global superpower, prioritize the various themes and interests the president outlined? On none of these issues did the president’s speech reveal much.
What He Didn’t Say
The Cairo speech was also notable for specific words the president did not say and references he did not make.
- Most important was the absence of any reference to “the Muslim world” and a preference instead for the more accurate phrase “Muslim-majority countries.” This recognition of the continued primacy of states and an implicit rejection of the Islamist objective of a global caliphate that unites all Muslims in a single, supranational entity is a major step forward and should be commended. Now that “Muslim world” has been banished from the lexicon, the next textual improvement he should make is to distinguish between his defense of Muslims and defense of Islam. While the U.S. government has a strong interest in preserving and protecting the rights of Muslims to live freely and practice their religion, as we have done in Bosnia, Iraq, and elsewhere, it is unsettling for any president to suggest that “partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t.” First, America partners with peoples and governments, not religions; second, the president executes the U.S. Constitution, he doesn’t interpret the Quran. President Bush made the mistake of donning the mantle of “Imam-in-chief” when he applauded certain Muslim religious edicts (e.g., fatwas against violence) over edicts he didn’t like (e.g., fatwas calling for resistance to U.S. forces in Iraq); President Obama risks the same mistake with language that suggests a relationship with a religion, rather than its adherents.
- Surprisingly, in the capital of one of only two Arab countries at peace with Israel, the president made no reference to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, which celebrated its thirtieth anniversary this year, no reference to the courage and vision of Anwar Sadat, nor even a reference to the role of courageous leadership as an essential element of peacemaking. This was a lost opportunity and will be celebrated by some as a nod to Islamist antagonism toward Sadat.
- On the Middle East peace process, the president notably avoided announcing a new plan to translate the Arab Peace Initiative into an operational process that would incentivize Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy through actions and commitments of Arab states. While he did make an important plea for Arab states to stop exploiting the conflict with Israel “to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems,” he did not appear to press the matter or to demand clear and speedy action. Vagueness on this issue (and the president was very vague in this part of the speech) suggests he did not get from Saudi king Abdullah substantive commitments that could form the basis of a truly new approach.
- Also on the peace process, the president roundly criticized Israeli settlement activity, but did not use the Cairo platform to repeat the specific demand to end “natural growth,” perhaps the most contentious aspect of U.S. policy on the issue. Whether that suggests a willingness to engage with Israel on the issue is unclear.
- In a discussion of tolerance and religious freedom, the president missed an opportunity by failing to celebrate the success of Muslims in India, home to the world’s third-largest Muslim population.
Phrases Pregnant with Implication
As officials, diplomats, and scholars pore over the speech for hints of policies yet to come, two passages deserve special scrutiny:
- In the peace process section, Obama said the following on Jerusalem: “[We should all work for the day] when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon them) joined in prayer.” This sentence is a prima facie rejection of Israel’s position that adherents of all faiths currently enjoy freedom and access in Jerusalem and, by its invocation of a Quranic vision of Jerusalem, will be interpreted in Muslim capitals as tilting toward an Arab/Muslim view of Jerusalem’s eventual disposition.
- On nuclear issues, Obama made a veiled reference to Arab charges of a U.S. double standard in focusing on Iran’s nuclear ambitions while overlooking Israel’s existing weapons. Some have cited a recent statement by a U.S. State Department official calling for Israel’s inclusion in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty as a sign that the Obama administration intends to address this issue directly, in a way certain to provoke tension with Jerusalem. In Cairo, however, Obama offered a different vision, suggesting that addressing Israel’s nuclear capability falls under the heading of “America’s commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons.” Israelis can happily live with that worthy — and long-term — goal.
Cairo marks President Obama’s fifth major message to the world’s Muslims — following his inaugural address, early al-Arabiya television interview, Iranian New Year greetings, and speech to the Turkish parliament. Debates about the content of these remarks notwithstanding, no one can contest the fact that he has fulfilled a personal commitment to make “engagement” with Muslims a high priority. If there is any meaning to the phrase “mutual interest and mutual respect,” America can now rightfully expect to hear and see what Muslims — leaders and peoples — say and do in response.
