Thursday, June 04, 2009

Obama in Cairo: Mission Impossible or Mission Accomplished?

Update June 4, 2009

I had intended to publish the following post about President Obama’s visit to Egypt yesterday but unfortunately I could not complete it in time. The President has delivered his major address to the people of Egypt at Cairo University five hours ago (starting at approximately 12:10 CET) and I was fortunate to be able to watch the speech LIVE here in Europe on both Al Jazeera and CNN International cable news networks.

In a word President Obama’s speech was ‘magnificent’ and neither I nor the news anchors, correspondents, and Middle East experts at Al Jazeera and CNNI can remember such a rousing response, repeated applause, and standing ovations for a U.S. president before an audience of Muslim students and scholars and other invited guests in our lifetimes. The impact of President Obama’s speech on the audience was just amazing albeit it is still too early to measure the reactions from ordinary citizens in the Middle East and throughout the Muslim world. Granted, in short time the world’s foreign policy experts, Middle East critics and pundits will have run the speech through their Veg-o-matics (…”you can slice it, and dice it, until it is totally unrecognizable!”). But for now, for those of us around the world who have just witnessed this important and historic speech at Cairo University, well we can savor the moment for as long as it lasts and say “job well done, Mr. President”.

The Al Jazeera English cable network coverage was outstanding and I have provided links to their news stories and videos below along with those from CNN International. In addition I have included key Egyptian news sites and bloggers and other important Middle Eastern news sources that are doing a great job of in-depth coverage of the president’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Egypt. I shall be updating this developing story with follow-on posts over the next few days as new information and opinions emerge from a world in ‘shock and awe’ over The Cairo Speech (PDF).

Original post from June 3, 2009

It is less than 24 hours before U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his long awaited speech to the ‘Arab and Muslim world’ at Cairo University. Already the White House staff is attempting to play down the importance of the speech in the wake of international media frenzy and hype surrounding the president’s visit to the Middle East. Obama’s Cairo speech, ‘A New Beginning’, has been heralded as an attempt to reset the mood and open new dialogues between the public in the United States and Arab and Muslim countries in order to make progress in the settlement of a wide range of long-outstanding problems and issues. But what should we really expect from President Obama’s visit to Egypt?

This morning I discussed that question with a good friend from the Middle East and we were in agreement on a number of points.

One, it is great that the new U.S. president is making a visit to Egypt so early in his administration and delivering a speech aimed at the citizens of the Middle East and the Muslim World. The fact that he has chosen Cairo, Egypt as the venue of his speech is an extra bonus due to its historical importance to the world-at-large, not only the Muslim world.

Two, an open dialogue between people from different nations is always a good thing, especially when that dialogue is conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect and a desire for understanding. That the majority population of the Middle East is so young and outspoken should make for some dynamic and interesting debates and editorials in the international press and news media following this historic event.

Three, my friend and I agree that it is time that the new Obama administration and select key members of the U.S. government put significant pressure on the Israeli government to halt the construction of new settlements and outposts on disputed territories (this is about the only thing my friend and I can agree on when it comes to Arab-Israeli relations, but it is a good start). I personally do not see this demand as an abandonment of the long-standing alliance between the United States and Israel but as one necessary pre-requisite to a sustainable and just peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. It is also equally important that militant groups and political organizations in the Palestinian territories once and for all abandon the path of violent confrontation with the Israelis as well as the violent clashes between one another. In the end it is the innocent civilians who suffer the most from such behavior, innocent men, women, and children on all sides.

Four, the new U.S. administration (as many U.S. administrations before it) is attempting to maneuver through a political/religious/cultural mine field of contrasting views and opinions which too often has lead to loss and tragedy for the people of the region. How can the people of the Middle East move forward on governance and democracy and human rights in the 21st Century? Whatever the outcome of these struggles and negotiations between the Arab public and their respective governments and civic and religious leaders, the final decisions must belong to the people of the Middle East. This is something that President Obama must make clear at the beginning of his speech before the audience in Cairo (and the worldwide audience who will be watching and listening very closely to every word he says).

America can no longer afford to manipulate and interfere with the legitimate, sovereign governments of the region while at the same time preaching transparency, human rights, and democracy founded on the will of the people. Promoting universal principals and values and good governance to our friends and allies is one thing, supporting autocratic, repressive regimes and dictators that serve our so-called ‘national interest’ is quite another. America needs true friends and allies in the Middle East and throughout the Muslim world, not puppet regimes who simply do our bidding for a few billion dollars of aid and trade.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was right in her address to the Arab public at the American University in Cairo on June 20, 2005:

Excerpt from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s Cairo speech:
Source: The Arabist

Throughout its history, Egypt has always led this region through its moments of greatest decision.

