All Eyes on Obama

US President Obama with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan

US President Obama with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan

From Al Jazeera


It’s very much an invited audience, security is extremely tight and one of the opposition newspapers today, in its front page said that Obama is arriving in Egypt but Egypt has been evacuated.

“Parts of the city have been closed down and other parts have been given a major facelift. They have been washing and painting and cleaning all the routes in which the president will travel as he moves to the various events across Cairo and then to the pyramids,” Bays said.

Egyptian media reported that refurbishments of the Cairo University alone cost over $2.4m.

US officials said on Wednesday that Obama would talk candidly about a range of issues that had “caused tensions between the US and the Muslim world.”

Ben Rhodes, Obama’s foreign policy speechwriter, said: “He will discuss in some detail his view on the conflict and what needs to be done to resolve it.

“He will discuss both what that means in terms of Israelis and Palestinians and the United States and the Arab states as well,” he said.

In an interview with the New York Times, Obama himself suggested he would urge Arab states to be more open and direct.

“Stop saying one thing behind closed doors and saying something publicly,” he said.

“A lot of Arab countries are more concerned about Iran’s nuclear weapons…than the threat from Israel but won’t admit it.”

“There are a lot of Arab states that have not been particularly helpful to the Palestinian cause,” he said.

Ostensibly, the address is part of a broader effort by Obama to rewrite US foreign policy that under George Bush, his predecessor, alienated allies and fuelled a wave of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world.

Mending ties

The US president’s choice of Cairo underscores his focus on Muslims in the Middle East, where he faces some of his biggest foreign policy challenges.


Obama is also seeking to build a coalition of moderate Muslim governments to support his efforts to revive stalled Middle East peace talks and help the US curb Iran’s nuclear programme.

How well Obama’s 45-minute speech – to be simultaneously translated in 13 different languages – is received would largely depend on what he says about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the issue the Muslim world cares most about. Muslims view the United States as uncritically pro-Israel.

Our correspondent said that expectations on the streets about Obama’s speech were high.

“A lot of people here, however, are very positive about Obama himself and remember the campaign slogans of change and they believe he’s a man who might want to bring change but they’re not sure Obama alone can do that alone.”

Saudi talks

The US president arrived in Cairo from Saudi Arabia, where he held talks with King Abdullah on issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Washington’s overtures to Iran and oil.

“I thought it was very important to come to the place where Islam began and to seek his majesty’s counsel and discuss with him many of the issues that we confront here in the Middle East,” Obama said before the talks on Wednesday.

The meeting came as al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden accused Obama of “antagonising Muslims” in a tape broadcast by Al Jazeera



Filed under Pakistan

19 responses to “All Eyes on Obama

  1. Anwar

    Before we get carried away here is an excellent analysis by Prof. Asad AbuKhalil (angryarab blog).

