Obama’s Mideast Speech Disappoints

Barack Obama in Egypt (White House photo)
ALEXANDRIA, Egypt – Though I’d prefer not to be cynical, it’s the only way I can explain some of the things that went on in the heads of the people in the Arab world recently when Barack Obama made his speech on the Middle East and North Africa.
For the U.S. president to say things like, “Two leaders have stepped aside. More may follow,” can actually make an old man in a coffee shop in downtown Cairo really upset, thinking, they didn’t step aside, they were forced to.
Now for some economic wisdom.
In a global economy based on knowledge and innovation, no development strategy can be based solely upon what comes out of the ground,” Obama said.
As brilliant as that sounds, many will argue that without money, there is no space for innovation.
Then Obama adds, “Antagonism toward Israel became the only acceptable outlet for political expression.”
Hmm, I hope he understands that people who support Palestine and its freedom criticize and “antagonize” Israel because they understand the truth about the occupation.
People support Palestine all over the world and not just in the Middle East and North Africa. It’s an example that has become redundant, but it’s simple enough for non-political human minds like mine to understand.  Someone comes in your home, forces you to leave, treats you badly and imposes himself on you, then asks you not to defend yourself against him and love him. Think about it.
Now for the dense and disappointing.
The United States has pursued a set of core interests in the region: countering terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; securing the free flow of commerce, and safe-guarding the security of the region; standing up for Israel’s security and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.”
It’s all very contradictory. Now I understand why these dictatorships have been thriving for so long – they have support in the form of silence.
Clearly if free, democratic and independent Arab nations feel like a threat in some way to Israel’s “security,” then that so-called security is illegitimate.
Is it fair that the U.S. will only stand for Israeli security and yet want Arab-Israeli peace? Who stands up and secures Palestine?
Why is it that Israel is exempt from stopping nuclear weapons? Are they above international law?
These are the kind of questions many in the Arab region were thinking as Obama stated his core interests.
The president then added, “America’s interests are not hostile to peoples’ hopes; they are essential to them.
The way I see it, the region seems to be limited to a small list of hopes that must comply with U.S. foreign policy. If they are anything like Gaza’s hopes for freedom, I doubt U.S. interests are “essential to them.”
Once again, Obama’s words fall on cynical ears.
“But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be,” he said.
Philosophically speaking, what is one government to say how the world “should be?” Of course there are some s
taples such as peace and tolerance that we all want to achieve, but when it comes to politics, if every country went out to make the world the way it thinks it should be, we’d have a problem.
Scratch that. We already do.
In an example of how the U.S. supports reform in the region, the speech continues, “Had we not acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners, thousands would have been killed.”
But thousands already have been killed – 30,000, according to the U.S.-based CBS television network.
Now for the good stuff.
Obama mentioned the rights of access to information and free journalism. Then he spoke about women’s rights.
This part of his speech I found very precise and inspiring, “For the region will never reach its potential when more than half its population is prevented from achieving their potential.”
It would be a great advantage if Obama’s administration followed through on their wish to aid the women’s rights movement in the region.
Then the big finale.
Something I did admire about the speech was Obama’s honesty.
Egypt’s government can learn a thing or two about transparency from the president. Many of the statements made were clear and straightforward, which I find respectable.
But what I and my fellows in the Arab world find insulting is this statement he made about the Arab-Israeli Conflict: “For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could get blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them. For Palestinians, it has meant suffering the humiliation of occupation, and never living in a nation of their own.”
The first reason this statement is incorrect is that Palestinians already have a nation of their own. Many of them are living in it, while others, who are refugees, have no right to return home.
Secondly, Israelis, who have an army and weapons, are living in fear while Palestinians feel safe? How?
It is a fact that the last Gaza raid in late 2008 and early 2009 took more than 1,200 lives.
The region thinks “hateful children? You mean, children who live with the constant fear of having their homes taken, who are born into a world of barbed wire and foreign army men wherever they look. Children who are brought up scared and angry, not knowing who from their family will be detained or killed next for defending himself with rocks against tanks.
Next Obama talked about how deeply rooted the friendship between Israel and the U.S. is. He said it as if people in the Middle East and North Africa didn’t already know the U.S. supported an oppressor and acted blind and deaf while Israel continues to build new settlements.
Then he proposed the two state solution. What wasn’t expected was Obama’s mention of the B word. No, not that one, B for border. The agreed 1967 borders, to be exact.
As expected, different mindsets in the region had a variety of reactions to that proposal.
The president’s expectations for Israelis and Palestinians were contradictory.
He said, “As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself – by itself – against any threat.”
Apparently Palestine doesn’t have to be secure; security is for friends only.  Palestine should be a peaceful, sovereign non-militarized state the way we and Israel tell it to be, because we pretty much have complete power over Palestine.
These are the kind of vibes the Arab region is picking up, so if you really do “hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” then you must mean all.
An Israeli soul, its security and right to prosper, is equal to the soul of a Palestinian, or of a person of any nationality, for that matter.
Personally, I feel let down, like I expected American foreign policy to rise up to the occasion with nations like Tunisia and Egypt who have soared in the past six months more than any nations in history.
I actually feel embarrassed by my U.S. passport. Reaction here is as if Obama said, ‘Great job, Egypt. Here’s some money and debt relief, but Israel comes first and everyone else can rot.’
Simply put, Obama’s speech only added to the disappointment the Middle East and Nor
th Africa felt after the Cairo speech in 2009.
After the speech I felt confused, disappointed and hungry. Good thing Twitter had a “why Obama is late” hashtag that kept me laughing.
A final note:
Dear US Government,
Democracy and freedom isn’t a tree house you own and let only your friends in. And, yes, the status quo isn’t sustainable when it comes to you, too.
Love, Humanity
Jessica Elsayed is Senior Reporter for Youth Journalism International

1 Comment

  • the extra ordinary article is great analysis of what best can be aquired from Obama speech. but let me add one more thing. so far we are seeing only the speeches and not and peace well to be frank i do not believe in speeches too. if Obama and Natinyaho or Palestain wants to talk. they should talk in close doors and not keep on giving speeches and make others busy on what he/she meant by this or by that. the real peace can only be achieved if everyone understands thier limit and try not to cross it. everybody in the world knows who is the foriegn ocupiyer and who is thirsty of peace. let me make it very clear no more speeches please if you have power to be independent so does everyone on in the world you can not care for one eye while damaging the other one. if you are really the one who you you want to be