What is he talking about?

I still am confused after reading Egyptian author Alaa Aswany’s Sunday editorial in The New York Times:

PRESIDENT OBAMA is clearly trying to reach out to the Muslim world. I watched his Inaugural Address on television, and was most struck by the line: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers.” He gave his first televised interview from the White House to Al Arabiya, an Arabic-language television channel.  But have these efforts reached the streets of Cairo?

Quite frankly, this is one of the stupidest articles I’ve read about the Arab reaction towards Obama and the American elections!  I was ready to stop reading by the time I got to the second sentence when Aswany expressed astonishment that Obama said the US is a nation of Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Non-believers, as if this is something extraordinary that’s not happening in Germany or India for instance.  Or as if Egyptians and Arabs  don’t already know this about the US. 

I know that I’m disappointing many of those working on improving  the US image in the Arab world, but seriously if you reread that article you’ll notice how silly it is.

In Cairo, which is seven hours ahead of Washington, some people I know stayed up practically all night waiting for the election results. When Mr. Obama won, newspapers here described Nubians — southerners whose dark skin stands out in Cairo — dancing in victory.

Ok,  if we believe Aswany’s account the poor, illiterate, underprivileged and politically and socially oppressed Nubians (even more than the rest of the Egyptian society) rose up dancing in joyous victory that Obama won.  I wish Aswany would inform us which papers said this nonsense because I read them all and  this is the first I’ve heard of the Bedouins dancing in the streets when Obama won.  Nor did I see any talk in the Egyptian papers about a feeling of happiness that filled the Egyptian society that would be solved just because Obama got elected. 

But Aswany didn’t stop there and went on to talk about  “our”  supposed admiration for Obama.

Our admiration for Mr. Obama is grounded in what he represents: fairness. He is the product of a just, democratic system that respects equal opportunity for education and work. This system allowed a black man, after centuries of racial discrimination, to become president.  This fairness is precisely what we are missing in Egypt.   That is why the image of President-elect Obama meeting with his predecessors in the White House was so touching…We saw Mr. Obama as a symbol of this justice. We welcomed him with almost total enthusiasm ….

 These empty statements  leads me to recall the Angry Arab when he says ” you have the right to be stupid, but please don’t speak on behalf of (the Egyptians) as you are being stupid.”  I can only raise one question here: ” What does the average Egyptian possibly know to favor or admire with Obama?  Can anyone present a reason to tell us why would they care to know who is Obama in the first place? They have nothing against him for sure, but the point is why would they be keen to know who he is?  How would that effect them?

Although Aswany points out that Obama ignored  Gaza, he thinks that “we”  are still enthusiastic for him, because, according to him, the “Egyptians still think that this one-of-a-kind American president can do great things.”  Frankly,  this piece looks like a primary student learning how to write a composition. I think even if an Egyptian  child read that last part he would just ask him one simple innocent question “why would the American president do great things for you?” Although I think he answered that question when he said it’s because he embodies the great American values. I just wonder what values is he talking about? And the Egyptians just left all their problems to learn about these values? And above all to know how they are embodied in Obama?

Mr Egypt is an Egyptian who lives in Cairo.

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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.