Blog Archive

Blog Archive – June, 2009

A Speech to Remember?

June 10, 2009

by Barbara Nimri Aziz

The most poignant commentary on Obama’s Cairo excursion is by the brilliant political cartoonist Steve Bell. His June 5 Guardian newspaper portrayal of the Obama visit to Cairo has the US president posing on a desert landscape next to a docile, satisfied-looking camel, tickling its chin!

Some praise the speech as historic. In a limited way it was: in tone, in eloquence.

But these qualities are insufficient to assure real changes in US policy and alter how USA may be evaluated across the world. In themselves Obama’s words do not promise substantive change in policy that the world expects and needs.

Obama could have uttered really revolutionary promise with a decision to recognize the Hizbullah and Hamas political parties or an announcement of serious compassionate review of all Muslims held in US custody, at home and abroad. Such declarations would signal true policy change.

There was nothing remotely approaching this. If Obama defined any policy, it was of Washington’s unwavering solidarity with Israel. He explicitly said so, reinforcing the position with support for Jews and Israelis on a number of fronts. Those references stood in sharp contrast to tepid recognition of Palestinian rights and daily injustices at the hands of Israel. Obama left room but very little in concrete terms for their dream –and their right-- to a viable Palestinian state.

President Obama’s Islamic greeting and quotations from the Quran as well as invocations of Muslim contributions to civilization show what we already know—that the present US leader is smart, courteous and charming.

So why did he decide to make this much touted speech on his stopover in Cairo between visits in Saudi Arabia, then Buchenwald in Germany?

Everyone I spoke to and most commentators in the Middle East have said ‘we applaud your oration and good words; but we await action, signs of substantive changes’. While oratory and good manners are a respected feature of Arab discourse, the people to whom Obama’s words were addressed know that a convincing presidential statement must be implemented with deeds. Nowhere is this more anticipated than in regards to Palestinian rights and the rights of Muslims (in the US and elsewhere) suspected of working against US interests.

So why all the fanfare and the long speech? Few commentators are speculating but I suggest this: he plans to ask Arab governments for something major, in regards to Israel, or further financial support, or military bases; he may do so pointing to his Cairo gesture. Perhaps the public is not fooled but Arab leaders may find any request hard to reject after this display of intelligent warmth.

[ A Speech to Remember? ]


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