    I did not expect much. I mean, you know the routine by now. When presidents change, they merely change the Zionist Middle East “expert” at the White House who guides the president. Something happened in Middle East policy making in the White House in the Reagan administration. They no more trusted a real Middle East expert to guide policy making (this is party the obituary of the Arabists in Robert Kaplan’s book by that name). You no more had a William Quandt at the White House: somebody who is a trained Middle East scholar who is truly balanced in his views of the Middle East. By the Reagan administration, that was killed. Reagan’s White House had Geoffrey Kemp (who is now at the Nixon Center) and it went down hill from there. I met Kemp a few times and he is a nice guy but he is no William Quandt. Kemp looked at the Middle East from the standpoint of Cold War calculations and from the standpoint of what is best for American-Israeli relations. The George H.W. Bush’s White House had Richard Haas he was no expert on the Middle East. Clinton selected Martin Indyk and that set the stage for the appointment of Zionist activists (with no Middle East expertise like Elliott Abrams) to take over Middle East policy making. This coincided–what a coincidence–with the change in Middle East programs at Washington, DC thank tanks. I mean, when I first came to the city, you could find non-Zionists at DC-based think tanks, including at the American Enterprise Institute. It is ironic that the political culture of the capital became more Zionist after the end of the Cold War when much of the support for Israel and its aggression was predicated–according to advocates–on Cold War arguments. So you can argue that Bill Clinton established a precedent of hiring (non-American) Zionist lobbyists/activists as Middle East advisers. So when I woke up and read the transcript of the speech I started thinking about the process of drafting the speech. It was compiled together from various different elements that were contained in speeches of US presidents before, including speeches by none other than George W. Bush. He begins the speech by attributing the reasons for Muslim hostility to the West to colonialism, Cold War and then modernity–kid you not. By the introduction, I knew that he is and will be missing the point. And his talk about Muslim dignity and the lack of incompatibility between Islam and human rights have been contained in speeches–many of them indeed–by George W. Bush. And these quotations from the Qur’an are really old: they started with Jimmy Carter and in order to justify US support for Camp David. Remember that this began even earlier in the declaration to the Egyptian people by Napoleon’s expedition (and at least he had at his disposal real Orientalist, Silvestre de Sacy, and not Jeffrey Feltman or Daniel Shapiro: and there is very little on the latter. He works as the Middle East expert at the National Security Council of Obama’s White House. He did not study the Middle East and worked on the staff of various Zionist members of congress including Diane Feinstein. His resume include bragging about his work on the hill: he spearheaded work to ban Al-Manar from the US and to push for the Syria Accountability Act, meaning he implemented orders from AIPAC–not more and no less). Obama is not a man of courage: if he was politically courageous, he would have said that Al-Azhar under the rule of Nasser was a force of progressive thought, enlightenment, state feminism support, and quasi-secularism. Under American puppets, Sadat and Mubarak, Al-Azhar became a force of obscurantism, fanaticism, misogyny, religious intolerance, and violence. Al-Azhar does not deserve any praise whatsoever. The Copts, Freethinkers, and women all sufferes because of rulings from Al-Azhar. Ideas of Al-Qa`idah and religious fanaticism’s in general should be blamed on that obsolete institution which serves as a tool of the dictators in Egypt. His reference to the early roots of Islam in America is so disingenuous: he has one bland quote from John Adams and leave out various expressions of bigotry against Muslims by founding fathers. And he then condemns (unspecified) Western stereotypes of Muslims and then matches them with what he calls Muslim stereotypes of America as empire. But those two are not symmetrical: American stereotypes of Muslims are racist and essentialist, and the notion that the US is a war mongering Empire is shared by none Muslims and Muslims alike around the world. The literature about the US as Empire is written largely by Westerners. So Obama is asking for a bargain: to end Western racism (but not wars) against Muslims, Muslims need to stop attacking US foreign policy and wars. This is chicanery–don’t you like those old fashioned words? He talks about the US as a force of “progress.” How untrue for Obama’s audience: the US has consistently opposed forces of progress and advancement in the Middle East: in every conflict between an oil Sheikh or a polygamous prince against progressive socialists or Arab nationalist secularists, the US has always sided with the polygamous princes who have been in alliance with religious kooks and advocates of “holy wars.” Hell, he just came from Saudi Arabia where he praised the wisdom of the Saudi king and he wants to talk to me about “force of progress”? Maybe if you can bring up the issue of Wahhabi fanaticism I would believe you. He said that his personal story as an African American (with an African Muslim name) who was elected president is not unique. Yes, it is: and it was not easy: and his name was mocked during his campaign, and he made his best to distance himself from anything Muslims. So here, Obama is assuming that his Cairo audience are a bunch of idiots who did not follow his campaign and the reactions that it generated. He adds that Muslims in America enjoy education and income above average Americans. Yes, that is true, and I hate when people say that: the reasons is due to the racist/cl assist rules for the immigrants from Muslims/Middle East countries: only those who high degrees are allowed into the country, while poor people from other countries are allowed. If you are in the Middle East, your chances of being allowed into the US are related to the high degrees you hold. He said that there are mosques in the US but does not mention that many communities fight tooth and nail against those mosques. His references to Iraq and Afghanistan are largely apologetic: and he does not mention that his past critiques of the invasion of Iraq was asking to the criticisms of the Israeli occupation of West Bank and Gaza in Tikkun: that it is based on what is good or bad for Israel, and not for what it does to the victims. He talks about Taliban and Al-Qa`idah’s killing of Muslims (and Muslims know that they have killed Muslims) but he does not mention that Bush administration and Obama administration have also been killing innocent Muslims: if anything, the rate of bombing from the air may have increased over Afghanistan under Obama: the advocate of the surge in Afghanistan versus Bush, the advocate of surge in Iraq. What a difference. I was offended by his lecturing to Muslims about Jewish suffering: as if the audience is entirely anti-Semitic. There are anti-Semites in the US and he does not lecture to them. He spoke about the repugnant practice of Holocaust denial but did not mention that the literature is entirely Western in that regard. And he then moves from a discussion of the Nazism to the Arab-Israeli conflict. What is his point here: that because of Nazi crimes, the Palestinians need to accommodate Zionist crimes on their lands? This is the most offensive section of course: he talks about the Palestinians without identifying who was doing those bad things to them. Look at this sentence: “have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than sixty years they have endured the pain of dislocation.” So their suffering is due to their pursuit of a homeland: so they should stop the pursuit and the suffering will go away. He then mention the “pain of dislocation.” What is that o Obama? Is that like a shoulder dislocation? He refers to Palestinian reference to “for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought by Israel’s founding” but never mentions Israeli wars, attacks, and invasions and yet he makes specific references to Palestinian violence thereby making it clear that adheres to White Man standards: that only Israeli lives matter. I mean, if you compare the killing and terrorism between the two sides, the Israeli side clearly comes out on top in terrorism, wars, and aggression. He then lectures the Palestinians: “Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed.” I read that and thought: wait. Did you not in the early part of the speech bragged about how the US fought (non-violently, I may add) against British Empire? I should lecture Obama here: why didn’t the US resort to non-violent resistance against the British Empire? How could he speak about nuclear weapons without even mentioning the Israeli arsenal? That was another insult to the intelligence of the audience: maybe Jeffrey Feltman and Daniel Shapiro told him that Arabs don’t know that Israel has nuclear weapons. His words about democracy are just as empty as they were under Bush: he just returned from Saudi Arabia, for potato’s sake, and he has just refused to label Egyptian dictator as…autocrat. One of the most offensive part of the speech was his reference to religious freedom: he concludes that section by praising the Saudi imitative for inter-faith dialogue. So Obama takes Wahhabi doctrine as the model for religious freedoms. I understand you, now Obama. I understand you very well.
    PS There is much more to be said but I got bored and have to continue grading.
    Posted by As’ad at 7:53 AM

