Middle East

Viewpoints

Obama in the Middle East

U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his landmark address to the Muslim world on June 4 in the Grand Hall of Cairo University in Cairo. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Egypt—Al Ahram (June 7): Judging by what Obama offered to a diverse and loudly applauding audience of 3,000, the current U.S. administration has a priority to contain the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is committed to withdrawing from Iraq and to bring a form of peace to the Middle East that would allow the Palestinians to eventually have a state of some sort. It is also keen to seek a peaceful end to confrontation with "the Islamic Republic of Iran" over its nuclear program. Moreover, it would pursue the sensitive and cautious promotion of democracy and human rights, including the rights of minorities such as Maronites and Copts in Arab and Muslim countries while working closely with the governments of these countries to promote development and economic prosperity.

France—Radio France Internationale (June 4): The Palestinian authority hailed Obama's speech as a "good start." Nabil Abou Rudeina, spokesperson for the Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, described it as "clear and frank... an innovative political step." Rudeina considered that the U.S. president's support for a Palestinian state cannot be ignored by Israel.

Germany—Die Tageszeitung (June 5): All those expecting a new political project for the region and a detailed plan for how things should proceed were disappointed. Washington's commander-in-chief deftly defended the U.S. operation in Afghanistan. The pull-out from Iraq, announced long ago, was announced again. He elegantly skirted the issue of Iran by talking of his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons, while granting all countries that use atomic energy for peaceful purposes (Iran included) the right to do so.

Indonesia—The Jakarta Post (June 7): Indonesian Muslims lauded President Barack Obama's "soothing" speech, which experts said highlighted the urgency to have the Arab world support U.S. peacemaking efforts in the Middle East. In the one-hour speech at Cairo University on Thursday, Obama underscored seven points to mend ties with the "Muslim world" after relations were strained following the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Abdillah Toha, a politician from the Muslim-based National Mandate Party (PAN), said Obama failed however to bring forth a "breakthrough" approach to settling the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Iran—Iran Focus (June 7): U.S. President Barack Obama said Saturday that North Korea's nuclear weapon test had been "extraordinarily provocative" and that it would be "profoundly dangerous" for Iran to get a nuclear bomb. Obama highlighted the separate policies being pursued against the two, with the United States seeking a tougher line on Stalinist North Korea while it has a new start to Iran's hardline Islamic government.

Israel—Haaretz.com (June 5): Following President Barack Obama's address in Cairo Thursday, the U.S. administration is now trying to lower tensions with Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly commended Obama's speech in a statement issued by his bureau. In private conversations, however, he expressed disappointment at what he saw as a soft stance on Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Lebanon—The Daily Star (June 5): 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.

Pakistan—Daily Times (June 6): President Obama's references to Islam and his quotations from the Quran were cheered by the audience at Cairo University. Some pointed references to democracy and women's rights were equally enthusiastically welcomed, which neither reflected the views of the Mubarak government nor those of the Muslim Brotherhood that is sure to win a fair election in Egypt. Those who cheered therefore wanted the removal of dictatorship while being sceptical of democracy under the influential Egyptian Islamists. This brings up the question of the prospects of democracy in the Muslim world and complicates the mission of President Obama as he applies the yardstick of democracy to American policy towards the Muslim world.

Saudi Arabia—Arab News (June 5): Local reactions to U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo yesterday were mostly positive, with a few expressing reservations over whether the president’s eloquent words would result in actions — especially pertaining to Palestinian sovereignty and the statehood. "In all of Obama’s seven-part speech, the part about the Palestinian issues was his weakest point," said Yasser Darwish, a Palestinian supervisor at food processing company in Jeddah. "He did not necessarily say anything new other than mentioning that the current Israeli settlement activity has to stop."

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