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Middle east

Obama administration tackles 'Arab spring' revolts

Text by Marc DAOU

Latest update : 2011-05-19

US President Barack Obama has delivered his first major policy speech following pro-reform uprisings across the Arab world as the administration tries to keep up with uprisings that have transformed the politics of the region.

Speaking in Cairo in 2009, US President Barack Obama announced a new attitude in US foreign policy. “I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect,” he said. Those words were welcomed as a historic change in US policy towards the Middle East, a sweeping move away from the more aggressive rhetoric of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Today, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize addressed the same region in a speech eagerly awaited by the Arab world. For Obama, it’s an “opportunity to step back and talk about what we’ve seen”, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Tuesday, referring to the unrest that has rattled the region for the past five months.
 
Obama and the Arab uprising
 
Five months into the uprising that is transforming the political landscape of the Arab world, and just two weeks after the assassination of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, Washington is struggling to keep up with a region where the circumstances keep changing.  
 
And some say so far, so good. “Once they got over the shock, the Obama administration knew to react fast,” Paris-based professor of political science Khattar Abou Diab told FRANCE 24. “They pretty much went along with the uprising in Tunisia, and did even more in Egypt, where the American influence was a decisive factor in the revolution.”
 
In order to corroborate his support for the revolutionary movements in north Africa, Obama unveiled financial aid packages on Thursday worth billions of dollars for Egypt and Tunisia. The announcement came as part of a major initiative to support democratic reform in the Middle East and north Africa, the White House stated.
 
“The Americans have always shown a great deal of interest in the Middle East and north Africa,” Abou Diab said. “While the European Union wavered over what position to take, Obama took the lead in supporting the transitions, which was a big deal for those countries looking for stability, particularly the financial kind.”
 
Clouded message
 
While Washington was eager to cheer on the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, its pro-reform message was clouded by its reluctance to get involved with its own allies in the region. Pro-reform campaigners in Bahrain and Oman, for example, did not get the same support as their counterparts in Egypt and Tunisia.
 
“One of the greatest difficulties for President Obama is to reach the millions of people in the Arab world who are hoping for change without annoying important US allies in the Gulf," Haïm Malka, Middle East expert at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), told AFP.
 
And the prickly question of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Territories remains. Thursday’s speech came as the White House was launching new efforts to restart peace negotiations, with visits scheduled next week from King Abdullah II of Jordan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
 
“When it comes to the Palestinian question, the US has a huge responsibility,” Abou Diab explained. “If Obama doesn’t manage to find a solution, the gains he made with the Arab uprising will be lost.”
 
According to Abou Diab, the next few months are crucial for Obama. If his efforts in the Arab world are not prospering at the point when the presidential election campaigns begin, then the region could become “a stain” on his record.

 

Date created : 2011-05-19

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