Obama lost his ‘glow’ in Muslim world, say spectators, experts

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CAIRO: More than a year after his speech delivered in Cairo, US President Barack Obama’s second attempt to address the Muslim world in Jakarta, Indonesia did not garner the same amount of attention as his prior address had. Many experts and spectators agree that Obama’s unfulfilled promises cost him his previous high popularity among Muslims.

This time, Obama’s speech to the Muslim world last week was delivered from the University of Indonesia in Jakarta. In his address he expressed his respect for all cultures and religions, emphasizing his eagerness to repair the strained relations between America and the Muslim world.

“I said then, and I will repeat now, that no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust … now, we know well the issues that have caused tensions for many years — and these are issues that I addressed in Cairo. In the 17 months that have passed since that speech, we have made some progress, but we have much more work to do,” Obama stated.

Emad Gad, political analyst at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, believes that Obama set himself up for failure by making uncalculated promises that he cannot fulfill, which cost him his credibility among Arab nations.

Gad said that Obama’s words of respect for Islam and his quoting of the Quran in his Cairo speech were very well received and left his audience with very high expectations.

This time around, however, the people are less impressed by the Arabic in his speech and more disappointed by the lack of real action taking place in the real world, said Gad.

“In Cairo, he was still fresh and it was the first time that he addressed the Muslim world and used quotations from the Quran, people were loving him, he was glowing,” said Gad. “But in Indonesia, he lost his glow. People were thinking, ‘so you respect Islam… [now] what?’”

Gad said that the Muslim world is now starting to see Obama as a typical US president with a “softer mask,” as the change that he promised them never materialized.

Ahmed Montasser, a radio presenter, believes that Obama’s policies towards the Middle East are the same as his predecessors’, and even worse in some cases. According to Montasser, the only difference between Obama and the US presidents that came before him is that Obama sugarcoats US actions — or lack of action — with well-chosen words.

“When he was first elected, I was hopeful but I was also skeptical because he made promises that would be difficult to keep,” Montasser said. “After his speech in Cairo, I realized that all he has to offer are words.”

Montasser, who attended Obama’s speech in Cairo last year, said that the crowd was cheering for him for the wrong reasons — even when he was making statements in support of Israel.

“He took advantage of the fact [Egypt is] an emotional nation,” said Montasser. “We were impressed by the fact that his middle name is Hussein and that he’s an African-American. We felt that he understood our problems.”

Montasser added that he did not watch Obama’s speech in Jakarta because he lost all hope that Obama will change anything.

“I’m not interested to hear what he has to say anymore,” stated Montasser. “If he had the intention [of changing] anything, he would have already done so.”

Aya Lasheen, who also attended Obama’s first speech in Cairo, believes that Obama’s Cairo speech didn’t actually promise very much. Lasheen thinks that most people built up false hopes based on factors outside of the content of Obama’s speech.

“People were optimistic about him because of his color, and his Muslim background,” said Lasheen. “But what he said doesn’t differ from what any other American president has said before.”

Lasheen added that Obama was able to win people over with his extraordinary presentation and public speaking skills, but that ultimately he never offered them anything new.

“The speech was only impressive from the outside, but its content wasn’t new,” Lasheen stated.

When Obama gave his speech in Cairo, Lasheen said she jumped through hoops to be able to secure an invitation to attend it. However, this year she said she was not even interested in watching his Jakarta speech on television.

“He lost his popularity because of several things he did and several things he didn’t do. His popularity in the Arab world turned out to be only momentary,” Lasheen added.

Bassem Ibrahim, a professional driver, said that the Israeli lobby and the institutional nature of American politics prevented Obama from fulfilling the promises he made to the Muslim world.

“He said good things about Islam, but then we didn’t see any reflection of that in the real world,” said Ibrahim “He turned [out to do] the opposite.”

Even though he initially believed that Obama will be the one to bring change, Ibrahim now sees Obama as another typical US president.

“He will serve his term like any other American president and then the next president will come, and will tell us a couple of encouraging words at the beginning and the situation will always stay the same,” Ibrahim stated.

Mohamed Sherif, an accountant, was initially impressed by Obama’s new approach to the Muslim world, but said he was later disappointed by his actions.

“People were optimistic that there’ll be change but then nothing new happened,” said Sherif. “There’s a strategy that is put in place and won’t change. The West’s [attitude] towards Arabs will never change.”

On the other hand, Meena El-Masry, an employee at a brokerage company who also attended Obama’s speech in Cairo, thinks that even though no real change occurred, Obama’s respectful attitude towards the Muslim world is — in itself — significant progress.

“Bush used to call Arabs the ‘Axis of Evil,’ ‘terrorists’ and ‘uneducated,’ but Obama addressed us with a level of respect that was welcomed by everyone,” El-Masry said. “Obama only changed things on a cultural level — which is also important — and is the first level towards real change … the way you view a person determines how you act towards them.”


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