If you read, listened to, or watched President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo, you can’t help but be impressed with its comprehensive nature. He touched on virtually every issue of global concern in the Middle East, from Iran’s nuclear ambitions to respect for women. If you look closely at the early reaction, it seems to fall along predictable lines.
The question that comes out of all this is whether the Muslim world that Obama was speaking to will trust that American actions will mirror this president’s words. For some in the region, that could be a leap of faith (no pun intended). Many of the problems facing the Middle East, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, have raged longer than Barack Obama has been alive.
What then will this president do differently?
He’s called for candor in discussions about areas of disagreement. He also repeated America’s resolve to fight terrorism where it rears its head. Can Muslim countries now believe that Americans can differentiate between radical and moderate Islam? It’s one thing for the president, with experience living in a predominately Muslim country to talk about tolerance.
It’s something else to get that message to the heartland.
Then of course there’s the need for many of the Islamic countries the president was addressing to do likewise. The scourge of ugly stereotypes knows no border or boundary. Muslims harbor them against Americans, Israelis, and yes, even other Muslims. As President Obama points out, no one speech is going to sweep away these years of misconceptions. Now, however, is a good time to start.
One area that the Middle East will be watching closely is whether this president can convince the Israeli government to stop the spread of settlements in the West Bank. This is an area of serious disagreement between Israel and the US, and places like Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan will be trying to figure out if Obama can convince Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to see things his way.
When it comes to translating words into deeds, that’s a first step. How he handles negotiations (if there will be any) with Iran will also serve as a litmus test. It was significant that President Obama mentioned that “no single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons”. Yet that’s exactly what America has been doing.
The Muslim world should find much to like about this speech. They are right to want those words translated into concrete deeds, but that will come with time and effort on the part of all of the players.
How do you rate President Obama’s Cairo speech? Can he translate words into deeds?