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Arabs find 'nothing of consequence' in Obama's Middle East speech

Friday May 20, 2011 11:55:39 AM, Agencies

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Riyadh/Dammam: Saudis dismissed US President Barrack Obama's much-anticipated "Arab Spring address" as meaningless, predictable drivel while Egyptians and other Arabs, to whom Obama offered some sops, also did not find anything new in the speech, which according to them focused on US interests.

"He did not say anything of consequence," Arab News quoted Riyadh-based historian Hatoon Al-Fassi as saying. "It was a long speech and what I remember the most is his defense of Israel. Till he uttered this sentence, 'US commitment to Israel's security is unshakable', I had some hope, but when he said that I lost all interest. All his words after and before just rang hollow."

Al-Fassi said people in the Arab world had high hopes after his speech in Cairo two years ago, "but when it came to action he turned out to be a hypocrite like all previous American presidents. So I did not have any expectations anyway. His words did not move me because they were all couched in diplomacy and hypocrisy, and nothing more."

"Katheeran min kalaam khalil min al-amal." That is how Dammam-based political analyst Mutlaq Al-Anazi described Obama's speech: "Too much talk and no action."

"There was nothing in his speech except a robust defense of Israel," said Anazi. "When you support Israel then you lose the moral high ground that we expect American presidents to take when dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli issue."

Anazi said Obama has the gift of gab.

"But you cannot impress everybody all the time with your words," he said. "You have to deliver and act upon your words. We have seen what has happened in the two years since he gave that speech in Cairo. America supported Israel every which way. The settlements in Israel continued to expand and Obama continued to veto any action against Israel at the United Nations. We have seen it all. Nobody believes Obama anymore."

Meanwhile, Egyptians and other Arabs also expressed their disappointment, saying the US president has not brought any concrete solutions to existing problems, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict.

“Obama’s speech contained both positive and negative points,” said Imam Yousuf Suleiman, an Egyptian engineer. “It was a photocopy of his previous speeches, and he did not give any solutions for the crises that triggered the revolution in Egypt, which was actually caused by lack of social justice and sustainable development.”

He emphasized the need for modernizing economic infrastructure and building an economic civil society to reduce unemployment in Arab countries.

Jamal Yusri, another Egyptian worker, said Obama’s speech did not rise to his expectations. “We were expecting that he would launch a new policy toward Egypt in order to support the country, which currently faces a decline in production and tourist inflow," he said. "He spoke about plans to strengthen economic relations, but he did not mention any specific project that would help boost our economy.”

Palestinian writer Suleiman Namir said Obama’s talk about Middle East peace without occupation could make the Arab public happy, "but the Arab Street is awaiting action rather than talk.”

Abdul Nasser Abdul Ghani, an investor in the Gulf, said the speech contained many important things and reiterated US support for Israel.

“It also reflected America’s double standard,” he said.

He said the revolution in Egypt was created by not only the call for democracy but also issues like unemployment and poverty.

While the speech itself was slated for its lack of depth, journalist Hadi Fakihi said nobody knew Obama was going to speak.

"There was no adequate publicity and many Saudi youngsters were out enjoying a sultry weekend or watching football," he said. "I watched Obama live and I think it was unimpressive. For us, the most important issue is Palestine. He kept talking about the revolution in the Arab world but people want to know what is happening to Palestinians. They deserve freedom as well, don't they? Nothing has happened on that front. We acknowledge his happiness and support for the freedom and democracy in the many nations of Arab world, but then why should Palestinians be left behind? They are oppressed people, too."

Fakihi said the US president would be judged on the actions that he takes on the ground rather than the empty rhetoric.

"In any case America did not play any role in the changes that have or are taking place in the region. We all know it. This is our script. What is your contribution? Nothing," he added.

Saudi Toastmaster Suleiman Al-Osaimi described Obama as a good actor.

"He acts really well. He would make a good Hollywood actor. I like the way he speaks. What he says, however, is of little interest. When he speaks he casts a spell on his listeners but when you go back to the speech to find out what exactly he has said you will soon realize that he has said nothing of consequence. They are mere words stringed in a nice way. He no longer impresses me. It is like our Toastmaster speeches where we rehearse so well that every word is delivered smoothly and there is lot of clapping at the end. Mere clapping nothing more, nothing else."

Political science professor Saleh Al-Khatlan, who is deputy chief of the National Society for Human Rights in Riyadh said the speech was, "a good start but it will be long before the US restores its own credibility."

He added: "It is hard to make consistent policies and the big question is how this new vision presented by President Obama in his speech will be translated into action. We will have to see whether the US policy and the approach of its policy-making institutions remain consistent or vary from one region to another."

Businessman Hamad Nour Eddine said he supports Obama on the question of Syria and Yemen for whom the US president used the words "get out of the way.” Hamad, however, said that he is doubtful that the speech made by Obama will bring any tangible outcome to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

"In his first comprehensive response to the crisis sweeping the Arab world, Obama merely stressed the need for change without suggesting remedies to the post-change era," said Essam Sadiq, a sales and marketing manager working for Hala Al-Dayar Company. He said that most of the countries from where rulers have been ousted because of the US and EU pressure are in "very vulnerable and volatile situations even today."

Sadiq called on the US government "to look at Egypt, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Iraq and many more countries where US has been involved in regime change. The monarchies in several countries of the region are better than the perverted forms of democracies in many parts of the world."

The speech, which was aimed at audiences in the US and the Middle East, showed little signs of "commitment on issues of regional concerns.”

"The US can go to any extent, when its interests are at stake," said Ameer Siddiqui, a local Pakistani banker, adding that the future of the US is bound to the Middle East and North Africa. The two regions have shared economic and security interests, Siddiqui observed.

President Obama's speech seems to be more directed toward his own constituency and his political fortunes than the problems in the Middle East, said Naif Al-Hazmi, a Saudi teacher. He said that Obama must understand the real problems that plague the Middle East region instead of trying to act like a "super cop."





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