  2. Chamgadar Khan Bakri

    ahhh, i can’t believe that some fools think that things will change just because of one bloody speech. Obama is like Shariff brothers. Makes too much noise and spends huge sums on publicity but nothing on the ground to show. They will do what is best for them and we will keep on killing each others for $$$

    But what are we complaining about. Yesterday, Halbrooke who is like a Deputy Secretary rank officer in US visited Pakistan. It was utterly shameful and disgusting to see Zardari (a complete awaara doggy in my view), Qureshi, Rehman Docait (bastard) and that Kaira thing standing like waiters around him. What the fuk was President of Pakistan doing in that press conference???? WTF you morons.. shameless dollar-hungry creatures!!.. have a little self respect. All those who voted for PPP should kill themselves or migrate to north pole immediately.

  3. Chamgadar Khan Bakri

    and like they say… zinda hai machar zinda hai!!! tum kitne machar maro ge har ghar se machar nikle ga!!

  4. @Anwar – You are a serious loser and a Taliban apologist!!

    @Chamgadar Khan Bakri – That was hilarious but on a serious note You guys are so pessimistic about Obama’s speech. In diplomatic circles it is a big turn around from the days when no president could utter a single word against Israel. As usual blaming ppl like Anwar are blaming America without looking into the kind of hatred filled societies that we have created in our amidst. I say time for some self reflection!!

    A good analysis of the speech right here:

  5. Gorki

    Before I say anything about this speech, I would like to share an anecdote about the US presidency. In 1945 when the newly sworn president Truman (who was relatively inexperienced) was getting ready to go to Europe for the Potsdam conference; his secretary of state sensed his unease at meeting Statesmen like Churchill and Stalin for the first time.
    He told Truman “remember Mr. President, it does not matter which chair you occupy at that conference table, once you sit down, that chair will automatically become the head of the table”.