In the early 19th century, it was the reform-minded dynasty of Muhammad Ali that distinguished Egypt from the Ottoman Empire and began to transform it into the region’s first modern nation.

In the early 20th century, it was the forward-looking Wafd Party that rose in the aftermath of the First World War and established Cairo as the liberal heart of the “Arab Awakening.”

And just three decades ago, it was Anwar Sadat who showed the way forward for the entire Middle East — beginning difficult economic reforms and making peace with Israel.

In these periods of historic decision, Egypt’s leadership was as visionary as it was essential for progress. In our own time, we are faced with equally momentous choices — choices that will echo for generations to come.

In this time of great decision, I have come to Cairo not to talk about the past, but to look to the future — a future that Egyptians can lead and define.

Ladies and Gentlemen: In our world today, a growing number of men and women are securing their liberty.

And as these people gain the power to choose, they create democratic governments to protect their natural rights.

We should all look to a future when every government respects the will of its citizens — because the ideal of democracy is universal.

For 60 years, the United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East — and we achieved neither.

Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.

As President Bush said in his Second Inaugural Address: “America will not impose our style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way.”

We know these advances will not come easily, or all at once.

We know that different societies will find forms of democracy that work for them.Our goals are idealistic. But our policies must be practical. And progress must be evident.

When we talk about democracy, we are referring to governments that protect certain basic rights for all their citizens — among these, the right to speak freely. The right to associate. The right to worship as you wish. The freedom to educate your children — boys and girls. And freedom from the midnight knock of the secret police.

Securing these rights is the hope of every citizen, and the duty of every government.

In my own country, the progress of democracy has been long and difficult. And given our history, the United States has no cause for false pride and every reason for humility.

America was founded by individuals who knew that all human beings — and the governments they create — are inherently imperfect. After all, the United States was born half free and half slave. And it was only in my lifetime that my government guaranteed the right to vote for all of its people.

Nevertheless, the principles enshrined in our Constitution enable citizens of conviction to move us ever closer to the ideal of democracy.

Here in the Middle East, the long hopeful process of democratic change is now beginning to unfold.

Millions of people are demanding freedom for themselves and democracy for their countries.

To these courageous men and women, I say today: All free nations will stand with you as you secure the blessings of your own liberty.

End excerpt from former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s 2005 Cairo speech___

For sixty years we (the U.S. taxpayers) have allowed our government to invest billions of dollars into Egypt, Israel, and other Middle Eastern countries to promote our national interests___ only to come to the realization later that “this shit ain’t working!”. In other words, after 60 years of a failed foreign policy in the Middle East we (Americans) must wakeup to the fact that it is time to try something else, something new, something radically different.

Five, whatever happens after President Obama delivers his speech in Cairo to the ‘Arab and Muslim worlds’ it will take time before any significant results can be measured and a victory over seemingly never-ending conflict, misery, and mutual mistrust can be declared. It has been more than sixty years since the founding of the State of Israel and the struggles for Arab independence from their former European colonial masters___ and a lasting peace, equality, opportunity and prosperity is nowhere in sight for a majority of the peoples in the region. But peace and prosperity in the Middle East and throughout the Muslim world may at long last be within our grasp, if we have the courage to reach out and take hold of it, working together to support one another, striving to understand and respect one another, and helping to solve the various problems and challenges that we face on our small, blue planet.

If President Obama’s highly anticipated speech in Cairo can help to put the people of the world on such a path then he will have really accomplished something great in the ancient Land of the Pharaohs. Let’s wait and see what he has to say____ and how it comes across to everyone who has a stake in Peace in the Middle East.

Here is my recommended ‘pre-speech reading list’ from some of the best minds, scholars, journalists, and popular bloggers in the Middle East and beyond. I shall add more news articles, editorials, and blog posts from the Arab and international news media and bloggers over the next days following President Obama’s speech.

Thank you for visiting Jewels in the Jungle today. Tchuss bis sp├Ąter.

