Obama Speech Draws Strong Reactions From Egyptians, Arabs And Israelis

UPDATE: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office has now issued a statement following Obama's Thursday speech. From Jerusalem Post:

"The government of Israel expresses hope that President Obama's important speech will lead to a new period of reconciliation between the Arab and Muslim world, and Israel. We share Obama's hope that the American effort will bring about an end to the conflict and to pan-Arab recognition of Israel as the Jewish state.

"Israel is obligated to peace and will do as much as possible to help expand the circle of peace, while taking into consideration our national interests, the foremost of which is security," the statement concluded.

Reactions to Obama's speech addressing the Muslim world in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday were prompt and disparate, covering the gamut between laudatory and derogatory. A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, with whom Obama met last week, described the speech as "a good start and an important step towards a new American policy," according to Reuters, however Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has so far been notably silent. And according to UPI, the reaction within Israel to Obama's speech was 'divided':

Analysts on Israeli television stations criticized the American president for failing to mention the word terror in his speech even once, opting instead to use violence. While the professionalism and conviction Obama delivered his speech was praised by some Israeli officials, others felt the president's reference to the Holocaust followed by a direct passage where he spoke of the suffering and humiliation of the Palestinian people was hurtful and unnecessary.

The speech is reported to have been well received within Cairo itself, according to the Washington Post:

The fact that Barack Obama chose Egypt as the location for Thursday's address to the Muslim world endeared him to the locals, who are always proud to host a foreigner and even prouder when it shows off their history.

Representing a more cynical, but predictable viewpoint is Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who issued a statement Thursday to say that it will take much more than "words, speech and slogan" to repair America's "ugly, detested and rough" image, according to the AP.

Likewise, a spokesman for Hamas' leader in Gaza, Ayman Taha, relayed similarly unimpressed sentiments, describing the approach laid out in the speech as "no different from the policy of his predecessor, George W. Bush," the BBC reports.

Also from the BBC, Hassan Fadlallah, speaking for Hezbollah in Lebanon, expresses basically the same viewpoint:

The Islamic world does not need moral or political sermons. It needs a fundamental change in American policy beginning from a halt to complete support for Israeli aggression on the region, especially on Lebanese and Palestinians, to an American withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and a stop to its interference in the affairs of Islamic countries. We have not seen any change in US policy towards the Palestinian cause.

Eric Goldstein, speaking for Human Rights Watch, via Reuters, commended certain parts of the speech, such as the call for Israel to halt settlement activities, but he lamented what he saw as a lack of specificity regarding barriers for democracy in the Muslim world, saying:

"I don't expect that he would single out Egypt as the host country, but he might have mentioned for example a state of emergency that has been in effect for 30 years. And not just in Egypt but in other countries. He could have mentioned the imprisonment of dissidents."

According to the AP, Muslims regard the approach laid out in the speech as a 'shift', but not a 'breakthrough':

From shopkeepers and students to radical groups such as Hamas, many Muslims praised President Barack Obama's address Thursday as a positive shift in U.S. attitude and tone. But hard-liners criticized it as style over substance and said it lacked concrete proposals to turn the words into action.

Obama touched on many themes Muslims wanted to hear in the highly anticipated speech broadcast live across much of the Middle East and elsewhere across the Muslim world. He insisted Palestinians must have a state and said continued Israeli settlement in the West Bank is not legitimate. He assured them the U.S. would pull all it troops out of Iraq by 2012 and promised no permanent U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

But at the top of his priorities, he put the battle against violent extremism. And he was faulted for not apologizing for U.S. wars in Muslim countries.

The AP has more from a variety of respondents in a number of Muslim countries, many of whom provide their own dose of skepticism and criticism for issues they believe the speech was remiss to address:

"President Obama is a brave president. ... We hope he will open a new chapter with the Islamic world and Arab nations in particular." _ Mithwan Hussein, a Baghdad resident.

"Bush and Clinton said the same about a Palestinian state, but they've done nothing, so why should we believe this guy?" _ Ali Tottah, 82, a Palestinian refugee at the Baqaa refugee camp in Jordan.

"There is a change between the speech of President Obama and previous speeches made by George Bush. But today's remarks at Cairo University were based on soft diplomacy to brighten the image of the United States." _ Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza.

"Obama's speech is an attempt to mislead people and create more illusions to improve America's aggressive image in the Arab and Islamic world." _ A joint statement by eight Damascus, Syria-based radical Palestinian factions, including Hamas.

"We share President Obama's hope that the American effort will herald the beginning of the end of the conflict and a general Arab recognition of Israel as the state for the Jewish people living in security and peace in the Middle East." _ an Israeli government statement.

"Why did he not come here to Gaza, instead of going to Egypt? He is welcome to come and see, to inspect with his own eyes, to see the war crimes and the new Holocaust." _ Mohammed Khader, 47, whose house in Gaza was leveled by Israeli troops during the offensive against Hamas.

"It was actually better than we expected, but not as good as we hoped. ... His stance on democracy was very general, a bit weak, we hoped for more detail." _ Ayman Nour, an Egyptian dissident recently released from prison.

"I grew up as a Muslim, and some religious leaders told us to hate other people. So he was speaking directly at me, telling us to stop hating Israelis and Jews. He is the most powerful man in the world and millions of people around the Middle East will see hope in what he said." _ Hani Ameer, an Iraqi immigrant in London.

"It still was a speech about what America wants. Maybe that's only natural, because he wants to protect American interests in the region. ... But I really do believe he envisions a world that is pluralistic, where different religions can live peacefully together, with respect, as he himself experienced in Indonesia." _ Edi Kusyanto, a teacher at the school in Indonesia where Obama went as a child.

"Obama's attempt was positive but not effective. As long as the U.S is supporting Israel there will be no hope for better U.S.-Islamic relations." _ Niloofar Mirmohebi, an Iranian student in Tehran.

"The part of Obama's speech regarding the Palestinian issue is an important step under new beginnings. ... This is the beginning of a new American policy and this policy is creating a new atmosphere to build the Palestinian state." _ Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

"There also hasn't really been any other Western leader who has expressed such commitment to fighting negative stereotypes regarding Muslims." _ Chandra Muzaffar, president of the International Movement for a Just World think-tank in Malaysia.

"This vision is so out of touch with reality. ... You can have your speechwriters find every good thing a Muslim has ever done. But more modern history is that the Muslim world is at war with the Western world." _ Aliza Herbst, 56, a spokeswoman for Yesha, the West Bank settlers' council.

"It was very positive. A president with the middle name of Hussein being in Cairo talking about collaboration means a lot for Muslims." _ Malek Sitez, an international law expert in Kabul, Afghanistan.

"It's one of the most important speeches ever delivered, a key speech for changing the climate in the Middle East. Israel will make a big mistake if it ignores it." _ Yuli Tamir, a dovish Israeli lawmaker.

"I think there should have been apologies from him for the deaths and misery caused by wrong American policies against Muslims, whether it be in our region or in other places." _ Muhsin Karim, 45, an engineer in Baghdad.

"I challenge any Arab leader to go to the U.S. or the West and quote the Bible like Obama quoted the Quran." _ Rabah al-Mutawa, a Saudi woman in Riyadh.

"Whatever wounds America has inflicted on the world, they are very deep and they cannot be erased away by only one speech." _ Pakistani political analyst Siraj Wahab, speaking on Aaj TV.

"This is the first president we see in the United States that is talking about the Palestinian issue, resolving the Palestinian issue in the first six months of his presidency. Usually, it's in the last two months of the presidency." _ Saad Hariri, leader of Lebanon's parliamentary majority.


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