In the Jordanian capital of Amman, demonstrators took to the streets on Tuesday to celebrate Bush’s departure from the White House by tossing shoes at a banner with his picture on it. They did not, however, celebrate Obama’s inauguration as president of the United States of America. In Beirut, a Lebanese-American gleefully screamed at television cameras, “good riddance Mr. Bush, “ahlan wa sahlan” (welcome) Barack Hussein (with emphasis on Hussein) Obama.” In a West Beirut restaurant, US ex-pats hosted a party to watch the inauguration on television, but the celebrations were subdued with scenes of destruction and devastation left by the Israeli war on Gaza flashing on a flat screen behind the bar.
With Saudi-sponsored Al Arabiya channel and Al Jazeera English as exceptions, most Arab satellite stations ignored Barack Obama’s inauguration. State-controlled television stations preferred to lead their news reports on demonstrations of support for the Palestinian cause. The top news was related to Gaza and the Arab Summit in Kuwait. Obama’s inauguration ceremony came third.
When interviewed about Obama, most Arabs expressed a desire to see a real change of foreign policy towards the Middle East, not just a regime change. There is skepticism that Barack Obama will be able to bring about that shift. Many expressed disappointment over Obama’s failure to take a tough stance against Israel over its war on Gaza, even though he was not president at the time.
“As long as the US takes the same pro-Israeli position, there will be no change,” a student at the American University in Beirut asserted.
In Egypt though, members of the opposition, Muslim Brotherhood, saw hope in Obama’s inauguration speech. They referenced his message to the Muslim world:
“To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.
To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”
Essam el-Erian, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political committee, was thrilled when he heard Obama saying that “the relationship with the Muslim world should be based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”
However, a colleague of mine working for one of Egypt’s largest dailies spoke to me on the condition of anonymity and said, “What Muslims and Arabs should pay close attention to is the second paragraph of Obama’s address to the Muslim world…his reference to those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent.”
“When we have real democracy in the Middle East,” he added, ” we won’t need Obama to save the day for us.”
Jamal Dajani produces the Mosaic Intelligence Report on Link TV