CAIRO: On Jan. 20, 2009 history was made when Barack Obama took the US presidential oath, placing a man from a racial minority at the helm of the world’s only superpower.
As a lover of American literature, the idea of America to me is a blend of the idyllic depictions of poet Robert Frost and the darker world of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby where an idolization of the glamor of what the US stands for is simultaneously off-set by revulsion for its overriding materialism.
Yet like all great civilizations throughout history, again to use Fitzgerald’s expression, the US is both “beautiful and damned, at times oscillating towards the former and at others veering sharply into the deepest abyss of the latter.
However at this particular moment in history, America is beautiful. Obama’s inspiring inaugural speech with its uplifting message of hope for a better tomorrow has infused citizens all over the world with a renewed desire to be agents of change for the good of humanity.
But it has also brought home more poignantly than ever, the political decadence we suffer in our own country.
Youth in Egypt long to experience the fulfillment of having their voices heard, of knowing that they have made a difference, of joining the ranks of truly democratic countries, where the rotation of power is not the exception to the rule, but the bedrock of all state institutions.
“I wish I could elect a president, many are saying, as a flicker of Obama-driven hope lets them dare to declare this seemingly distant dream.
We’ve all memorized what our Middle East political pundits have said, warning against being overly optimistic about US policies vis-à-vis the Palestine-Israeli conflict, saying that the economic crisis will be Obama’s overarching concern, to the detriment of foreign policy. It’s easy to be cynical when the US has consistently vetoed UN Security Council resolutions condemning the Israeli occupation, but I refuse to be bogged down by this crippling negativity.
And it seems that these pundits are likely to be proven wrong.
On his very first day in the Oval Office, Obama phoned Arab and Israeli leaders and appointed seasoned Irish-Lebanese George Mitchell as his top Middle East envoy. He did not wait seven years before holding a peace summit in Annapolis; and that may prove to be very significant.
As political analysts are saying, Egypt will be instrumental in bringing about a just solution for the Palestinians. It is in a key position to mediate the talks since at her confirmation hearing last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ruled out engaging diplomatically with Hamas.
Hence Egypt’s open dialogue with Hamas leaders – with which it agrees on the refusal to have foreign observers on its soil or foreign forces patrolling its waters – will be the only springboard to achieving a fair agreement as long as it upholds, on principle, the need to keep the Rafah border open and under complete Egyptian sovereignty.
Thankfully the dust has somehow settled with Israel’s unilateral ceasefire declaration earlier this week. But it’s a shaky ceasefire because neither side has agreed to adhere to the Franco-Egyptian proposal regarding how to put an end to the deadly blockade on Gaza which is the root of the conflict and cannot be seen independently of the occupation.
At this volatile time, however, I must say that I was shocked to see thousands of Hamas supporters celebrating their “victory on the ruins of their devastated city.
It is one thing to keep up the spirit of resistance against Israel’s barbaric occupation, but a completely different thing to be insensitive to the agony of those who have lost their loved ones, even their entire families, and those who have been maimed for life physically and psychologically.
Instead of raising the flags of victory, the Hamas leadership in Gaza would have done better to hold a mass funeral procession to mourn the 1,330 dead including over 400 innocent children, and over 1800 children who were wounded. As thousands took to the streets to celebrate, desecrated bodies were being pulled from under the rubble, not to mention the hundreds of families who have been displaced or left homeless.
Palestine, the Holy Land of Jerusalem, remains under occupation and there is no alternative to rekindling the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation talks. Instead of quibbling over who will manage the billions of Gulf money pledged to rebuild Gaza, both sides need to put their heads together, to shed their self-serving political aspirations and clean out the corruption that has stigmatized the Palestinian Authority, and which ultimately led to this destructive political polarization which has made both sides lose sight of their common enemy.
Sadly, the ordinary people of Palestine, the ones who stayed on their land through thick and thin, have not only valiantly withstood decades of humiliating occupation, but have also endured a debilitating crisis in their own leadership.
Fatah and Hamas would be naïve to think that Obama will lift a finger to redress the dominant Israel bias in US policy with regard to this conflict if the two parties fail to represent a united front.
After all, God only helps those who help themselves.
Rania Al Malkyis the Chief Editor of Daily News Egypt.