US President Barack Obama on Thursday invoked the killing of Osama bin Laden as
a chance to recast relations with the Arab world and said the top US priority
was to promote democratic change across the Middle East. But reactions in the
region were muted.
Shadi Hamid, director of research Brookings Center
Doha, said Obama’s words were not ambitious enough.
Abbas calls emergency meeting over Obama address
Why would Obama plump for controversy over Israel?
A substantial shift toward the Palestinian position
“My prediction on
Obama’s speech: Arab leaders won’t like it much. Arab reformers won’t like it
much,” he wrote on his Twitter feed. Later he posted, “Obama says it will be US
policy ‘to support reform across the region.’ Reform, of course, is not same
thing as democracy.”
Thursday’s speech was the American president’s first
major attempt to put the anti-government protests that have swept the Middle
East in the context of US national interests. He hailed the popular unrest as a
“historic opportunity” and said the US future was bound to that of the region
now caught up in unprecedented upheaval. He also ratcheted up pressure on Syrian
leader Bashar Assad, saying for the first time that he must stop a crackdown on
protests and lead a democratic transition “or get out of the way.”
social networking sites, the dominant sentiment among Arab users was that Obama
said too little about his plans for achieving an independent
“Absolutely no surprises or anything new on Palestine in
Obama’s speech,” tweeted Yousef Munayyer, director of the Palestine Research
Center in Washington.
“Do people in Arab world want to hear more of this
hectoring or do they want to hear the US is ending its interference in their
region?” wrote Ali Abunimah, cofounder of the website Electronic
But one Middle East scholar said Obama went farther than any of
his predecessors in outlining a vision for a Palestinian state.
very significant,” Robert Danin of the Council on Foreign Relations told
Reuters. “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-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.”
speech, Obama also referred to the death of Osama bin Laden at the beginning of
“We have dealt al-Qaida a huge blow by killing its leader,” he
said. “Bin Laden was not a martyr, he was a mass murderer... Bin Laden and his
murderous vision won some adherents, but even before his death al-Qaida was
losing its struggle for relevance.”
However, he reserved some of his
harshest words for Syria.
“The Syrian regime has chosen the path of
murder and the mass arrest of citizens,” he said. “The Syrian people have proven
their courage in choosing a transition to democracy.”
Internet access has
been severely restricted during the two-month-long Syrian uprising, and social
media reactions from the country were few. Still, one Twitter user in Damascus
under the name “flying–wing” wrote that with his speech, “Obama gave Assad a new
chance to kill the Syrian people.”
Other users in Syria wrote that
surprisingly, the country’s official television network was carrying the speech.
CNN’s Hala Gorani, however, tweeted that Damascus’s ambassador to Washington had
not been present in the room during the address.
Islamist groups also
voiced their disappointment.
“A disappointing speech. Nothing new.
American strategy remains as is,” Essam al- Erian, a senior member of the Muslim
Brotherhood, told Reuters.
“American cover for dictatorial presidents, in
Syria, Yemen, Bahrain remains as is. Perhaps the sharpest tone was
towards Libya,” Erian said. “American promises are just promises. There is no
decisive decision to immediately withdraw from Iraq or Afghanistan. Threatening
Iran remains the same.”Reuters contributed to this report.