Friday, May 20, 2011

Skepticism And Hope In The Middle East

By Lama Tawakkol
Reporter
CAIRO, Egypt -- As the world becomes one large community, one country’s politics and events affects the global society. Thus, we all saw and heard President Barack Obama’s speech Thursday on the Middle East and its current affairs.
As a Middle Eastern Arab Muslim, I was especially interested in what Obama had to say and I paid attention to his statements. Some points that he made were perfectly justified while others are sure to be frowned upon around here, starting with me.
After praising Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Obama addressed the death of Osama bin Laden, which he explained was a blow to Al Qaeda.
As he proceeded to number bin Laden’s faults, he said the majority of people in the Middle East had come to realize that bin Laden’s methods were a “dead end” and had taken matters into their hands – an allusion, of course, to the numerous uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and other nations in recent months.
This part of the speech implied, at least to me, that the Middle East had been under bin Laden’s influence until recently and had only proceeded with the protests when his ways didn’t prove fruitful.
This is wrong.
The majority of Arabs and Muslims have never allied themselves with bin Laden or Al Qaeda and have always viewed terrorist methods as extreme and erroneous.
Only a handful of extremists have ever excused bin Laden or stood by him.
Moreover, the uprisings that we have witnessed this year had absolutely nothing to do with Al Qaeda. They were instead the rather direct results of tyrannical, oppressive regimes and leaders.
The second topic in Obama’s address that stopped me was the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Even though Obama showed great initiative in trying to solve the problem by presenting solutions and advocating peace in the region, some of the thoughts he touched upon struck me as off the mark.
First, when he cited the disadvantages of the existing situation, Obama said Israelis live in fear that their children will be blown up or hated by others. The only issue he mentioned for the Palestinians was their anger at the occupation.
Obama also expressed concern for Israeli’s security. As I listened, I wondered about the Palestinians who have been blown up and shot, the ones who were for so long under siege in Gaza.
I couldn’t help questioning why Obama said nothing about Palestinian security and Palestinian fear.
Moreover, while he stressed a demilitarized Palestinian state and urged Hamas to abandon all violent attempts, he did not mention the same for Israel, Instead, he emphasized Israel’s need to defend itself against any “threat.”
After Obama’s efforts to reach a solution and his emphasis on dual cooperation from both parties, I wonder what he would have to say about Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s reaction, in which he made clear that he didn’t agree with the idea to go back to the 1967 borders and that Israel wouldn’t comply because those borders were “indefensible."
It is clear it was not just Palestinians walking away from negotiations that have impeded the peace process.
In the more positive part of the speech, Obama expressed great intentions to help the Middle East get back on its feet again.
Obama highlighted the need for the U.S. to join hands with Muslim countries for entrepreneurship, education and common investments, as he has said before.
Now he has added that his administration would not just stop at aid, but would also help with investment and trade.
He declared that the U.S. would relieve Egypt from $1 billion of debt as a means of starting fresh and moving forward.
Obama also asserted that America would do what needs to be done in order to reach a modern and stabilized Middle East, most especially in Tunisia and Egypt.
These statements are bound to be met with great enthusiasm in the Middle East, as the people will be eager to see the U.S. do well on its word.
This is particularly notable as the speech comes in critical economic times with the aftermath of the revolution.
In the rest of the speech, Obama restated several American goals, including freedom of speech and expression, women’s and minorities’ rights and the right of self-determination.
With these words, he condemned the violence in Syria and Libya and the arrests in Bahrain, expressing the inevitability of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s departure and giving President Assad the choice to cooperate with the Syrian people or to leave.
Despite many reservations about Obama’s speech, most of the thoughts he expressed give hope for the future – if they can be accomplished.
To be perfectly honest, I’m skeptical to a degree because of similar past promises and declarations that have led nowhere.
Furthermore, I cannot help but remember what happened when President Woodrow Wilson supported “self-determination.”
It’s not that I don’t believe Obama, but the Middle East should wait and see what happens before anyone starts jumping around with excitement.

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