Can Obama mend relations with the Muslim world? 2009-06-06 23:37:49   Print
In his Cairo speech, Obama called for a "new beginning" between the U.S. and Muslims.
The question remains whether Obama can mend relations in the region.
To start improving relations, Obama must first outline a Middle East policy.

    by Matthew Rusling

    WASHINGTON, June 5 (Xinhua) -- United Sates President Barack Obama gave a much publicized speech on Thursday at Cairo University in a bid to begin healing the wide rift between his country and the Muslim world.

    Despite good intentions, the question remains whether he can mend relations in a region where the U.S. is often despised and where many people believe the West is waging a war against Islam, experts said.

    In his speech, Obama called for a "new beginning between the United States and Muslims," and said the two sides could confront militancy and pursue peace together.

    The address was laced with references to Islam's important place in history, as the president remarked how the religion carried the torch of learning through many centuries and paved the way for European enlightenment.

    Appealing to the masses, however, has limited impact on governments in countries where the people have little say in how their nation is run, which is often the case in the region, Reva Bhalla, director of analysis at Stratfor, a global intelligence company, said.

    She said Iran is one example, where shifting public opinion one way or another would do little to improve the government's stance toward the United States.

    The strategy could pay off, however, in that it could curtail the influence of radical Islam in the region, as militants need a sympathetic population for their movements to survive, Bhalla said.

    "But that's easier said than done," she said.

    Still, Obama is regarded more highly than his predecessor in the Middle East, where people recognize the more inclusive nature of his diplomatic approach, which is a sharp departure from former U.S. President George W. Bush's unilateralism, she said.

    But to start improving relations, he must first outline a Middle East policy, as the speech contained no official U.S. foreign policy pronouncement, Stephen Grand, director of the project on U.S. relations with the Islamic world at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute, said.

    Matthew R.J. Brodsky, a fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, said that whatever the policy, the United States must either side with the pro-U.S. camp which includes Egypt and Saudi Arabia or reach out to unfriendly governments in countries such asIran and Syria.

    Any attempt to work with both camps would backfire, as the two sides are embroiled in a cold war and have "irreconcilable differences," he said.

    Grand said whichever official policy is implemented, it could take years to create a positive image of the United States.

    He said aside from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and military operations in Pakistan, the United States is often criticized in the region for supporting governments seen by their citizens as incompetent and incapable of providing basic services, which stirs anti-U.S. anger and mistrust that extremist groups often exploit.

    Those feelings of prejudice are often mutual, as many Americans, especially since September 11 attacks, unfairly equate Islam with terrorism, Grand said.

    This "cycle of suspicion and discord" must stop, Obama said in his speech. "I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear."

    The same goes for anti-U.S. sentiment, Obama said. "Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire."

    Grand said these sentiments can be reversed by increasing educational and cultural exchanges which Obama mentioned in his speech. Firsthand exposure to the United States would do much to reduce the level of public support that groups such as al-Qaeda need to survive..

    Despite Obama's message of cooperation, al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden released an audio statement on Wednesday saying that the president enraged Muslims by ordering Pakistan to crack down on radicals in the Swat Valley.

    Grand said such statements underscore the reason why Obama is reaching out to the region -- to counter the influence of terrorist groups and bring Muslims over to his side.

    Lisa Curtis and James Phillips, senior research fellows at the Washington-based think tank Heritage Foundation, said bin Laden's message demonstrates that al-Qaeda is worried about the president's ability to appeal to the Muslim community and is searching for ways to blunt his ability to do so.

    Both said that Al-Qaeda is focusing its efforts on Pakistan, where U.S. policies are often blamed for the rash of suicide bombings in the country over the last two years.

    Grand said the trip to the Middle East is likely the first of several attempts to reconcile differences, and the speech will by no means be the last one on the "new beginning" the president will deliver in the region.

Obama's "new beginning" needs concrete actions

    BEIJING, June 5 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said in a major speech at Cairo University on Thursday that the United States seeks a "new beginning" in relations with the Muslim world.

    The "new beginning," however, still needs more actions to be realized. Full story

Muslim leaders in U.S. hail Obama's speech

    LOS ANGELES, June 4 (Xinhua) -- Muslim leaders in the United States hailed President Barack Obama's speech in Cairo on Thursday, saying his remarks were a refreshing change from his predecessors and offered hope for the future.

    "He met beyond our expectations," said Maher Hathout, senior adviser and board member of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC). Full story

Obama's speech ushers in new beginning of U.S.-Muslim relations

    CAIRO, June 4 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama's speech to the Muslim World in Cairo on Thursday heralds a new chapter in the relations between the United States and the Muslim world, said analysts.

    Obama reiterated that Islam is not contradicting with the United States and the United States was based mainly on integration of religions, Egypt's Minister of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Moufed Shehab told Xinhua. Full story

Obama hopes "new beginning" with Muslims

    CAIRO, June 4 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama wrapped up Thursday afternoon his nine-hour visit to Cairo, where he delivered a keynote speech aimed at a "new beginning" of relations with Muslims.

    "I have come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interests and mutual respect," Obama said in his speech, which is attended by more than a thousand audiences in the Conference Hall of Cairo University. Full story

Obama's Cairo speech eyes rebuilding U.S. credibility in Muslim world

    CAIRO, June 2 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver a much-anticipated keynote speech in the Egyptian capital of Cairo on June 4, in his latest attempt to reach out to Muslims. Analysts said the speech aims at rebuilding U.S. credibility in the Muslim world, which was tarnished during the Bush era.

    Though he has made a successful debut in a Muslim country two months ago, Turkey does not belong to the Arab world that represents nearly half of the Muslim countries. The NATO member, which stands across Europe and Asia and is carrying out reforms for a long-expected EU membership, is deemed by the West as part of Europe. His wide-ranging speech in the Turkish parliament focused on the cooperation of the two allies rather than a comprehensive stance on Muslim issues. Full story

Editor: Yan
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