Related articles and resources
Middle East and North Africa

Al Jazeera News Network – English edition
Obama seeks new start with Muslims 06/04/09
Note: see related news articles and videos for Al Jazeera’s full coverage of the visit
Obama in Cairo for landmark speech 06/04/09
Obama begins Middle East tour 06/03/09
Obama offers change to Muslim world 06/03/09
Bin Laden attacks Obama policies 06/03/09

The Arabist (Cairo, Egypt)
Mubarak is a force for stability and good, says Obama at 3arabawy 06/02/09
Obama’s visit is dividing Egyptians - The National Newspaper 06/01/09
Dina Guirguis (chairman of Voices for a Democratic Egypt) - Obama’s Message in Egypt at 05/24/09
(Al-Jazeera) Fault Lines on the torture debate, Obama’s relationship with Mubarak, Saudis 06/01/09
Condoleezza Rice’s Remarks from her Cairo Speech at AUC (American University in Cairo) June 20, 2005

3arabawy by journalist Hossam al-Hamalawy (Cairo, Egypt)
NYT Op-Ed: Our allies not in the White House 06/03/09
National Public Radio Interview: Is there freedom of expression in Egypt? 06/03/09
You are NOT welcome! 06/03/09

The Egyptian Chronicles by Zeinobia (Cairo, Egypt)
We Won’t Kill Him For God’s Sake !! 06/03/09
Obama Will Visit These Places in Cairo and Giza 06/03/09
Four Presidents and Four messages 06/01/09

Voices for a Democratic Egypt (VDE)
VDE Blog - Voices for a Democratic Egypt (VDE)
Two Public Opinion Polls on Perceptions of the Arab World

Global Voices Online (U.S. based international network of blog authors and editors)
Egypt: Is Obama not Welcome? 06/03/09
Egyptian blogger roundup on the Obama visit to Cairo

Al-Ahram Weekly (Cairo, Egypt) – Issue Nr. 949, May 28-June 3, 2009
One of Egypt’s oldest and most prestigious newspapers
Front Page: Cairo counts down to Obama
Opinion: Muslim expectations (of Obama's visit to Cairo)
Obama on campus (at Cairo University)

The National Newspaper (Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates)
Obama launches Middle East trip 06/03/09
Obama faces challenge in Cairo 06/02/09
Cairo university (American University in Cairo) in US ‘spy’ furore 04/08/09

Daily News Egypt (an independent English-language newspaper)
Obama Outlines Mideast Policy Ahead of Cairo Speech 06/02/09
Interview with Reza Aslan: "Muslims are all ears but Obama must send the right message." 06/01/09


BBC News (U.K.)
Middle East: Barack Obama launches key Mid-East mission 06/03/09
Obama hopeful on Mid-East peace 06/02/09
Justin Webb’s America: An Interview with President Obama
The Obama interview exclusive before the Middle East trip 06/01/09

Spiegel Online – international edition ( ‘Der Spiegel’ Magazine, Germany)
'Aspirin for Us Muslims': Arab World Skeptical about Obama Overture 06/03/09
Middle East Peace: Obama's Mission Impossible 05/19/09
Obama and Merkel: The Trans-Atlantic Frenemies 06/03/09

U.S.A. and North America (international edition)
Obama address extends hand to Islam 06/04/09
Obama in Egypt - Radicals ‘worst nightmare’: Obama draws questions, praise from Muslims 06/04/09
Text of President Obama’s Cairo speech ‘A New Beginning’ (PDF)
CNNI video of the President’s Cairo University speech (Part 1) (international edition)
Can Obama Win Muslim Hearts and Minds? - TIME
Meeting High Expectations in the Middle East - TIME
Obama and the Arab World: Can He Meet Expectations? 06/02/09 (international edition)
Newsweek Voices Series
Robert J. Samuelson: The Media’s Obama Infatuation - Is the press giving the president a free pass? 06/01/09
Christopher Dickey: Will Obama Apologize to the Arab World? 06/01/09

The Peace Maker: Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s Mideast Mission 05/23/09
American and Iranian Diplomats Resume Their Talk___ 30 Years Later (Brzezinski and Yazdi interview) 05/25/09

The Los Angeles Times (L.A. Times)
In Egypt, dissident Ayman Nour is pessimistic on eve of Obama’s visit 05/31/09

The Washington Post
Obama faces a chasm in the Mideast: Legacy of distrust complicates speech 06/03/09
King Abdullah Greets Obama in Saudi Arabia 06/03/09
Clinton says rights a `core pillar' of US policy 05/28/09
Will Mr. Obama in Egypt Engage Autocrats or a New Generation? 05/27/09
What Will Unconditional Aid Buy From Egypt's Hosni Mubarak? 05/06/09

