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Obama Nobel Peace Prize: What Arabs think

The Obama Nobel Peace Prize is seen as inappropriate by many Arabs, who are angry about the surge of US troops into Afghanistan and a stagnant Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

By Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / December 10, 2009

People watch a large TV screen in a park as U.S. President Barack Obama speaks after accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on Thursday.

Chris Helgren/Reuters


Beirut, Lebanon

In Arab eyes, President Barack Obama collected his Nobel Peace Prize Thursday in Oslo at an ill-timed moment.

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Days before the president departed for the prize-giving ceremony, he announced that 30,000 more American troops would be dispatched to Afghanistan, a move seemingly at odds with his status as a Nobel Peace Prize recipient and one that angers Muslims throughout the world. In addition, the Israeli-Palestinian peace track is festering two months after Obama yielded to Israel's refusal to implement a total settlement freeze in the occupied Palestinian territories, settling instead for a 10-month partial freeze

"He is a disappointment. He has done nothing," says Khodr Hayek, a businessman in the Haret Hreik neighborhood of southern Beirut, an area of staunch support for the militant Shiite Hezbollah. "If he was serious, he should have done something by now. He said Israel shouldn't build settlements, but the Israelis didn't care. No one is listening to him."

Others, however, are more inclined to give Obama a chance, saying it is too soon to dismiss the new president after only 11 months in office.

"I don't think we yet know what his Middle East policy is going to be," says Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Center for Lebanon. "I don't think he has shown us all his cards yet. He has been preoccupied with other issues since taking office, such as the economy, health care, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Iran. These have been much more pressing issues for him than Arab-Israeli peace."

'I would be embarrassed to accept it'

Whether a critic or a supporter of Obama, however, few seem to believe he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize at this early stage in his presidency.

"God willing, he will be able to help us in the next three years, but I don't understand why he has been awarded the Nobel. If I was him I would be too embarrassed to accept it," says Francois Karam, a barber in Ashrafiyah, a mainly Christian district of east Beirut.

The challenge of standing at the helm of a successful peace process in the Middle East has bedeviled successive US presidents since Jimmy Carter helped broker a deal between Israel and Egypt in 1979. Ronald Reagan's two terms were marred by policy debacles in Lebanon and by the Iran contra scandal. President George H. W. Bush launched the Middle East peace process in Madrid in 1991, but six months later was out of office. The peace process became a focal point of President Bill Clinton's eight years in power. He saw breakthrough advances with the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords in 1993 and an Israel-Jordan peace treaty in 1994. But then process began to drift. President George W. Bush ignored the Middle East until the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, after which he viewed the region through the prism of the "war on terror."

Now, Obama has inherited the unenviable legacy of his predecessors – a stagnant Israeli-Palestinian track, grueling military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a looming showdown with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.