Obama’s Public diplomacy

Editor’s Note:  mregypt is an Egyptian  who lives in Cairo. 

I cannot find any other reason for the fuss that’s made for Obama’s speech except one:  that he came after Bush. I hardly noticed any attention to the interview in the Arab street, as for the Arab media I only noticed a passing reference here.   If anyone attempted to talk with one of the top Arab commentators about this interview I am confident that you will hear answers like “the US  has fixed interest that are not made up only by the president”.  For example,  in a previous post I mentionedthat  Heikal, who is a highly respected voice in the Arab world, thinks that Obama knew about the Israeli attack on Gaza. 

I think the only problem in the Arab world would be to understand what did Obama mean by things like “reaching out to the Muslim world” or “resuming the negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis” –who, by the way, have been negotiating since the establishment of the state of Israel 60years ago– or being somebody who “listens. ”  Listen to whom?  To the despotic Arab governments of  Egypt and Saudi Arabia for instance? Or the peoples of these countries who have no legal channels of expression? I even wonder why the Arabs would be impressed when Obama says that we are “going after terrorist organizations that would kill innocent civilians”?  First thoughts for an average Arab citizen is that he’s talking about Hamas or Hezbollah,  both  of which are greatly respected and supported in the Arab world and considered legitimate popular resistance, contrary to what the Americans might think. 

Furthermore, choosing Al-Arabiya is puzzling. If you want to approach the Arab world, do you choose a channel known to be friendly to the US and a voice of the Saudi royal family?   The interlocutor was very cautious, posing vague questions about Obama’s holistic approach towards the region and his new paradigm, or about his opinion about the Palestinians and the Israelis who are frustrated with the current conditions. I wonder what kind of questions are these? What kind of answer is expected for a question like “Are we expecting a different paradigm?” Please! Was that a question? And then comes the typical question that all the US presidents answered before “Will it still be possible to see a Palestinian state?”  Take a look on this answer:

I think anybody who has studied the region recognizes that the situation for the ordinary Palestinian in many cases has not improved. And the bottom line in all these talks and all these conversations is, is a child in the Palestinian Territories going to be better off? Do they have a future for themselves? And is the child in Israel going to feel confident about his or her safety and security? And if we can keep our focus on making their lives better and look forward, and not simply think about all the conflicts and tragedies of the past, then I think that we have an opportunity to make real progress.

In my opinion,  for an average Arab citizen this answer means nothing.  Why haven’t the situation for the Palestinians improved?  Whose  fault is it? More importantly, what situation are we talking about here:  the economic or the political?   Not only that, he’s supposed to be approaching the Arab world and listening to their people but at the same time asserts that the Israeli security is paramount and adds that there are some people who believe in creating peace after the recent onslaught that took place.  I wonder whom?  Livni?  Barrack? He is basically saying that the Palestinians are inferior to the Israelis. 

 I am surprised why does he think that Zawahiri or Bin Laden are confused? He emphasized that their ideas are bankrupt and leading only to death. But is that actually true? For the Iraqis, for instance, death, poverty and illiteracy came with the American invasion not with the ideas of Bin Laden.  Its true that under Saddam they lived in poverty.  But from  the Iraqi perspective, its ridiculous to compare the situation under Saddam to what took place after the US invasion. What about the Palestinians? Do they also think that shifting to peace and negotiations is the best alternative? For many people in the Arab world what Bin Laden and Zawahiri are doing is Jihad not suicide, and most believe  they are legitimate when they are attacking the US forces in Iraq or Pakistan or Afghanistan. In fact, I cannot think of any moderate religious leader or intellectual or commentator that would say what Al Qaeda’s doing in any of these places is illegitimate. Dealing with Bin Laden or Al Qaeda is only possible by addressing the social and cultural situations and backgrounds they came from and represent.  Thus if Obama’s job is to “communicate with the Arab world that the United States is not your enemy” this entails a totally different approach than “listening and communicating” with the Arab world. In conclusion, the US has policies and strategies in dealing with the Arab world and Middle East and only a shift in these policies and strategies could lead to some sort of rapprochement between the two entities.

