University community responds

Many think Obama’s speech in Cairo was an unprecedented gesture to the Muslim world.

Obama’s speech may have altered negative attitudes in the Arab world toward the US [AFP]

Barack Obama, the US president, has delivered a landmark speech in Egypt’s capital to hundreds of students and dignitaries at Cairo University.

Though his intended audience was the Muslim community, people of all ages, nationalities and backgrounds listened in.

This is what some students and academics had to say.

Gamil Soliman, 75, Cairo University, professor of biology
Obama gave a comprehensive, balanced, impressive and enlightening speech. His words give the optimism that the United States is going to seek justice and have us living in a peaceful world.
He courageously dealt with truly all of the problems confronting the Muslim world and he was not reluctant to refer to the discrimination Coptic Orthodox Christians receive in Egypt. He also acknowledged the rights of Lebanon’s Maronites, Muslim men and women, Israelis, Palestinians as well as Muslims living across the world and in that regard, pleased everyone.
It was good that he quoted a number of Quranic verses and that, at the end of his speech, he even cited two verses from the Bible. He also did a great job in representing the US abroad. In short, I found the speech to be an excellent piece of literature and there’s no doubt in my mind that this will go down as a historic speech.
Naseem Ferdowsi, 25, American University in Beirut, graduate student
Ferdowsi was pleased that Obama raised 
the issue of religious tolerance

I feel Obama gave a thoughtful speech. He brought religion up in a respectful way and was very honest in saying relations between the US and Middle East cannot change overnight.

I like how he tied in his personal experiences, for example hearing the mosque’s call to prayer during his childhood. Most of what he said is not new, but it’s good to have been said by him. I’m glad Obama talked about the religious tolerance in the United States.

As an American, I’m proud of our individuality and freedom of religion and expression. It’s great that Obama reinforced this notion by mentioning the statistics on how many mosques are currently located in America. Just because a segment of the US has Islamophobia, not everyone there shares that feeling and many people and communities embrace it.

Raouf Kamel, 89, Cairo University, former senior staff member

His speech showed an Obama who is really a leader and has gained a sense of ease and confidence. He showed on a large scale the value of Islam, with assurances that there is no conflict between tradition and development.

Although he said the US cannot impose its views or its values, he assured us that the US will give its full support to human rights everywhere.

There was a clear condemnation of extremism, which it seems he will fight relentlessly.

He understood the principle problem of the Islamic world is the Palestinian problem and he showed a fairness that has been shown for the first time, perhaps, from the Western world in its entirety.

Joseph Farag, 25, doctoral student in Cairo

Farag says the Palestinian Israeli issue is Obama’s greatest acid test

It is the Israel-Palestine issue which will be America and Obama’s greatest acid test, and in this area that Obama’s speech was the greatest disappointment. He veered dangerously close to sounding patronising when telling the Palestinian Authority that it must develop institutions to govern effectively, when many of the PA’s attempts to do so – under both Fatah and more obviously Hamas – have been undermined by Israel and the United States. 

Moreover, while much was made of the necessity of the Palestinians to abandon violence, no onus was placed on Israel to do the same. Instead of reiterating America’s “unbreakable bond” with Israel, it would have been refreshing to hear President Obama call for an equally “unbreakable bond” with the Palestinian people.

Sonia Spinto, 26, American University in Beirut, studying Arabic

As an outsider to the Middle East, I think what many locals were looking for is a commitment or some substance to the long-drawn lip service on key issues especially the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

I don’t think his arguments on the topic will be welcomed in full. However, I believe Obama was clear about a stop to settlement growth. On Jerusalem there was a recognition of a minimum goal desired by many in the Arab world however not explicit.

Overall, I think the speech leaves us a little further along from where we began. I am not sure if this will, in any concrete way, heal the prevailing scepticism, but Obama’s speech was an unprecedented gesture backed by a genuine sentiment and only through action spur a reconciliation.

Ava Leone, 25, American, Georgetown University graduate student

Obama’s address was certainly the most nuanced speech that I have heard or read from any American political leader on the issue of Muslim-Christian relations, and US involvement in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

For the most part, it succeeded as both an inspirational and practical treatise on America’s future involvement in the Arab and predominantly Muslim countries. His understanding of, and appreciation for, Islamic history seemed genuine and his thoughts on political issues facing Americans, Arabs, and Egyptians specifically, were informed and candid.

One of the most notable aspects of the speech was the repeated usage of vocabulary unique to America’s political lexicon. He spoke of the effects of colonialism, America’s deleterious role in the region, the Israeli occupation, and even used the word “Palestine”.

If Obama’s foreign policies begin to reflect this speech’s nuance and political vocabulary, we may begin to see positive developments in US-Muslim and US-Arab relations. If not, the disappointment and apathy that follows will make mending bridges in the future significantly more difficult.

Source : Al Jazeera

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