Obama wants `new beginning` in Muslim world
June 04, 2009
US President Barack Obama delivers his much-anticipated message to the Muslim world from the auditorium in the Cairo University campus in Cairo during a one-day visit to Egypt on June 04, 2009. Obama said that he wants “a new beginning” with the world`s 1.5 billion Muslims, and called for an end to a cycle of “suspicion and discord.”
CAIRO, EGYPT - JUNE 4: Egyptian men watch US President Barack Obama `s key Middle East speech on TV in a coffee shop in the Islamic old city June 4, 2009 in Cairo, Egypt. In his speech, President Obama called for a “new beginning between the United States and Muslims”, declaring that “this cycle of suspicion and discord must end”.
President tells audience that `cycle of suspicion and discord must end`
CAIRO (AP) - Quoting from the Quran for emphasis, President Barack Obama called for a “new beginning between the United States and Muslims” Thursday and said together, they could confront violent extremism across the globe and advance the timeless search for peace in the Middle East.
“This cycle of suspicion and discord must end,” Obama said in a widely anticipated speech in one of the world`s largest Muslim countries, an address designed to reframe relations after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
The White House said Obama`s speech contained no new policy proposals on the Middle East. He said American ties with Israel are unbreakable, yet issued a firm, evenhanded call to the Jewish state and Palestinians alike to live up to their international obligations.
In a gesture to the Islamic world, Obama conceded at the beginning of his remarks that tension “has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.”
“And I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear,” said the president, who recalled hearing prayer calls of “azaan” at dawn and dusk while living in Indonesia as a boy.
At the same time, he said the same principle must apply in reverse. “Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.”
Centerpiece of trip
Obama spoke at Cairo University after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the second stop of a four-nation trip to the Middle East and Europe.
The speech was the centerpiece of his journey, and while its tone was striking, the president also covered the Middle East peace process, Iran, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the violent struggle waged by al-Qaida.
Obama arrived in the Middle East on Wednesday, greeted by a new and threatening message from al-Qaida`s leader, Osama bin Laden. In an audio recording, the terrorist leader said the president inflamed the Muslim world by ordering Pakistan to crack down on militants in the Swat Valley and block Islamic law there.
But Obama said the actions of violent extremist Muslims are “irreconcilable with the rights of human beings,” and quoted the Quran to make his point: “be conscious of God and always speak the truth ...”
“Islam is not part of the problem in combatting violent extremism — it is an important part of promoting peace,” he said.
“Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and recognize Israel`s right to exist,” he said of the organization the United States deems as terrorists.
“The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people,” Obama said.
“At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel`s right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements” on the West Bank and outskirts of Jerusalem, he said. “It is time for these settlements to stop.”
As for Jerusalem itself, he said it should be a “secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims ...”
Obama also said the Arab nations should no longer use the conflict with Israel to distract its own people from other problems.
He treaded lightly on one issue that President George W. Bush had made a centerpiece of his second term — the spread of democracy.
Obama said he has a commitment to governments “that reflect the will of the people.” And yet, he said, “No system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.”
At times, there was an echo of Obama`s campaign mantra of change in his remarks, and he said many are afraid it cannot occur.
“There is so much fear, so much mistrust. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward,” he said.
The president`s brief stay in Cairo included a visit to the Sultan Hassan mosque, a 600-year-old center of Islamic worship and study. A tour of the Great Pyramids of Giza was also on his itinerary.
Attempt to temper expectations
The build-up to the speech was enormous, stoked by the White House although Obama seemed at pains to minimize hopes for immediate consequences.
“One speech is not going to solve all the problems in the Middle East,” he told a French interviewer. “Expectations should be somewhat modest.”
Eager to spread the president`s message as widely as possible, the tech-savvy White House orchestrated a live Webcast of the speech on the White House site; remarks translated into 13 languages; a special State Department site where users could sign up for speech highlights; and distribution of excerpts to social networking giants MySpace, Twitter and Facebook.
Though the speech was co-sponsored by al-Azhar University, which has taught science and Quranic scripture here for nearly a millennium, the actual venue was the more modern and secular Cairo University. The lectern was set up in the domed main auditorium on a stage dominated by a picture of Mubarak.
Human rights advocates found that symbolism troubling: an American president watched over by an aging autocrat who`s ruled Egypt since 1981.
“Egypt`s democrats cannot help being concerned,” wrote Dina Guirguis, executive director of Voices for a Democratic Egypt.
The university`s alumni are among the Arab world`s most famous — and notorious. They include the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfuz. Saddam Hussein studied law in the `60s but did not graduate. And al-Qaida second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahri earned a medical degree.
Writer Exhorts Arabs, Muslims To Meet Obama Halfway For Change, Peace, Democracy
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Residents watch a television broadcasting the speech of U.S. President Barack Obama from Cairo while sitting in a cafe in Kerbala, 80 km (50 miles) southwest of Baghdad ,June 4, 2009.
Article by “Egyptian writer” Khalil al-Anani: “Obama and the Limits of Change in the Muslim World”
If the basic goal of Obama`s speech in Cairo tomorrow is to improve the relationship with the Muslim world, the question that is more useful to ask is: What are the signs for improving this relationship in the Muslim world itself? It has become the norm in our countries to blame external forces for corrupting our internal conditions and for causing the tension in relations among the different sides in the Arab and Muslim world. The notion of “clash of civilizations” was tantamount to a gift by the West to perpetuate this mental image among the Arabs and Muslims. It turned into a firm argument after the 11 September 2001 attacks when the neo-conservatives became enamored with taking their revenge from all the Muslims and punishing them for what a very few of them did. George W. Bush unleashed his “crusader wars” in Afghanistan and Iraq and the neo-conservatives vied with one another in supporting Israel until Israel for a moment began to think that it owns the Middle East and everyone in it. It waged two bloody wars in less than two years (in Lebanon and Gaza) and Bush gave it “a promise of guarantees” that clearly undermined the essence of Palestinian and Arab rights.
