Another “honeymoon”..Obama and the Arabs..seems to be over

I’d like to re-publish this interesting post coming from who writes on the Shami Hamid, Deputy Director of the Brooking Center in Doha,Huffington Post commenting on why the honeymoon between Arabs and Obama ” is really over now”.

This echoes other comments which recently appeared on The Washington Post and on The Guardian saying more or less the same. And Al Jazeera English’s “LIstening Post” is covering the issue by devoting a whole series of episodes to the topic “Obama and the media”.

When we published the book “Un Hussein alla Casa Bianca” (January 2009) tackling the issue of the “Arab dream” on Obama there was a “realistic skepticism” among the majority of the people and countries we surveyed. After one year of presidency it looks like Faisal Qassem‘s argument in one of the episode of “Al Ittijah al moakis” is going to win over Arabs’ hearths and minds: the problem is not Obama himself as an individual,  the problem is the structure of politics itself. To tell this with Hamid’s words: “.. political structures matter more than individuals – and the American system seems wedded to a fundamentally misguided approach toward the Middle East”.

Obama and the Arab World: The Honeymoon Is Really Over Now

There’s no doubt that there’s been growing Arab disappointment with President Obama, but I’m beginning to sense the disappointment – both understandable and expected – turning into something altogether more worrying. Part of the problem is that many Arabs, including even some Islamists, believed in Obama almost as much as Americans did.

I had lunch the other day with three Western-educated Arab liberals, the kind of people who were optimistic, if cautiously so, not too long ago. The conversation turned to U.S. policy and I felt like I was back in the Bush era, having to muster some kind of defense for my country’s actions. Before, under Bush, I could always say: “wait, the Bush administration doesn’t represent what America and Americans stand for. Don’t worry, we’ll vote him out of office and elect a Democrat…” Now, I’m not exactly sure what, if anything, I should say. I’m not in any mood right now to put positive spin on Obama’s first 12 months or on what Democrats can offer America and the world. The gap between expectation and reality has been so great so as to almost defy characterization.

Arab critics of U.S. policy are likely to draw several conclusions from Obama’s first year in office (whether or not these perceptions are accurate is beside the point. Perceptions matter as long as people think they’re accurate):

  1. That it doesn’t quite matter who the American President is. Obama might be great. He might care about Arabs and their grievances. But political structures matter more than individuals – and the American system seems wedded to a fundamentally misguided approach toward the Middle East.
  2. The election of Obama – with his evident desire to build bridges with the Arab world, not to mention his Muslim family and middle name – was the best possible outcome that Arabs could have hoped for. But, even with the best possible outcome, U.S. policy is still pretty bad.
  3. America has a congenital problem with advancing wonderful soaring rhetoric while, at best, featuring some roundly unimaginative policymaking and, at worst, furthering policies in the Middle East that are downright destructive.
  4. America’s Middle East policy is irredeemable. It is time to stop hoping that America will change.

People hated Bush but, at least their hate seemed to imply a recognition of America’s centrality in the Middle East, and that America, due to its overwhelming influence and power, would have to change in order for the Middle East to change. The anger toward Obama is different in that it is accompanied by a sort of resignation and a coming to terms with an America that appears increasingly beside the point. The United States is in steep decline, so some are saying, and instead of hoping it will change, it might be better (and more realistic) to hope that it falls.

by Shami Hamid , Deputy Director Brookings Doha Center

Follow Shadi Hamid on Twitter: www.twitter.com/shadihamid

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s