Robert Satloff is the executive director of The Washington Institute.
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Can Obama accomplish the ambitious goals he laid out in today’s speech?
The New Republic
Thursday, June 04, 2009
Barack Obama has two imminent opportunities to test the effectiveness of his speech in Cairo today: Will it help the more moderate candidates win in next week’s Lebanon election? The week after, will it help in transforming Iranian public opinion and make Iranians more prone to oust their radical president? Speeches, unlike literature, should not be judged as prose or poetry–but with Obama, we sometimes tend to forget that. The eloquence with which he conveys his message is almost always numbingly beautiful. Words, however, will not suffice; they will only be remembered as significant if they have consequences. Ronald Reagan’s “tear down this wall” speech was remarkable when it was delivered, and was much more so when the wall was indeed torn down.
Obama’s Cairo speech had a misleading quality to it. The president was speaking the rhetoric of Reagan, while intending to execute the policy of George H. W. Bush. Conveying the image of an emotional, forthcoming, and understanding bridge-builder, he is actually a cautious and calculated leader, wanting to scale down America’s foreign policy–back to the days when “interests” were king, not “ideologies.” Obama is a new type of the old “realist.” He is a realist with feelings–one that can naturally combine a call for halting Iran’s nuclear weapons because of “America’s interests” (and others’) with his personal story of “an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama.”
The president didn’t shy away from speaking about his “commitment … to governments that reflect the will of the people”–the kind of government most Muslim-majority countries do not have. This is not unprecedented for a realist: George H.W Bush, in his inaugural address, also didn’t shy away from saying, “We know what works: Freedom works. We know what’s right: Freedom is right.” But today’s speech, like every speech, will be judged according to following deeds. And all indications are that Obama will be pursuing a path more similar to the one of the freedom-loving first Bush than to the one pursued by the freedom-loving second Bush.
The specific details the president offered were scarce. He said, for example, that the United States “will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron,” but didn’t say what happens in case the American withdrawal of forces leaves an Iraq that isn’t secure or united. He laid out the reasons for which it will be better for the region and the world if Iranians decide to give up on their nuclear military program, but refrained from threats, or from offering a path through which such goal can be achieved. In fact, the only aggressive message conveyed in the part dedicated to Iran actually seemed aimed at Israel: “No single nation should pick and choose which nations hold nuclear weapons. That is why I strongly reaffirmed America’s commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons.” This might mean future American pressure on Israel to disarm, as part of the deal the Obama team will be seeking with Tehran later this month.
Israel was anxiously waiting the speech, following two weeks of contentious public statements related to settlement building. On this topic, Obama hasn’t added more fuel to the fire. But it was interesting to note how the Arab crowd cheered enthusiastically when he called for settlement freeze and the easing of restrictions on Palestinians, and sat silently, solemnly when he said that denying the holocaust was “baseless, ignorant, and hateful”.
The president also said that the United States “cannot impose peace.” That is one humble statement from a president who seemed to imply in recent weeks that this is exactly what the United States will be trying to do. Yesterday, summing up his visit to Washington, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak boldly criticized recent demands by the Obama team: “You have to be attached to facts of life,” he said. “You can not expect the unreasonable to happen.”
In Cairo, Obama had to reach for the sky, and to expect the unlikely-to-happen; one can’t go all the way to Egypt with the modest goal of stating the reasonable and the practical. Thus, two real questions should be asked as this speech is already a deed of the past. One is quite obvious: Will the Arab and Muslim world believe Obama? Most Americans, according to a Gallup poll published yesterday, remain skeptical. But it will be the Arab response that will determine the answer to this first question.
The second question, though, is no less important, and it is a question to which an answer will emerge only with time, and action: Does Obama know not just how to say the right words, but also how to achieve all, or even a handful of, the goals he has so beautifully and expressively laid out today?
Shmuel Rosner is an editor and columnist based in Tel Aviv. He blogs daily at Rosner’s Domain.
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Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (based in London):
There is a divide in the Arab assessment.
