US President Barack Obama's Cairo address to the Muslim world sparked a blaze of reactions across the region and beyond; not least amongst bloggers from the Maghreb where a fiery of blog posts and instant tweets conveyed a whole spectrum of opinions ranging from outright, full endorsement to deep skepticism and even scorn and mistrust.
Even before Obama's inauguration, and well before he decided which Middle Eastern or North African country he would choose to deliver his so called foreign policy speech in, some Moroccan-Americans lobbied for President Obama to come to Rabat. Some others suggested Casablanca. A website, President Obama to Speak in Morocco, was even set up for that purpose:
[We invite] President Obama to make Morocco the home for his first foreign policy speech abroad.
Morocco is the ideal country to launch a message of peace to the Muslim world.
A peace loving country with a respected voice in the region, Morocco is a long time friend of the United States and would be proud to host President Barack Obama in this historical event.
Eventually, and to the big disappointment of many Moroccan Obama enthusiasts, the American President did not speak in Morocco but preferred – logically, some would argue – Cairo, Egypt.
The Obama Cairo speech was quite anticipated. “What if I met Obama?” wonders Mohamed Malouk. Blogging on Elmafjoue [Ar], he says:
If I met Obama, I would ask him to dedicate some of his precious time to our leaders so he could erase their ignorance when treating their people and teach them some basics of democracy and how to get rid of this fear they have of their own people.
Mohamed [Ar] continues:
If I met Obama, I would tell him that his predecessor left us with an ever growing hatred for America and that that only produced anger against it; a hatred cultivated amongst us; then you came out [President] with a deep hope and gave promises to every community whilst Arabs and Muslims usually see their hopes transform into pains.
One of the innovations made by the Obama administration was the possibility for members of the public to follow the Cairo speech through quotes sent by SMS text messages. The speech was a hot topic on Twitter where many live reactions were reported.
Larbi_org [Fr] followed the event and he twittered:
Great and important speech of Obama in Cairo.
Although, Larbi later on, in a second tweet, wondered “What did Obama mean by ‘Muslim World’ ?”.
They were also some funny reactions when @annouss re-twitted @mbaa…
To all people inside Cairo university, Obama is not Husni Mubarak, you don't have to clap on each sentence.
Citoyen Hmida has compared Cairo speech to the JFK's «Ich bin ein Berliner» speech. He stated [Fr]:
Le discours prononcé à l’Université du Caire a été ponctué par de nombreux applaudissements. En effet, le fait d’entendre un président américain dire « Assalamou 3alienkoum » peut redonner espoir. Cette formule rappelle le fameux « Ich ben ein Berliner » clamé par J.F.K. lors de sa visite à Berlin-Ouest en juin 1963.
Obama a eu également l’élégance intellectuelle de citer, fort à propos, certains versets du Coran.
The speech delivered at the University of Cairo was punctuated by much applause. The fact of hearing the American President saying «Assalamou Alaykoum» can give hope. This formula reminds the famous « Ich ben ein Berliner » stated by JFK when he visited Berlin in June 1963.
Obama had also the intellectual elegance to quote certain verses of the Quran.
Citoyen Hmida also wrote:
(…)ce discours tant attendu n’est en partie qu’un tissu de lieux communs sur la civilisation arabo-musulmane et sur les positions américaines contre « l’extrémisme violent ».
This long awaited speech has been, in part, a string of platitudes about the Islamic-Arabic civilization and about the American condemnations of “violent extremism.”
Abdoukili reacts in a similar manner. He wrote:
The words Obama used like quotations from the Koran (to which he referred four times) and Islamic expression like “assalaamu alaykum” , “azaan ” and “Mohammed (peace be upon them) ” is a good public relation strategy to have more effect on the Muslim audience.
Wait and see
Some other bloggers, even when they appreciated the Obama speech have adopted a «wait and see» position. Laila Lalami, a Moroccan author based in the US wrote:
One important test of this new approach, to my mind, is the settlements. Obama has already told Netanyahu that he wants a complete stop to Israeli settlements and that he won’t accept “natural growth” exceptions. If he can do that, then this speech will be remembered as a turning point; if he can’t, then it will go the way of all the speeches by the previous five administrations: nowhere.
But not everybody was impressed by Obama's words. Abdelhak al'Koush, blogging on Afinina [Ar], launched a strong attack on the American president and questioned his motives in a discourteous post. He wrote:
توفق الرئيس في شد أنفاس القطيع العربي بمن فيهم البلهى من المثقفين العرب، ثم لوح بيديه الكريمتين كما يفعل ملوكنا وجبابرتنا الطغاة في لحظات نفاقهم المتميزة ،ـ وصفق له الحاضرون بحرارة ، ولينتهي الفصل الأول من المسرحية
… جاء أوباما إذن ليقبل العالم العربي الميت ” قبلة الموت”
الحقيقة المرة هو أن أوباما يمنح الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية فرصة أن تلتقط أنفاسها بعد حروب متتالية، اٍذ لم يتردد بوش في [تعبير جارح] العربي البارد ثقافيا وسياسيا ودينيا وحضاريا ، والحقيقة الأمر هو أن العدوان الأمريكي سيشتد بعد مرحلة أوباما .
The bitter truth is, Obama is offering the United States the opportunity to take a breather after successive wars against the Arabs who are cold culturally, politically and religiously. After Obama, the American aggression will heighten.
The American president succeeded in capturing the imagination of the Arabic herd (sic) including those Arab idiotic (sic) intellectuals, and then waved his hands mimicking our kings and titan despots in their distinct moments of hypocrisy; and the audience applauded warmly ending the first chapter of a comedy[…]
A Last Note of Hope
Many things have been said about the Obama Cairo speech. Among them, Abdoukili expressed a note of hope when he closed his post by saying
On the whole Obama has carefully chosen his words and said what the majority of Muslims want to hear from him. It remains to see how he can enact his dream of an ideal relationship with the Muslim world where there is so much to do to eradicate the negative views many Muslims have towards the USA
This post was written in collaboration with Hisham
The illustration used in this post was graciously given by Hamza Lahloumi Art Director of IMAGENCY