The New York Times
Obama Realism May Not Play Well in Cairo Streets 05/30/09
Cleaning Cairo, but Taking a Livelihood 05/25/09
Memo From Cairo - Egypt to Be Center Stage in Obama’s Address to Arabs 05/12/09

Foreign Policy Magazine (May/June 2009 online issue)
Why Obama Can't Sell America by Ramez Maluf
Until the Israel-Palestine issue is solved, there is only so much rhetoric can do
What Muslim World? By Scott Carpenter and Soner Capatgay
There is one big problem with addressing the Muslim world – it doesn’t exist
Cairo University's Moment in the Sun by Liam Stack
Don't Give up on Egypt by Andrew Albertson and Stephen McInerney
Bush’s push for democracy in the Arab world’s most populous country showed glimmers of success. So why does Obama seem ready to give up on it now?
Today in the World (Global News) by Joshua Keating

Foreign Policy Magazine Blogs – a world class lineup
Mark Lynch (Professor Mark Lynch’s Abu Aardvark Middle East blog)
Obama's subtle shift on Islamism 06/03/09
I won't be pre-gaming The Speech (Obama's Cairo speech) 06/03/09
Why Arab public opinion polls matter 05/29/09
Why did Obama add Saudi Arabia to his itinerary? 05/28/09
Ayman Nour's release - symbol and substance 02/19/09

FP Passport (a great blog by the editors at Foreign Policy Magazine)
Morning Brief: Obama kicks off Middle East visit 06/03/09
Egyptians (poll): Obama much better than Bush, still not great 06/03/09
Morning Brief: U.S. and Israel face off over settlements 05/28/09

David J. Rothkopf (blog at FP)
What happens when the reset button doesn't work? Think Cairo, Gitmo, GM, and more U.S. problems 06/02/09

End FP blogs____

Professor Juan Cole’s Informed Comment blog
Thoughts on the Middle East, History, and Religion
Obama's Speech in Cairo (4 video segments plus commentaries) 06/04/09
Obama Addresses the Muslim World (Juan Cole writes at 06/04/09
Obama and Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict 06/02/09

The Council on Foreign Relations
Daily Analysis: The Reset Button On U.S.-Muslim Dialogue 06/04/09
Obama in Mideast: A Focus on Arab Peace Plan and Reform 06/02/09
Obama Needs a 'Big Idea' for Muslims 06/02/09

The Brookings Institution
Saban Center for Middle East Policy
Obama's Egypt Speech: What He Should Say to the Muslim World 06/02/09
President Obama in the Middle East 02/09/09
A Time for Diplomatic Renewal: Toward a New U.S. Strategy in the Middle East December 2008

Technorati tags:


Mahid said...

you always surprise me BRE(Bill) with all the sources you have and the excellent post i read here at your blog and the deferent points of views. although i myself is new to political/economical/current affairs blogging i am learning a lot about deferent perceptive of people on the middle east and Africa as a whole.i would like to point out one comment i wish to ask you, i wonder what European bloggers think about Obama speech.i found some bloggers from the state,middle east,even the Muslim world but i am looking for European blogger point of view. i hope to read more on that to get more perspectives about his speech so if you have some blogs please till me about them. o well i hope this speech at least awaken the prospect in middle east that there is a way to having peace in the middle east and that we can work together for it.

BRE said...

Hello Mahid,

Thank you for the compliment and stopping by to read this latest post. I am planning an update post on the Cairo speech which will include some reactions from various parts of the globe. You are correct in that I did not include many pre-speech opinions from the European sector of the blogosphere and I did not list editorials and blog posts from news sources and bloggers in Asia and other parts of the world.

In the meantime I would suggest the following:

Checkout Global Voices Online as they are one of the best sources for opinions from bloggers around the world. Also check my blogroll for the following European blogs and websites in English:

Atlantic Review (Germany)
Atlantic Community (Germany)
A Fistful of Euros (Europe)
Blackgirl from Mars (Denmark)
Black Women in Europe (Sweden)
Crooked Timber (UK, Europe)

Also have a look at the coverage on BBC News and Spiegel Online and DW World (Deutsche Welle) for more news and analysis about the speech from European columnists, editors, and journalists.

Again, thank you for your visit to Jewels and I hope that this information helps you out.

Amanda said...

Obama's Address in Cairo. Addressing the muslim world. It is indeed very interesting to hear what the President of United States have to say about muslims. This is truly a new page upon which history is being written. It is also of no doubt that Obama have successfully used the emotions.