Officially, the Egyptian government viewed it positively. Egyptian Foreign Minister Abu-Greit said from inside the hall, “it was a great speech and we have to wait to see further positive steps.” Amr-Moussa, Secretary General of the Arab League said that it was a “great and positive speech,” and “it is a return of long-absent equity to the American discourse regarding this region.”
Dr. Abdel-Halim Kandil, coordinator of the Egyptian movement “Enough” which presses for change, divides the speech into two parts. The first part speaks to what the listeners want to hear. The second part is where he takes parts from the discourse of George Bush, but wraps it in new vocabulary.
The Mubarak and Obama summit
This reflected the deep, strategic connections between Egypt and America.
Sheikh Tantawi (Imam of the Al-Azhar Mosque and religious head of Sunni Muslim world) said that Obama’s speech touched the hearts and minds of Muslims. He says that Obama’s speech highlighted the points that are preventing coexistence between Islam and the other. Tantawi added that since Obama pointed out that America is not at war with slam, then Islam is not at war with America.
Al-Masry al-Youm (Egyptian)
“This visit shows us that Obama is a man of his word as he has acted on a promise he made before stepping into the White house, to visit the Middle East.”
Tashreen (National Syrian news agency)
Obama’s speech is to improve American relations in the region and to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Obama through his spokespeople says that peace in the region is in the interest of Israel, the Arabs, and America, and that the first step towards peace is the cessation of settlement building…
“It is expected that the Netanyahu-Lieberman government would have a counter attack to these words. This government is built on a different foundation (than America) in accordance with the concept of aggression, settlements, and Judaization.”
Therefore, the Obama visit was just a step, and he must make real efforts to show Israel that peace is the interest of all.
It remains to be seen if Obama will return on his words and peaceful gestures, like the Netanyahu-Lieberman government hope. And the Zionist pressure waits and waits to see which side will prevail. http://www.tishreen.info/_word.asp?FileName=81249240320090604024550
Al-Khaleej (United Arab Emirates)
Obama points to the Arab peace initiative. In other words he is requesting more from the Arabs. He is calling to push back the resistance and for the Arab states to assist the Palestinians in recognizing “Israel.” In doing Obama refers to the “Jewish Holocaust,” while he forgets the Holocaust of Gaza. Yet he reaffirms the unshakable bond between America and the entity (Israel).
Gazian children call for Obama to lift the siege and end their suffering.
(All above translated from Arabic and summarised by Ilan Grapel)
Obama’s tour: More than promises (In English)
“It is an encouraging and promising start for the American President toattempt in his first tour of the region to win the hearts of the Islamic and Arab world by affirming his seriousness in reaching a comprehensive settlement for the regional struggle. A fertile ground for extremism, this struggle has produced “generations” of terrorist cells which destabilize the Middle East and topple or “adapt” its legitimacies under the pretext of defeating Israel.
It would be an exaggeration to say that Obama would challenge Benjamin Netanyahu’s government even if at the detriment of the American-Israeli alliance. But oversimplifying the signals that Obama sent, by attributing them to his attempts to prepare the ground for his tour or reassure his hosts, is akin to downplaying his admission of the damage the Middle East turmoil has left on the US interests…
At the same time, Netanyahu’s deputy was throwing smoke bombs in the season of “Jewish” anger, by saying that the Palestinians are the ones who must take the initiative to resume negotiations! As for Lieberman, who threw the Iranian “bomb” in the court of the rest of the world, he sent a message to Obama saying that the priority given to Israel’s refusal to bargain over the settlements and “sabotage the project of the nuclear bomb… is your concern.”
Maybe Obama has settled his mind and decided to separate the Iranian course from the Arab-Israeli one without waiting for the results of the [Iranian presidential] elections in June and the dialogue with Iran. This sends out many signals that reassure the Arab moderate countries that warned the new American President that wasting this “last” chance presented by the Arab peace initiative will unleash extremism and inflict more damage on the US interests, breeding more failed countries-entities which nurture terrorism. In turn Israel feeds on this terrorism under the pretext of attacking it.
