x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Week in review: after Cairo

A week after US President Obama's visit to Cairo from where he addressed Muslims around the world, his message has been treated as historic and its meaning and implications continue to be widely discussed. Lebanon's leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, saw strong points in the speech but criticised US allies in the Middle East for being undemocratic.

A week after US President Obama's visit to Cairo from where he addressed Muslims around the world, his message has been treated as historic and its meaning and implications continue to be widely discussed. Lebanon's leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, saw strong points in the speech but criticised US allies in the Middle East for being undemocratic. "President Barack Obama's speech reaching out to Muslims had strong points, Lebanon's most influential Shiite cleric told former President Jimmy Carter, but people are waiting for real results," the Associated Press reported. "Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah's comments came during a meeting Tuesday night at his office with Carter who was in Lebanon to monitor last weekend's parliamentary elections. "Fadlallah, who was widely believed to have been the spiritual leader of the militant Hizbollah group in the 1980s, is a harsh critic of US policies in the Middle East which many Arabs believe are biased toward Israel." In Haaretz, Zvi Bar'el said: "Obama is a political philosopher who seeks to forge a new constitution of international politics that can replace the old paradigm, which drew a line separating Islam from the West. The old paradigm also built the temples of Orientalism, where the Middle East was researched as a holding area of natives, which attributed wisdom to the West and backwardness to 'Islam,' and juxtaposed a West of diplomatic finesse and honest handshakes with an Islam of fraud and violence. "Obama, as he explained in a press interview, removed the masks in Cairo. No one is absolutely right and there are no clear villains. There are no good and bad religions." In Pakistan's Dawn, Mahir Ali responded to some of Mr Obama's critics, noting: "the Zionist Organisation of America characterised his comments as 'strongly biased' and its president, Morton Klein, said the president's remarks 'may well signal the beginning of a renunciation of America's strategic alliance with Israel'. If only the latter were indeed the case! Obama's take on that conflict was, if not exactly unexceptionable, at least decidedly an advance on the perceptions of his predecessors. He was unequivocal on the subject of America's bond with Israel, but at the same time characterised the position of the Palestinians as 'intolerable'. The significance of that word cannot lightly be dismissed. "Obama was uncompromising on Israel's right to exist, tracing the aspiration for a Jewish homeland to the history of European anti-Semitism and, inevitably, the Holocaust. It would have been good to hear him concede that the European Judeocide spearheaded by the Nazis was by no stretch of the imagination a crime perpetrated by Palestinians. He did not do that, but he did suggest that the latter's right to an independent homeland is at least as valid as any claim to Jewish statehood." The Xinhua news agency reported: "The Arab foreign ministers will hold an emergency meeting on June 17 to come up with a common Arab stance on US President Barack Obama's speech in Cairo University, a source at the Cairo-based Arab league (AL) said Monday. " 'An emergency meeting will be held at Arab League on June 17 to discuss Obama's speech,' the source told Xinhua. " 'The meeting will discuss Obama's proposal to stop building Israeli settlements and resuming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks according to the two-state solution,' the source said. "The agenda also involves a meeting between Arab Peace Initiative Committee and Quartet delegates, the source said." In Arab News, Uri Avnery said: "The political message was clear and unequivocal: The two-state solution will be put into practice. He himself will see to that. Settlement activity must cease. Unlike his predecessors, he did not stop at speaking about 'Palestinians,' but uttered the decisive word: 'Palestine' - the name of a state and a territory. "And no less important: The Iran war has been struck from the agenda. "How did official Israel respond? 'These are just words. So he talked. Nothing will come out of it.' "That is nonsense. The words of the president of the United States are more than just words. They are political facts. "It may take some time for the message to sink in. But after this speech, the pro-Israel lobby will never be the same as it was before. The sly dishonesty of a Shimon Peres, the guileful deceits of an Ehud Olmert, the sweet talking of a Bibi Netanyahu - all these belong to the past. "The Israeli people must now decide: Whether to follow the right-wing government toward an inevitable collision with Washington, as the Jews did 1940 years ago when they followed the Zealots into a suicidal war on Rome - or to join Obama's march toward a new world." In Asharq Alawsat, Mamoun Fandy wrote: "Two speeches were in the ring competing for the Muslims' hearts and minds: The US President's speech from Cairo University and Osama Bin Laden's speech from his lair. Who did the Muslim world listen to? Who won the hearts and minds last week: Osama or Obama? "Obama's speech at Cairo University and every word, full stop, and comma in it would not have had this impact or interest - or even a little of it - had it been delivered by another US president. It was not the speech or the message that was the event; it was the man. Obama is unlike all former US presidents who had visited the Middle East. The face of Nixon, Roosevelt, Bush, Carter, and Clinton, were the faces of the 'white foreigner' who is associated in Arab and Islamic mentality with imperialism and occupation while the face of Obama resembles very much the faces of God's creatures walking in the Middle East's streets. It resembles the faces of half the Saudi national soccer team and most people in northern Sudan and Morocco. Obama himself was probably surprised when he saw these massive numbers of humans in Saudi Arabia and Egypt who have the same features as his and those of his relatives. "A US President who looks like us delivered a speech that our leaders were supposed to deliver. The speech was like a mirror the man carried in his hand to the Muslims." Meanwhile, the Associated Press said: "Obama may have managed to 'plant the seed of doubt in some minds,' said Robert Malley, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group think tank. 'There was enough ... that represented openings for those who wanted openings.' "Yet Obama's eloquent promises were seen as only a small step toward halting the region's drift toward militancy, accelerated in recent years by the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan and Washington's perceived pro-Israel bias. "He will be most closely watched on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly his push to get Israel to comply with a settlement freeze. That is something no US administration before him has accomplished. " 'Extremists will only be disarmed when the US takes a more neutral stand on Israel,' said Abdel Wahab al-Qasab, a Qatar-based analyst. "Obama has so far followed the Bush administration's policy of not talking directly to Hamas, which the US regards as a terrorist organisation. But in his remarks in Cairo, he seemed to suggest some basis for believing that Palestinian militants who rule Gaza might be drawn into the peace process."

pwoodward@thenational.ae