Friday, June 5, 2009

Obama Speech Draws Strong Reactions From Egyptians, Arabs And Israelis

Huffington Post/AP | Stuart Whatley - First Posted: 06-4-09

Reactions to Obama's speech addressing the Muslim world in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday were prompt and disparate, covering the gamut between laudatory and derogatory. A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, with whom Obama met last week, described the speech as "a good start and an important step towards a new American policy," according to Reuters, however Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far been notably silent. And according to UPI, the reaction within Israel to Obama's speech was 'divided':

Analysts on Israeli television stations criticized the American president for failing to mention the word terror in his speech even once, opting instead to use violence. While the professionalism and conviction Obama delivered his speech was praised by some Israeli officials, others felt the president's reference to the Holocaust followed by a direct passage where he spoke of the suffering and humiliation of the Palestinian people was hurtful and unnecessary.

The speech is reported to have been well received within Cairo itself, according to the Washington Post:

The fact that Barack Obama chose Egypt as the location for Thursday's address to the Muslim world endeared him to the locals, who are always proud to host a foreigner and even prouder when it shows off their history.

Representing a more cynical, but predictable viewpoint is Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who issued a statement Thursday to say that it will take much more than "words, speech and slogan" to repair America's "ugly, detested and rough" image, according to the AP.

Likewise, a spokesman for Hamas' leader in Gaza, Ayman Taha, relayed similarly unimpressed sentiments, describing the approach laid out in the speech as "no different from the policy of his predecessor, George W. Bush," the BBC reports.

Also from the BBC, Hassan Fadlallah, speaking for Hezbollah in Lebanon, expresses basically the same viewpoint:

The Islamic world does not need moral or political sermons. It needs a fundamental change in American policy beginning from a halt to complete support for Israeli aggression on the region, especially on Lebanese and Palestinians, to an American withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and a stop to its interference in the affairs of Islamic countries. We have not seen any change in US policy towards the Palestinian cause.

Eric Goldstein, speaking for Human Rights Watch, via Reuters, commended certain parts of the speech, such as the call for Israel to halt settlement activities, but he lamented what he saw as a lack of specificity regarding barriers for democracy in the Muslim world, saying:

"I don't expect that he would single out Egypt as the host country, but he might have mentioned for example a state of emergency that has been in effect for 30 years. And not just in Egypt but in other countries. He could have mentioned the imprisonment of dissidents."

The AP has more from a variety of respondents in a number of Muslim countries, many of whom provide their own dose of skepticism and criticism for issues they believe the speech was remiss to address:

"President Obama is a brave president. ... We hope he will open a new chapter with the Islamic world and Arab nations in particular." -- Mithwan Hussein, a Baghdad resident.

"Bush and Clinton said the same about a Palestinian state, but they've done nothing, so why should we believe this guy?" -- Ali Tottah, 82, who is originally from the West Bank town of Nablus, speaking at the Baqaa refugee camp in Jordan.

"There is a change between the speech of President Obama and previous speeches made by George Bush. But today's remarks at Cairo University were based on soft diplomacy to brighten the image of the United States." -- Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza.

"The Obama administration is focused on whether to strike Iran or not, as if the core problem in the region is Iran. But it totally forgot the Palestinian issue. Let Obama solve the Palestinian problem first, then he can strike whoever he wants." -- Ibrahim Hreish, a jeweler in Amman, Jordan.

"Why did he not come here to Gaza, instead of going to Egypt? He is welcome to come and see, to inspect with his own eyes, to see the war crimes and the new Holocaust." -- Mohammed Khader, 47, whose house in Gaza was leveled by Israeli troops during the recent three-week offensive against Hamas.

"It was actually better than we expected, but not as good as we hoped. ... His stance on democracy was very general, a bit weak, we hoped for more detail." -- Ayman Nour, an Egyptian dissident recently released from prison.

"Obama is clearly admitting that Bush's military offensive in Iraq was a mistake." -- Said Lacet, 56, a civil servant in Algeria.

"It still was a speech about what America wants. Maybe that's only natural, because he wants to protect American interests in the region. ... But I really do believe he envisions a world that is pluralistic, where different religions can live peacefully together, with respect, as he himself experienced in Indonesia." -- Edi Kusyanto, a teacher at the school in Indonesia where Obama went as a child.

"The part of Obama's speech regarding the Palestinian issue is an important step under new beginnings. ... This is the beginning of a new American policy and this policy is creating a new atmosphere to build the Palestinian state." -- Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"He was very generous in his comments about Islam's contributions to civilization. ... There also hasn't really been any other Western leader who has expressed such commitment to fighting negative stereotypes regarding Muslims." -- Chandra Muzaffar, president of the International Movement for a Just World think-tank in Malaysia.

"This vision is so out of touch with reality. ... You can have your speechwriters find every good thing a Muslim has every done. But more modern history is that the Muslim world is at war with the Western world." -- Aliza Herbst, 56, a spokeswoman for Yesha, the West Bank settlers' council.

"It was very positive. A president with the middle name of Hussein being in Cairo talking about collaboration means a lot for Muslims. It will influence people." -- Malek Sitez, an international law expert in Kabul, Afghanistan.

"It's one of the most important speeches ever delivered, a key speech for changing the climate in the Middle East. Israel will make a big mistake if it ignores it and doesn't use it to generate a new dialogue with the Muslim world." -- Yuli Tamir, a dovish Israeli lawmaker from the centrist Labor Party.

"I don't trust him. He's just trying to apologize to Muslims because of what America -- or really Bush -- has done in the past. He's promising to be different. But that's all it is, a promise. We want action." -- Wahyudin, the director of a hard-line Islamic boarding school in Jakarta, who goes by one name.