This effort to win the hearts of the region has had a promising US start, as Obama candidly admitted that each region had its own culture and tongue. This is the first step towards restoring the diplomacy of dialogue, instead of starting wars to impose solutions. But, what will be Israel’s response to its ally’s new behavior?”
Editorials from English-language Media in Muslim Middle Eastern countries
The National (UAE)
“Barack Obama’s long-awaited address to the Muslim world disappointed those pipe-dreamers who wanted an about-face in the United States’s support of Israel. It also disappointed Israelis who interpreted the close relations its country has with the US as carte blanche for their country’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories. Indeed, quite a few people in Israel and the Muslim world were probably left deeply unsatisfied by some portion of Mr Obama’s speech. But he was not addressing these people.
“Mr Obama’s central theme was that it was time to move past what divides the US and the Muslim world, and to seek to overcome problems rather than blame the other side for causing them…
“While his predecessor notably declared that democracy should be the goal of all nations, Mr Obama is far more interested in accountability and transparency. As the US president stated, these virtues are not exclusive to democracy, and are universally desired; and democracy of itself does not necessarily produce acceptable governance…
“…he has made the first step; it remains to be seen how the Muslim world will answer.”
Daily Star (Lebanon)
“Barack Obama’s long-awaited address to the Muslim world has proven to be an event of global magnitude, and a dramatic, international projection of the bully pulpit of the American presidency…
“Obama has committed his country to solving the Arab-Israeli struggle and its own long-simmering confrontation with Iran, as part of an agenda that includes confronting violent extremism and boosting democracy, religious freedom and women’s rights. This can constitute a new era in international diplomacy, provided that Washington follow up with determination and evenhandedness…
“The credit here probably belongs to Rahm Emmanuel, Obama’s chief of staff. Without Emmanuel, whose pro-Israeli sympathies can’t be questioned, Obama wouldn’t be taking on the pro-Israel lobby, whether on Palestine or Iran. Emmanuel has laid down a bruising challenge: come up with a better plan on these issues, or shut up…”
“Those were indeed soothing words coming eloquently from the mouth of US President Barack Obama in Cairo on Thursday. And of course they were comforting because they come after eight years of George W. Bush who launched his crusade on “terror” – which many interpreted as a war on Islam – in the process invading two Muslim nations…
“The highlight of the speech for many was talk about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the root cause of other problems and the main cause for mistrust between Arabs and Muslims on the one hand, and the West on the other. Failure to find a just and durable solution to this conflict means failure to successfully tackle other problems, particularly that of extremism…
“But the way towards statehood is hard and comes with obligations. The Palestinians, Obama said, have to forego violence, develop the capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of the people; Hamas was enjoined to “end violence, recognise past agreements and Israel’s right to exist”.
“At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel’s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine’s. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.”
After many years and misguided US presidents, Obama goes back to international legitimacy and calls the settlements what they are: unlawful…
Arab News (Saudi Arabia)
“The message was crystal clear, short on rhetoric and long on reality. He accepted no single speech could itself dispel mistrust but both America and the Muslim world should abandon crude stereotypes of each other. People should focus on what they have in common, not what divides them. Obama said his foreign policy was rooted in diplomacy and international consensus, not in imposing Washington’s will…
“Having stated US commitment to Israel was “unbreakable”, he went on to decry Israel’s “occupation” of Palestine and once more condemn West Bank settlements. The only false note in the entire address came when he deplored Palestinian violence, “shooting rockets at sleeping children or blowing up old women on a bus”, but left hanging unspoken in the air an equal denunciation of Israel’s even more bloody bombardment of the helpless citizens of Gaza…
“He ended as he began by calling for “a new beginning.” In the mouths of so many other politicians, that ambition would die with the echo of the words. However, a combination of his extraordinary oratory, his charisma, his background and his personal experience of Islam gave the ambitions he expressed genuine weight. Only Al-Qaeda and Zionist extremists could recoil from this speech in dangerous exasperation…”
Teheran Times (Iran), Islamic Republic News Agency
Neither the Teheran Times nor the Islamic Republic News Agency’s English site mentioned Obama’s speech