10 Responses

  1. mr egypt,

    i think you underestimate the effect that mr obama’s interview and inauguration speech have had on an arab world that already has tremendous (though guarded) goodwill for the new president. i also believe that the new administration’s tone can make a significant change in how us policy is received.

    you also undervalue the impact and influence al arabiya has. al jaeera is seen as far less balanced in many middle eastern homes. it’s like you saying cnn has no influence vis a vis fox in the us.

  2. well, i do agree with your analysis MrEgypt, but mainly i believe we should focus more about the changes in the New American administration; it is clear now that we had returned back to the security discourses and not the war discourses -particualry this vague war against terrorism which had been held by Bush administration.

    However, what does this actually means? first let me order things, yes, there is change but there are no transactions. in other words, Obma`s duration will differ a lot in its methodologies than bush`s one, but we will not witness any transactions in its goals and objectives. Henceforth, there will be a new processes and some changes in the relations between power and different institutions, as every policy carried by its discourse has its own calculations and characteristics.

    changing in the discourses might carry beanth it political changes towards the Arab and Muslim world; we may return back to long processes of non productive negotiations, mainly preventive diplomacy’s will act as far as it can go, but durable peace talks or acts will not exist . The political scene will not be bloody but it will not be peacefully flourishing. It won`t be bloody not because there is a will for this, but mainly because of the historical context. All the partners are pretty tired; super powers are facing the huge economical situation ever since the great depression in the 30`s, Hamas and Hazboallah; the first is facing a huge destructive ground (it`s infrastructure, a serious humanitarian situation in the Strip and an internal political war with Fath which might be colored with blood) and will face a harsh and tide external securitization processes from many Western and Arabic partners – this one of – the only one- objectives and goals the Israeli war had succeeded to settle on the ground- which might not allow Hamas from any act on the ground for some time, also the Lebanese internal situation will not allow Hazboallah from any act on the ground; as any act might lead to a non calculated and unexpected results, the Arab countries too have their own internal problems; most of their regimes are facing a huge war against different sorts of public anger, mainly due to corruption and poverty, moreover, Arab authorities do not have the will to change the regional political, economical and social situations, they do not have the power either.

    from all the above mentioned, we should also put in mind that we might not witness any regional wars in the next 5 years.

    Anyhow, we should not put high expectations in obam`s administration policies towards the Arabic and Islamic world , as its discourse and historical moment are not that promising; it may promise a non aggressive forgine policy but not a transaction in the relations, it may promise a non bloody duration but not a peaceful one, to manage conflicts but not to solve it, and to calm down situations but not to change it.

    At last i am really so sorry for not being that optimistic, but for me the next years of Obama might be years of some fake calmness but it is not years of change.


  3. […] Geneive Abdo.  More_than_words.  ForeignPolicy.com 2)  mregypt.  Obama’s_Public_Diplomacy.MediaShack 3) Kal.  He_Speaks.  The Moor Next […]

  4. My comment will focus on the other face of the image as all speak about what types of changes Obama could bring to the USA policies in middle east.
    But what I believe in that at the international arena we are speaking bout states that do its best to promote its national interest. So I don’t like the way the Arab speak while debating USA role in the region.
    You can’t ask the united state for giving your own rights, but you must have the tools that enable you to ask for it no pushing the others to work on behalf of you.
    We must use the resources of power and pressures that we have, and we already have many, we should have the will and desire to activate the resources if we want to get back our rights and interests

  5. […] — view things.    Here’s a critical point that Mr. Egypt made in his recent  post on Obama’s Al-Arabiya […]

  6. […] toga, MrEgypt je napisao odličan i opširan blog post gde ističe važnost takvog intervjua i na šta arapski […]

  7. I’m curious about your reference to the Arab street. I believe the Arabic term is الشارع العربي. I have noticed that the New York Times also renders الشارع العربي as “Arab street”. My understanding is that the English meaning of this phrase is “Arab mainstream” though the literal translation is “Arab street”. Did I identify the correct Arabic phrase? What are your thoughts on rendering it into English?

  8. […] but not least, MrEgypt wrote an excellent and in depth blog post highlighting the importance of such interview, and what […]

  9. […] few posts on Arabic Media Shack examine the question of how this interview will measure up in the Arab world. They reflect on what some top Arab intellectuals are saying. And the New York […]

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