    The point I am trying to make is this; it does not matter whether the President of the United States speaks to a small pre-selected group of academicians in a Cairo University, or to any other such group; he knows that when he speaks; the entire world is listening.

    Thus those people who are looking at his words to nit pick are missing the forest for the woods.

    What Obama said today signaled a very dramatic shift in the US foreign policy both in style and substance. Thus whether he acknowledged that the responsibility for the Palestinians’ suffering lay with the Israelis or not is not as important as the fact that he clearly stated his aim was to end that suffering. Though the people in the audience were all Egyptians, he was saying the following to the following groups:

    To all Muslims: I am sorry for the silly and needless confrontational rhetoric of the neo-con Bushies which equated America’s struggle against a bunch of murderous thugs to a war between civilizations.
    My administration understands and respects the noble place of Islam in the story of mankind. The US will henceforth stop taking the bait when terrorists strike us and try to provoke a greater war. I want you to be partners with us; as equals.

    America’s two wars, that he is forced to lead; were not his own choice;
    1. The first one in Afghanistan was provoked by Al Quaeda and the US had no choice but to fight back.
    2. The second one in Iraq was a stupid war that he, Obama (and many Americans) did not agree with. While he was not going to run away and will see that peace is restored; he will see to it that the US will eventually leave these countries alone.

    Specifically he stated clearly that US had no designs on any of these nations. Even in terms of Pakistan and Afghanistan all he wanted these nations to do was to deny safe havens to any groups which used its territories to plan attacks on the US and other legitimate governments in undeclared wars.

    To the Israelis he was saying: The days of the US carte blanche to Israel was over. US would still support Israel but on its own terms and with an eye to promoting US interests rather than subordinating them to the Israeli interests.

    And finally to the Iranians and Arabs: Listen, we are not looking for any unnecessary confrontation but nuclear weapons in Iranian hands upset the balance of power, not only with Israel but also with the Sunni Arabs states. Specifically to the Arabs he was saying: come on: speak up for your self now what you tell us in private.

    He also made it clear that America was not going to insist on a modernization or democratization of any society at the point of a gun.

    All of the above are extremely clear and drastic policy shifts and it is clear that the message is not lost on all those whom it addresses. One has only to notice how much chatter this speech has generated among the Israeli security circles.

  6. yasserlatifhamdani

    I was generally pleased with the speech. However Kashmir is a glaring omission given Obama’s own earlier stance on the issue.

    Palestine-Israel is the litmus test… but most of the Muslim world lives outside the Arab world…. in Indonesia (200 million Muslims), Pakistan (165 million Muslims), India (145 million Muslims), Bangladesh (140 million Muslims) … Turkey (70 million Muslims)… Iran … and then Malaysia and Afghanistan….

    Perhaps… the right place for this speech should have been (as it was earlier rumored) Islamabad…

  7. Majumdar

    the right place for this speech should have been Islamabad

    Dear old Yasser, he will never get it out of his head that Pakistan is the centre of the Muslim universe.

    but most of the Muslim world lives outside the Arab world

    Right. But it is the Arabs which shape the view of the Islamic world becuase they have the cash. That is why the Arab world will always have disproportionate influence.

    Btw, he has spoken but can he walk the talk. And what is that Muslims (if there is any homogenous entity which can be described as such) want from him? And can he really deliver that?


  8. yasserlatifhamdani

    We are the center of it my friend… for reasons enumerated in my article.

  9. Barbarossa

    “I was generally pleased with the speech”

    Phew!! So Barack Obama managed to please YLH!! Would have been tough for him!! The guy must have been exhausted though!!

    “the right place for this speech should have been Islamabad”

    OK, care to elaborate please!!

    “However Kashmir is a glaring omission given Obama’s own earlier stance on the issue”

    Well!! some men do manage to grow up!! Others are not so fortunate, and they are destined to remian cry-babies for ever!!

  10. yasserlatifhamdani

    Dear Barbarossa/reggie/Rubicon/dhruva/Dennis the menace and countless other nicks,

    Why must some people act like a-holes I wonder?

