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 Muslims see shift in Obama’s speech, no breakthrough

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PostSubject: Muslims see shift in Obama’s speech, no breakthrough   Fri Jun 05, 2009 7:18 am

‘Obama’s speech is an attempt to mislead people and create more illusions to improve America’s aggressive image in the Arab and Islamic world’

Friday, June 05, 2009

CAIRO: From shopkeepers and students to groups such as Hamas, many Muslims praised President Barack Obama’s address on Thursday as a positive shift in US attitude and tone. But hard-liners criticised it as style over substance and said it lacked concrete proposals to turn the words into action.

Obama touched on many themes Muslims wanted to hear in the highly anticipated speech broadcast live across much of the Middle East and elsewhere across the Muslim world. He insisted Palestinians must have a state and said continued Israeli settlement in the West Bank is not legitimate. He assured them the US would pull all it troops out of Iraq by 2012 and promised no permanent US presence in Afghanistan.

But at the top of his priorities, he put the battle against violent extremism. And he was faulted for not apologising for US wars in Muslim countries.

“Obama’s speech is an attempt to mislead people and create more illusions to improve America’s aggressive image in the Arab and Islamic world,” said a joint statement by eight Damascus, Syria-based radical Palestinian factions, including Hamas.

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said there was change in tone. But he complained that Obama did not specifically note the suffering in Gaza following the Israel’s genocidal offensive this year.

“There is a change between the language of President Obama and previous speeches made by George Bush,” he said. “So all we can say is that there is a difference in the statements, and the statements of today did not include a mechanism that can translate his wishes and views into actions,” said Barhoum, whose group the US considers a terrorist organization. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a Hamas rival, welcomed Obama’s words.

“The part of Obama’s speech regarding the Palestinian issue is an important step under new beginnings,” his spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh said. “It shows there is a new and different American policy toward the Palestinian issue.”

Arab satellite stations Al-Arabiya and Al-Jazeera, as well as Egyptian, TV broadcast the speech live, with a voice-over Arabic translation.

In Lebanon, Hizbullah leaders said they didn’t see the speech and could not comment. But the group’s TV station Al-Manar broadcast it live, with an Arabic voice-over translation. Syrian state TV did not air the speech but the mobile text messaging service of the official Syrian news agency SANA sent four urgent headlines on it as Obama spoke.

In Israel, the speech was broadcast live on all TV and radio stations. TV stations ran subtitles underneath or provided Hebrew voiceovers, while radio stations also provided simultaneous translations.

Afghanistan’s state television also broadcast the speech live, but without translation so few could understand it.

Iranian television did not broadcast Obama and there were no reports on it, although the Iranian radio reported that Obama gave a speech in Egypt — in a single sentence report without giving details. Most Iranians who own satellite dishes could not watch it as their reception was jammed.

In Iran, Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a cleric who was vice president under reformist President Mohammad Khatami, called the speech “compensation to hostile environment which was created during President Bush.” “This can be an initial step for removing misconceptions between world of Islam and the West,” he said. Political commentator Ali Reza Khamesian said Obama’s acknowledgment of Iran’s right to produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes was “a step forward for better ties with the United States.” The speech contained a mixed message for Israel. Obama strongly endorsed the US alliance with the Jewish state but harshly criticized its West Bank settlement policy.

The director of Israel’s government press office, Danny Seaman, called Obama’s speech “not bad.”

“All in all, his attitude is one we certainly share as a democratic country. The state of Israel isn’t against reconciliation ... We think we should be more cautious and it should be done in such a way that the extremists shouldn’t take control,” he said.

Obama, aiming to repair ties with the Muslim world that had been strained under his predecessor George W Bush, struck a respectful tone. He opened with the traditional greeting in Arabic “Assalamu Alaikum,” and listed many of the grievances of Muslims against the US and the West. He quoted several times from the Holy Quran, drawing applause from his audience at Cairo University.

Baghdad resident Mithwan Hussein called Obama “brave.” “I think it’s a good start and we hope he will open a new chapter with Islamic world and Arab Nation in particular,” he said. But not everyone was impressed.

Wahyudin, the 57-year-old director of a hard-line Islamic boarding school in Jakarta, Indonesia, said “I don’t trust him.” He spoke as he watched the speech on television.

“He’s just trying to apologise to Muslims because of what America — or really Bush — has done in the past,” said Wahyudin, who goes by one name. “He’s promising to be different. But that’s all it is, a promise. We want action. We want to see an end to all intervention in Muslim countries. That’s what we’re fighting for.”
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