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The Morning After: Further Reaction From The Arab World

Eric Calderwood is a Ph.D. student at Harvard University. His research focuses on Muslim-Christian relations in the Mediterranean.

Yesterday, I rounded up some of the Arab world's reaction to Obama's speech. Many more important news outlets released their assessments this morning.

Al-Manar, the Beirut-based satellite television station of Hezbollah, emphasized the mixed reviews that Obama's speech received in the Arab world, but it celebrated his conciliatory gestures towards Islam: "[Obama] celebrated the Islamic religion and its role in the world's progress, and the importance of turning a new leaf in the relations between the United States and Muslims, based on respect, trust, and exchange. At that time, he tried to pacify the tension through which the American-Islamic relation passes, by asserting that the relation is strong and cannot be broken." Al-Manar also represented Obama's speech as a defeat for Israel: "An important Zionist authority expressed his frustration regarding Obama's [treatment of] the Iranian dossier. This important authority, who asked to remain anonymous, said: ‘It was expected that the president would repeat his clear position about this issue which he expressed after his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington.' In his speech, which he addressed to the Islamic world, Obama indicated that the differences about the Iranian nuclear dossier are in a ‘decisive stage.' But he did speak about Tehran's right to nuclear energy in accordance with international treaties, which provoked the dismay of the Zionist authorities."

Al-Arabiyya, a Dubai-based satellite news channel, emphasized the political struggles Obama will face at home because of his speech. In their lead story this morning, the headline reads, "Obama engages peace crisis early and confronts the Jewish lobby." Describing Obama's message as one of "hard love for both Arabs and Israelis," the Saudi-controlled network noted that Obama is addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict much earlier in his Presidency than his predecessors did. Al-Arabiyya used the past example of President George Bush (senior) to exemplify the political perils of this strategy: "And history shows that differences with Israel can be a huge liability for American presidents. George Bush, who was President from 1989 to 1993, angered Israel and its American supporters that he wouldn't send any new money to Israel to be used for settlements." While most of the Arab networks focused on Obama's international audience (and, in particular, the Arab and Islamic worlds), Al-Arabiyya tried to forecast the domestic reception of Obama's speech.

The London-based independent paper, al-Sharq al-Awsat, known for its slogan "International Newspaper of the Arabs," didn't update its coverage of Obama's speech until this morning. When it did, it didn't use the omnipresent image of Obama giving his speech in Cairo, but rather an image of masked Hamas militants watching Obama on a TV set in Gaza. Despite this ominous image, the newspaper's headline is optimistic: "Obama's Speech ... The Message Arrived." The opening paragraph describes a positive reception: "[Obama] spoke sincerely about many issues that were the cause of clashes and mutual doubt between the two parties, at the head of which were the Palestinian issue, Iran, Iraq, democracy, and women's rights. And it appears that the message arrived, based on the applause and welcoming of the audience... who interrupted him 18 times to applaud him." As far as I've seen, Al-Sharq al-Awsat is the only major Arab news outlet to place women's rights among the chief issues addressed by Obama. Despite the positive tone of the newspaper's main article, a linked article from their front section gives a much more conflicted view. This article's headline is "Obama's Speech: Arabs Are Divided in Describing It ... Between Positive And ‘Speech Merchant.'" The subtitle of this article develops the idea further: "They say that [Obama] spoke as if he were the master of the world ... and that he presented Bush's discourse with new expressions... and that he is colliding against a ‘crisis of Arab trust.'"

SANA, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, buried the news of Obama's speech deep into their website, after a number of articles about local and regional matters. The mere placement of the article seems to be a slight. Their article, however, strikes a conciliatory note: "The American President Barack Obama called for an end to the cycle of mistrust between the United States and the Islamic World and the building of trust between the two parties. And Obama indicated ... his desire for a new start between American and the Muslim world, emphasizing mutual respect and shared work with the Muslim world."

Meanwhile, in Morocco and Kuwait, two of the most American-friendly countries in the region, the coverage took on a more local flavor. Le Matin du Sahara, the official newspaper of the Moroccan government (which usually focuses on the activities of Muhammad VI, the king of Morocco), gave pride of place to Obama's speech. The headline reads: "The ‘cycle of mistrust' towards Muslims must end. The American President underlines that Morocco was the first country to recognize the independence of the United States." While it is, in fact, true that Morocco was the first country to recognize the independence of the U.S., I doubt very much that non-Moroccan observers of Obama's speech left with this factoid in mind. The Kuwait Times, a major English-language newspaper, read by Arab Kuwaitis and South Asian migrant workers alike, seems to have missed the fact that Obama left Saudi Arabia. Their front page features a picture of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and says: "Obama visits Kingdom in new outreach to Muslims." The following article hardly mentions Obama's subsequent speech in Cairo.

--Eric Calderwood