CAIRO (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama said on Thursday the U.S. priority in the Middle East was to promote democratic change.
Below are some reactions to his comments:
EZZEDIN CHOUKRI-FISHERE, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR AT THE AMERICAN UNIVERSITY IN CAIRO:
“I think this goes substantially beyond what Obama said in his Cairo speech in 2009, where he merely set the tone for the new administration and talked about general principles of a new American policy toward the Arab world. I think this time he is coming up with a concrete indication of policy on the major issues the Arab world is facing. That is new and, in fact, it is about regaining leadership.”
ESSAM AL-ERIAN, SENIOR MEMBER OF EGYPT‘S ISLAMIST MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD:
“A disappointing speech. Nothing new. American strategy remains as is. American cover for dictatorial presidents, in Syria, Yemen, Bahrain remains as is. Perhaps the sharpest tone was toward Libya. American promises are just promises. There is no decisive decision to immediately withdraw from Iraq or Afghanistan. Threatening Iran remains the same.”
SHADI HAMID, DIRECTOR OF RESEARCH AT THE BROOKINGS CENTER DOHA, ON TWITTER:
”My prediction on Obama’s (Middle East) speech: Arab leaders won’t like it much. Arab reformers won’t like it much.
”This is the Obama style: Try to appeal to everyone & end up disappointing everyone.
”Obama says U.S. core interests align with Arab hopes. Well, why didn’t they align for five decades?
“Obama says it will be U.S. policy ‘to support reform across the region.’ Reform, of course, is not same thing as democracy.”
HASSAN NAFAA, CHAIRMAN OF POLITICAL SCIENCE DEPARTMENT AT CAIRO UNIVERSITY
“It was a great speech, very eloquent, full of hope, there was a real commitment to democratic transition in the Arab world. But we have heard a lot of beautiful speeches from Obama before and we don’t know whether he can deliver this time.”
He said Obama passed over the U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states in his speech.
“Maybe there is no uprising there but it doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t talk about democracy in these countries.”
He added that U.S. policies on Israel and Palestinian Territories have not really shifted in a meaningful way.
He said he was pleased with economic commitment to helping Egypt, but was still wary because much previous American aid had come with a “purely American conception of how to do business or how to run a country.”
“America has an effective role in the area and we still consider it the patron of the Arab and Gulf region. We hope that there is a policy to support countries where change has happened such as Egypt, Tunisia and Iraq, and those who need change such as Syria and Libya.”
“America needs to be balanced in its policy. We criticize its silent position toward what is happening in Bahrain... and we hope there is balance between talk and action.”
“In an effort to polish his tarnished imagine in front of the Arab people, Obama delivers empty words which don’t carry much weight to the brave new world. He will have to do more if he is to provide truthful support for human rights in the region and peaceful transitions toward democracy.”
EINAT WILFE, ISRAELI LAWMAKER, ALLY OF ISRAELI Defense MINISTER
“It’s incredibly important he exposed the fact that the Palestinians going to the U.N. in September has nothing to do with getting a state and that it is an effort to de-legitimize and undermine Israel in an international forum and not only that this step won’t bring them a state, it also will not bring peace.”
“I think there is much in the speech for Israel to commend, an inspiring vision for a truly democratic Middle East and recognizing that any future agreement must be based on recognition that the two states will be for two peoples, Jewish and Palestinian.”
”Obama did not come up with any new position. He totally adopted the Israeli position and that is not the role of an honest mediator.
“I do not think that this speech will bring the sides closer to peace. As a Palestinian, I was expecting more from him. His speech was disappointing. He has postponed the issues of Jerusalem and refugees. And this is identical to the Israeli position.”
“I think Obama should not refer to the bullets and gas canisters since they are made in the U.S.”
“‘What role will America play?’ Sell more weapons to military-based governments, maybe?”
YOUSSEF HAMMAD, 42, EXECUTIVE AT EGYPTIAN REAL ESTATE FIRM:
“I think overall it’s very encouraging because if you look at what he’s saying on Egypt and Tunisia, they’re backing reform and they’re going to help us on the economic front which I think is a fantastic thing. The other thing that is very important is that America is no longer going to have an interventionist approach such as it had in Iraq or Afghanistan and that the policy’s changed.”
“Where I feel a little bit disappointed is his stance of saying that he’s not going to (back) the Palestinians to declare a free state in September in the United Nations. He won’t back that which is understandable given the pressure that he’s under. However, you know, eventually he needs to work with Hamas and Fatah together. I think that that’s something that’s really important. You need to engage dialogue with the two.”
“I am disappointed in Obama mentioning Israel in his speech because this speech is about opening a new page with the Arabs first.”
“Obama is blabbering about our revolutions in shallow American liberal terms, makes me sick.”
“‘Commitment to friends and allies’ -- commitment to Israel and Saudi Arabia.”
”It very significant. For the first time, the United States has articulated what the territorial basis for a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians should be and explicitly identified the pre (1967) Six Day war line as the basis for the borders. This has never been done before ... This is a significant development and this is, in effect, an embrace of the Palestinian position on borders.
”To balance that out, the president then essentially tilted toward the Israeli position on security arrangements, calling for a non-militarized (Palestinian) state, saying that Israeli security concerns must be met and saying that it had to be met in deed, it had to be demonstrated, so that is significant.
“He threw out a very large challenge to the Palestinians by saying ... how can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist? He basically said that’s a fair question and the Palestinians have to answer it in a credible way.” (Reporting by correspondents in Reuters Middle East bureaux; Editing by Edmund Blair and Myra MacDonald)