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May 25, 2011

Obama's speech and the Arab revolutions: He didn't get it

The Canadian Charger

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The good news about Obama's speech on May 19 is this: it will be ignored by the new power in the Arab world; the people. Obama gets an A for staging and an F for substance. Whenever values and interests clashed he took the side of the latter. He did not comprehend the profound changes sweeping the Arab world.

Back in 2009 the 1.5 billion Arabs and Muslims listened attentively to Obama’s speech. They were proud that an African American was elected a US president. They thought that he could work for the poor and the oppressed inside and outside the US. But they were greatly disappointed as he offered little in terms of change in US foreign policy towards promoting peace based on justice.

On May 19, 2011 Obama timed his speech well for the Arab audience in the Middle East; prime time of a weekend – a Thursday night local time. The following day was, and still is, the day when the Arab masses in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain, Palestine and Yemen marched to the streets in the millions to reaffirm their demands; calling for democracy, liberty and social justice.

Obama’s speech had the same old tune, lecturing Arab people about rights and self determination with a high dose of hypocrisy. Obama could not understand, or does not want to understand, that the people of the Arab world have passed the stage of looking up to the US as a role model or even turning to her for help.

As a start Obama could not even utter the words “social justice.” The US power house in Washington does not know what these words mean. It is strange that an African American president could not say “social justice” even in a public speech directed to foreign countries.

Obama said the Arab world “calls for change” but he did not explain what these changes are. He could not spell the new trinity of the Arab revolutions: democracy, liberty and social justice.

Obama said that “[W]e will continue to insist that universal rights apply to women as well as men … For the region will never reach its potential when more than half its population is prevented from achieving their potential. ”  But the president does not seem to be watching independent Arab TV channels that show that it is mostly women who are leading the Arab revolutions even in ultra conservative Yemen.

The hypocrisy of the president was clear when he said that the US shares the goals of the Arab revolutions that “repression will fail, that tyrants will fall, and that every man and woman is endowed with certain inalienable rights.”

To be more line with US policy he should have said “every man and woman is endowed with certain inalienable rights except the Palestinians.”

In his speech he said, “precisely because of our friendship [to Israel], it is important that we tell the truth: the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.”

But it would be impossible without US support for Israel to continue its war of aggression against the Palestinian people, its 44-year occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, Arab East Jerusalem and Syria’s Golan Heights, its Apartheid policy in the occupied Arab lands and inside Israel itself, its illegal building of for-Jews-only settlements, its siege of Gaza, its denial of Palestinian’s right of self determination and its two brutal wars on Lebanon and Gaza.

American tax payers support Israel, the single biggest recipient of US foreign aid, with $3 billion annually. Obama has promised Israel $30 billion in military aid over the next 10 years.

The president stated, “it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy … The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region … a failure to change our approach threatens a deepening spiral of division between the United States and Muslim communities.  That's why, two years ago in Cairo, I began to broaden our engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect. I believed then – and I believe now – that we have a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self determination of individuals.”

Upon hearing this, any man or woman in the Arab street would say, “Mr. President you must be joking!” A more blunt response will be “Liar! Liar!”

The US policy in the Middle East is based on a dual: Israel-can-not-do-wrong and it-is-oil-stupid.

It has supported Israel in its war of aggression against the Palestinians for 64 years.

The US invasion and occupation of Iraq led to the deaths of more people than have been killed by all the dictatorships in the region combined.

And for decades the US has provided political or/and financial support to the dictatorships of the region. It never respected the people choice when free elections were held as in the cases of Hamas and Iran. The US government never put any pressure on dictatorships even while the regimes, as recently as yesterday, have murdered peaceful protestors.


In Yemen the US supports a dictator who ruled with an iron fist for over 30 years. During the last 100 days he murdered 1,000s of peaceful protesters calling for him to step down.

In Syria the US is blackmailing President Assad to cut his close relationships with Iran and Hezbollah in exchange for not putting pressure on him to step down.

In Libya, until few weeks ago, Tony Blair was a special consultant to dictator Gaddafi.

In the case of Israel, the US did not criticize her when she outlawed its Arab citizens from marking the Israeli national day as a day of Nakba; when their ancestors lost their land, their dignity and their freedom to Zionist Jews.

Last week when the Arabs of the occupied Golan Heights protested against the Israeli occupation and when Israeli Arabs protested in Tel Aviv to mark the day of Nakba the Israeli army in both cases harshly dealt with the protesters and opened fire.

“I was in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during and after the revolution. I did interview 100s of Egyptians representing the whole country. I wrote a book about my experience. I concluded that the people, in Egypt as well as the rest of the Arab world have discovered their soft power. They are determined to use it to keep up their struggle to peacefully achieve dignity, liberty, democracy and social justice - no thanks to Obama and the US. The best the US can do is to stay away out of their way,” said Dr. Mohamed Elmasry, founding editor and publisher of and author of the recently published book  A New Egypt, An Eyewitness Account.

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M. Elmasry

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