Voices from the Arab press: Which Obama have you read?

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world

A shopper walks past a display of former US president Barack Obama’s newly released autobiography at a Target store in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. (photo credit: MARK MAKELA / REUTERS)
A shopper walks past a display of former US president Barack Obama’s newly released autobiography at a Target store in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
(photo credit: MARK MAKELA / REUTERS)
Asharq Al-Awsat, London, December 26
One of the biggest challenges faced by any autobiography writer is how to reconcile his or her true personality with the public image ascribed to them. Obama is no exception to this rule.
On the first day it was released, Obama’s autobiography – titled A Promised Land – sold over 800,000 copies. It may very well become the bestselling presidential memoir in modern times. But after reading and re-reading the book in the past few weeks, I’ve struggled to find the “real” Obama in it.
I still recall the day that Obama was sworn into office. A man of African and Islamic roots, who grew up in one of the nations most ravaged by racial tensions, rose to become the president of the United States. That day, I did not hide my emotional enthusiasm. Like most people around the world, I saw Obama’s victory as an important step forward not only for America but for the entire world.
Sadly, however, A Promised Land is a dry piece of writing, devoid of Obama’s previous style. At about 750 pages long, the memoir fails to portray the real Obama that readers would hope to encounter. Some might accuse me of being biased. I respect that criticism, and have tried to make sure that my opinion of the book is not based on Obama’s failures in the region, which tainted his perception in the eyes of many Middle Easterners, myself included.
However, I am determined that the sweeping success of Obama’s book has nothing to do with its political and literary value. Clearly, the fact that the book bears the name “Obama” on its cover is enough to generate millions of sales around the world, as was the case with Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming. While Mrs. Obama’s book was captivating and revealing — shedding light on her experiences as the first black first lady, Mr. Obama’s book seems to have fallen short of its stated objective. – Samir Atallah
Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, December 25
In the four decades that have passed since the establishment of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (commonly known as the GCC), the council has faced many challenges. However, under Saudi Arabia’s leadership, it managed to overcome all of them and emerged from its crises stronger and more powerful than before.
Regardless of the challenge it confronted, the kingdom always advocated for political and diplomatic solutions rather than military ones. From a very early stage, Saudi Arabia’s stance was that any crisis experienced by the GCC will be hijacked and used by malicious powers in the region to undermine the Gulf states. Thankfully, the council’s close partnership with US President Donald Trump on one hand, and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, on the other, allowed it to maintain stability in the Gulf region while undermining its collective enemies, like Turkey and Iran.
It is also important to remember that divergence of views and opinions, and even disagreements, are normal for any multilateral organization. No one expects GCC states to always see everything eye to eye. Yet the fact remains that the council has endured these disagreements and managed to build a common destiny for all of its members. Above all, it brought together all Gulf states under one security umbrella in an effort to confront significant regional challenges.
It is for this reason that I believe that what divides us in the Gulf is far smaller than what unites us. Our common Gulf identity is reinforced by religion, language, kinship, social fabric and geopolitical interests. Despite periodic disagreements, or perhaps because of them, the GCC is a stronger and more unified organization than it has ever been before. Thankfully, it will continue to defend the interests of the  Gulf states and protect the Gulf region from unwanted foreign interests. – Khalid bin Hamad Al-Malik
Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, December 23
American journalist Joseph Epstein wrote a scathing article, as usual, in The Wall Street Journal, in which he lashed out at first lady-elect Jill Biden. The 84-year-old journalist opened his op-ed by referring to Dr. Jill Biden as a “kiddo.” He then continued to suggest that Biden should relinquish her title of Dr. – which she received after completing her Ph.D. in education – since she isn’t worthy of it.
Epstein is known for his hardline positions. Notably, he rejects the idea that Ph.D. holders in the fields of humanities and social sciences should be referred to as “doctors,” under the pretext that this undermines the value of “real” doctorate work in medicine and other life sciences. The column was met with angry reactions on social media platforms, including accusations that Epstein is a misogynist who discriminates against women.
Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. joined the crowd and reminded Epstein that her late father bore the title of Doctor – and that even though his title was non-medical, humanity still greatly benefited from his work. Similarly, Doug Imhoff, husband of Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, commented that Dr. Jill Biden obtained her academic degrees with immense effort and lots of hard work, serving as a source of inspiration to many Americans. Megan McCain, daughter of late Republic Sen. John McCain, also responded with anger and accused Epstein of misogynistic tendencies.
Northwestern University, where Epstein had been teaching until almost 20 years ago, also criticized the column and called out Epstein’s hypocrisy in criticizing figures like Dr. Jill Biden but not others like former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former presidential adviser Sebastian Gorka – both of whom carry the honorary degrees “Doctor.”
Dr. Jill Biden, who is 69 years old, is nine years younger than her husband, Joe Biden. The two have been married since 1977, five years after the death of his first wife and infant daughter in an accident. She obtained her B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Delaware, then worked as an English-language teacher in local high schools. She stopped working for two years to take care of her children and when she returned to work, she never left again, even when Joe Biden became vice president. Therefore, she is expected to continue working even after becoming the first lady. Epstein, however, seemed to have less respect for her career, by urging her to forgo her academic titles and stick to the honorary title of “first lady.” – Safia Mostafa Amin
Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.