In speech in Cairo, US president says “cycle of suspicion and discord” must end.
|The Palestinian Authority hailed Obama’s speech as a ‘good beginning’ [AFP]
Arab intellectuals remain unsurprisingly split over the speech by Barak Obama to the Islamic world.
While some consider it as bold, historic and an opening of a new chapter in US relations with the Islamic world, others simply see it as evasive and lacking substance.
Ahmed Yousef, senior advisor to the deposed Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniya, told Al Jazeera that Obama’s speech was a “landmark”, but had some reservations.
“The things he said about Islam and the Palestinian suffering and their right to have a state is great. It is a landmark and a breakthrough speech,” Yousef said.
“But when it comes to legitimacy of the Israeli right to exist [there are issues]. He knows the Palestinians have to have their own state before recognising another.
“They [the US] recognise the PLO as representative of the Palestinian people, but they don’t recognise the people’s right to return to their own land in Palestine, as set out by the UN resolution.
“This issue needs to be recognised before the issue of recognising Israel.
“[However] we are feeling America isn’t going to use their military might to keep threatening the Muslim world. That they are going to open dialogue and to engage with the Muslim world and Muslims in the region.”
Hady Amr, a specialist on Middle East politics with the Brookings Institution in Doha, told Al Jazeera the speech “struck such a tone, as to be an historic moment”.
“[Osama] Bin Laden is clearly shaking in his boots when you’ve got all the resistance movements in the region lining up saying this is a great speech.
“As the speech sinks in, the echoes that the president used from the Bible, Torah, Quran and human wisdom [mean] we are going to be operating politically in a newly redefined world.
“It is no longer possible for Israel to wiggle out of its settlements, for Hamas to make excuses about its rockets for Bin Laden to say cut your ties with Christians and Jews.
“I think the president has actually changed discourse on the political area in a very lasting way. I can’t imagine Jews, Christians or Muslims feeling uncomfortable with this speech,” he said.
However, Hassan Abu Nimah, director of the Royal Institute for Inter-Faith Studies at the Jordan Institute of Diplomacy in Amman, thought the speech was lacking substance.
“I think it was very careful and non-committal. There was not much in it that indicated change. The speech was very evasive and lacking substance.
“He did not offer any criticism of Israel except that he was opposed to settlements.
He did not oppose the existing settlements. Half of the West Bank is occupied. Nobody is talking about where the state of Palestine is going to exist.”
Some saw a a gap between Obama’s words and actions.
Mohamed Oqla Arsan, a Syrian writer and analyst and former president of the Arab Writers Association, said: “It is a public relation speech that was rich with good gestures but did not amount to a breakaway from American policies that have created the divide between Washington and the Muslim World.
“Obama still fails to recognise that the Palestinian cause is the core issues that affect Arab and Muslim perceptions of America.”
‘Connect with people’
|Obama evoked a vision of peace after a cycle of ‘suspicion and discord’ [EPA]|
Todd Kent, a professor of American politics at the Texas A&M University in Doha, told Al Jazeera: “There will be some Republicans who didn’t like it, who will accuse him of being too apologetic, too broad in his goals, Democrats who are proud and excited. He has faced criticism for apologising for past US behaviour and for going too far with Israel.
“This speech was aimed at connecting with the people in the street. Obama was able to connect and raise key issues at the same time. We will see if he can turn his broad policy options into some specifics.
“When Obama said Israel must stop the settlements and Hamas stop the violence, he reflected the American stance on the issue.
“You are going to see a lot of domestic pressure on the president. Historically, presidents have bent to that pressure. We will see if Obama has the strength to be different.
“There is a lot of mistrust and misunderstanding on both sides. What Obama did best today was to bridge the gap between Muslims and Americans.
“If you look at the polls, Obama is popular here, yet most people in the Middle East dislike US policy. Obama’s challenge will be if he can bring them both together,” Kent said.