    “care to elaborate”


  11. Majumdar

    Yasser mian,

    We Hindoos have believed that we are the center of the universe for the last 5,000 years. Hasn’t done us any good. Maybe will work out right for you. All the best!!!


  12. Bloody Civilian


    makkah may be claimed as the ‘centre’ of the islamic religion, in some sense. but the ‘muslim universe’ only exists to the extent that the ‘war on terror’ is suspected or believed to be a so-called’ ‘clash of civilisations’… and all muslims, regardless of geography, are seen by one or both ‘sides’ as belonging to one of the two civilisations clashing.

    in my view, the main, if not the only, reasons pertinent to YLH’s claim were:

    1. if obama wishes to convey a clean break from the old american policy of ‘he is a SOB, but he is our SOB’, and the damage it has done as conceded by his sec of state, then islamabad with its bush+mush legacy and the lawyers’ movement won democracy and feb 18’s brave vote would have provided some strong symbolism. endorsing mubarak in cairo is just more of the same old. that obama would have been seen to be supporting pak democracy would have also symbolised what gorki put as “that America was not going to insist on a modernization or democratization of any society at the point of a gun.”

    2. islamabad is at the frontline/centre of the ‘war on terror’… in the midst of a full-fledged army operation and a million+ IDP’s.

    3. ‘kashmir’ has been often quoted as central to a ‘nuclear flashpoint’, including obama himself. it has been a long suffering victim of terrorism too. whether iran being next door makes any symbolic difference or not… or gaza not being next door..

    4. as a speech – this is largely if not entirely symbolic. the “walk the talk” part remains. but symbolism is just as important, as we know. so a little more thought in to getting the symbolism right is what this is about, not any political or any other compulsion.

    the points above are just a little bit of topical logic. quite irrelevant to the “5,000 years” comparison, therefore.

  13. Majumdar


    Real issue is can he do any of the below?

    Will he stop mollycoddling dictators in the Middle East esp the oil rich sheikdoms?
    Will he come honest about why exactly USA is in Iraq and A’stan (and no restoration of democracy and human rights has nothing to do with US involvement in either) and what USA intends to do there in the next few years?
    Can he get Israel to dismantle the illegal settlements and begin serious negotiations on the future of Gaza and Palestine?


  14. Egypt is the intellectual heartland of the Arab land. Remember the Muslim brotherhood – which is the God father to all the Al-Qaeda types we have today. They are Egyptians..

    Still Pakistan today is the most important Muslim country.

    And to correct one of the earlier readers, in my opinion Arabs dominate the Muslim world not because of the cash. Only a few handful of Arab countries are ‘rich.’ It’s the importance of the Arabic language in the Muslim world.

  15. Bloody Civilian

    maudoodi/jamaat e islami is the ‘god father’ of the hassan bana/Muslim Brotherhood.

  16. ylh

    There is some confusion on this point as well.

    Egypt’s Ikhwan-ul-muslimeen is a decidedly Islamist organization but one which believes in democratization and participation.

    Syed Qutb was once part of Egypt’s Ikhwan but was kicked out. The Ikhwan which you should be concerned about is the Saudi Ikhwan founded by Abdullah Azzam of which Qutb became part of later.

    This is one of the inspirations of Ossama Bin Laden.

    And ironic twist.. Azzam is the scholar who “guided” Malcom X out of the Nation of Islam to the more “inclusive” Wahabi Islam or so says the grand narrative…

    This is why a deeper analysis of all these groups is required.

  17. ylh

    Incidentally it is the god father of Qutb not Banna .

  18. Bloody Civilian

    of course. i was avoiding the detail of how the brotherhood, and more so the egyptian islamic jihad, is more qutb-ist than banna-ist.. the former being more influenced by maudoodi than the latter, although both had read him. indeed, some believe that even azzam may have been killed by zwahiri and co. since azzam (probably due to his salafist influences) was not as big on the ‘declaring-one’s-own-compatriots/nation-jahliyya method of bypassing khurooj’ as the EIJ.

    what a cruel twist of fate that brought yet another bunch of mad mullahs (azzam and co.) to peshawar and the poor pashtuns… as if they hadn’t had enough over the previous two centuries. the pashtun culture is unlikely to survive the present lot and the trouble they have wrought.