However, what is said above does not in any way negate the responsibility of the Arabs and Muslims themselves for the tragedies and ordeals that have befallen them or for their relationship with the West. This is clearly obvious when Obama`s desire for change is compared with the desire of the Arabs and Muslims for change as well as in their ability to bring about change. This point can be tested in three major issues. The first is the issue of democracy in the Arab world. The United States has played an important role in propping up certain tyrannical regimes in the Arab and Muslim world over the past six decades. This was openly admitted by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in her famous speech at the American University of Cairo four years ago. Nevertheless, the responsibility of the Arab elites - both ruling elites and ruled elites - is also essential in this. These elites were confused by the Bush Administration`s call for change (note Obama`s use of the same term) in the Arab world. On the pages of this newspaper, the Arabs differed on the usefulness of US support for democracy in their countries and the Arab elite became divided on the notion of “by my hands and not by the hands of anyone else”. However, there was a vast distance between the ambitions for change by this elite and its ability to make it. When the empathy of “the hands of anyone else” toward the rise of Islamists in several Arab countries regressed, the Arab “hand” remained in fettered and unable to make this change.
Many are now appealing to President Obama not to forget to talk about democracy in his anticipated speech. However, the Arab regimes seem to be more crafty and cunning. In the past few months and after the departure of the Bush Administration, they enacted several noticeable political changes. Some released their opponents from the jails while others pardoned them. Some regimes proposed sudden institutional amendments while others preferred to amend some charters and constitutions in order to remain in power for ever. It seemed that the implicit message that these regimes wished to convey to the outside world is “we will make no change under duress”. Obama was well aware of this point. In his inaugural address, he avoided talking directly about support for democracy and referred this responsibility to the peoples concerned.
The second issue is the responsibility of the Arabs and Muslims for their conflicts stretching from Somalia to Pakistan. These are basically struggles for power although they may be packaged in slogans of religion, identity, and tribe. What is taking place in Somalia at present is similar to what happened in Afghanistan in the late 1980s after the departure of the Soviet troops. It can be summarized in one phrase “a war of everyone against everyone else”. Everyone in Somalia carries arms. Even Sufism - that we have known to be a moderate spiritual Islamic movement - has entered the armed fray in a confrontation with the “Al-Shabab” movement that is trying hard to establish the “Emirate of Somalistan” in the heart of the Arab world. What is happening in Yemen is incomprehensible. The country is sitting on a hot tin roof not only because of the struggle between the state and the jihadists and insurgents but also because of the re-emergence of the “virus” of national and geographic division after many thought that this virus has left the Yemeni body. Although the Americans have a clear role in it, the roots of what is happening in Pakistan are undermining the Pakistani society and the state`s institutional structure. What is most worth noting in the current confrontation between the Pakistani army and the Pakistani Taliban movement is that it causes more damage to the Muslim world than the damage caused by the neo-conservatives. This is not only because it is taking place between Muslims and the price is being paid by Muslim victims but also because it is sowing the seeds of future conflict that may erupt among the tribes and federal regions in Pakistan that may put an end to the state.
As for the third issue, it is related to the matrix of Arab-Arab relations on one hand and that of Arab-regional relations on the other. Although the US factor - that has played an influential role in this matrix over the past eight years - has changed, the stands of the other sides involved in it have not changed at all. In light of the above, Obama`s chances to make a quality change in the relationship with the Muslim world are governed and dependent on two points. The first point is Arab and Muslim readiness to shoulder part of the responsibility of mending this relationship. This is particularly true regarding a review of the terms of the ideological and religious discourse and lexicon toward the West in general. The second point is readiness to admit our own responsibility for many of our problems and structural differences distant from the American “scapegoat”. With his courageous admission of the mistakes made by his predecessors in managing the relationship with the Muslim world and in his efforts to correct these mistakes, Obama is essentially throwing the ball to the Muslim “court”. He is thus invalidating one of the strong excuses we have used to justify our domestic problems and calamities.
It is true that despite its attractiveness, the change that Obama is proposing aims at safeguarding American interests first. Nonetheless, the way in which Obama is calling for this change leaves the Arabs and Muslims with a freedom of movement and room for maneuvering that have perhaps not been available since the fall of the former Soviet Union. I believe that Obama will not wait long to test the Arab and Muslim reaction to the desire to improve relations with his country. He may end the period of review and testing if he concludes that it is not feasible to mend this relationship. In such a scenario, only interests - without values and principles - will be the basic guide of the US options toward the Arabs and Muslims. And Obama is brilliant at this. Obama may be forced to return to the strategy of “cost and dividend” regarding the issues of the Middle East. Obama, for instance, will not wait long regarding the dialogue with Iran. He will not accept anything less than are view by Iran of its slogans and options not only toward his country but also toward his country`s moderate allies. Obama will not venture angering Israel unless the Palestinians agree on the usefulness of the option of a peaceful settlement. Obama will not sacrifice his allies in Lebanon unless Syria promises to adjust its relations with Iran, Hizballah, and HAMAS. Thus, there will be no change without a price.
(Description of Source: London Al-Hayah Online in Arabic -- Website of influential Saudi-owned London pan-Arab daily. URL: http://www.daralhayat.com)
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Sheik Muktar Robow Abu Mansur, former spokesman for the al Shabaab hardliners, addresses journalists in the Somalia capital Mogadishu, May 21, 2009. Somalia`s government has accused Eritrea of supporting al Shabaab insurgents with planeloads of AK-47 assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and other weapons. Sheik Abu Mansur resigned from his position as spokesperson of the al Shabaab insurgents.