Obama's Middle East speech missed 'historic opportunity,' say many Arabs
While those involved in Arab uprisings welcomed Obama's support, others were disappointed with his failure to apologize for US support for Middle East dictators.
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“That’s excellent news,” said taxi driver Mohamed Salem when he learned of the plan for debt relief. “Egypt is suffering. We welcome this. And I hope they will also bring all the money that Mubarak and his sons hid abroad.” Others were more skeptical, however, wondering about strings attached to the aid. Egypt was the No. 2 recipient of US aid for years after making peace with Israel.Skip to next paragraph
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On Libya, where the US along with NATO has undertaken military action, Obama made clear that he expected Col. Muammar Qaddafi to be removed from power, although he did not make clear how that would be accomplished.
"That reinforces in their mind that 'America is not going to leave you,' " says Mansour el-Kikhia, chairman of political science at the University of Texas, San Antonio, who has just returned from two weeks in the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in eastern Libya. "Libyans ... know they want freedom and don't need Obama to tell them that ... [but] it is good they see that the United States is supporting what they are doing, that the US is not going to let them down with regard to Qaddafi."
And on Syria, some had hoped the president would come down hard on President Bashar al-Assad for his bloody crackdown on protesters. The president did so, condemning the Syrian crackdown, but he left the door open for Assad, saying, “The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: He can lead that transition, or get out of the way.”
'The Arab-Israeli conflict doesn't need speeches'
Obama, who is set to host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tomorrow at the White House, spent a fifth of the speech discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He called for a two-phased negotiation process, in which Israeli security and Palestinian sovereignty would be agreed upon in a first round of talks using the 1967 borders as a starting point, with the stickier issues of Jerusalem and Palestinian refugees to be decided later.
He criticized both Israel and the Palestinian leadership, laying out a number of issues that need to be addressed.
But more rhetoric will not be helpful in solving the impasse, says Gad. “I think the Arab-Israeli conflict doesn't need speeches. It needs steps on the ground. If Obama wants to be effective, put pressure on all sides to resume negotiations.”