Controversy still follows Obama's Cairo speech

Mainstream press in Egypt has treated the political fallout delicately since US President Barack Obama’s June 4 speech in Cairo. Mirroring public opinion in the Arab world, Egyptians are unconvinced that America has turned a new page in its US foreign policy playbook. MENASSAT takes a look at events playing out in Egypt since Obama’s speech that are not on the official media radar.
Obama in AIPAC.JPG
YouTube video causing a stir in Egypt. © YouTube

ALEXANDRIA, June 17, 2009 (MENASSAT) – US President Barack Obama’s June 4 Cairo speech was touted as a turning point in US policy in the Arab world. But, Arab public opinion and more specifically, Egyptian public opinion has shown little faith that US foreign policy mandates are going to significantly change in the Arab world.

At the forefront of the post-speech criticism in Egypt are young media savvy Egyptians – journalists and bloggers - who have brought a slew of new developments to light – many of which challenge Obama’s stated goals of ushering peace in the region.

Take the video spreading like wildfire on Facebook titled, “Obama: the other face” that is included with the sub-heading: “Please Publish.”

The controversial YouTube video.

AIPAC controversy

Edited by a YouTube user, the video casts doubt about Obama’s ability to successfully orchestrate a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal, mostly because of promises he has made to the most powerful lobby in Washington DC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC.

The video is a collage of some major parts of Obama’s speech at an AIPAC  gala fundraising event during Obama’s electoral campaign in June, 2008.

At the time, Obama spoke of the necessity to impose a blockade on Hamas so they would stop their “terrorist” attacks.

He also stressed having a united position with regards to both the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority – the de facto western-backed leadership ruling the West Bank.

Palestinian elections in 2006 saw Hamas assume power of the government. In the summer of 2007, Hamas overthrew the Gaza Strip resting control of the territory from their political rivals, Fatah, and effectively separated Gaza from the West Bank.

Obama’s stance on the matter was clear in the AIPAC video – a territory under Hamas’ control would mean an Israel “flooded with missiles.”

He added “Egypt should eradicate the smuggling of weapons into Gaza,” and that “any agreement with the Palestinians should respect the identity of Israel as a Jewish state” with securely defined borders, and with Jerusalem as the undivided Israeli capital.

He promised “full commitment” to Israel’s security by making military investments of 30 billion dollars to protect Israel from any threats – “from Gaza to Tehran.”

Comments online from the release of this video have been indicative of the larger distrust at what real commitment Obama and the U.S. are willing to make to achieve a two-state solution in Palestine.

Obama failed to attract the Arab media

Obama made a special point during his June 4 speech to discuss the role of the globalized media, warning that the Arab and Muslim worlds should be wary of the “repulsive and vulgar” scenes broadcast in order to avoid any rash generalizations.

But if one were to view Egypt’s independent media landscape, Obama’s statements about the media are largely seen as a public relations exercises designed to appease the longstanding differences between the west and the Middle East.

Obama visiting the Giza pyramids. R.R.

Egyptian independent media has latched on to such statements in order to highlight “perceived” incongruities in Obama’s actions

Last week, local media erupted amid a flurry of controversy after Egyptian journalist Fahmi Houwaidi from the Al-Shorouk (Sunrise) newspaper and Majdi al-Jallad, editor-in-chief of the pro-regime Al-Masri Al-Youm (Egypt Today) who openly argued contrary positions as whether special concessions were given to Israeli journalists during Obama’s visit.

Howaidi cited the fact that Nahum Ranea, a journalist with the right-leaning Israeli paper Yedioth Ahronoth, was among eight Israeli journalists who were invited to meet with Obama for 40 minutes between his speech and his visit to the Giza pyramids.

The Al-Shorouk reporter said he was shocked to see Obama give a special audience to the Israeli journalists while they were waiting in the lobby to see the US president.

He wrote in Al-Shorouk that he asked a US embassy media officer why the Israeli journalists were given “preferential” treatment.

“Do they represent either the Arab or the Muslim worlds?” Houwaid asked.

“I thought I informed you,” was the apparent US embassy official’s response.

Houwaidi then came out to say the move was a means of “normalizing” relations between Israeli journalists and Arab journalists – something he said was also reflected by the national journalists union - the Egyptian Journalists’ Syndicate.

“There is a real problem between Egypt and Israel, and we are not a flock of sheep led by the US administration. So would it be normal to meet with the Israelis?”

Al-Masri Al-Youm editor Al-Jallad attacked Houwaidi’s position as being unreasonable – angering some of his own readers.

Two weeks after Obama’s speech, Al-Shorouk reporter Mohammad Hussein Haikal’s column summarized what many in Egypt are feeling. Despite hundreds of articles, analysis features and op-eds, Obama’s speech has already lost its luster as events continue to unfold in the Arab world.