Thursday, June 4, 2009

Did Obama Choose the Wrong Location for His Speech?

Ever since it was announced that Obama was planning to speak to a Muslim capital sometime early in his first term, people have been throwing around possible locations. We now know he'll be speaking in Cairo today. Robert Fisk, probably the most experienced Western journalist in the Middle East (having lived there for 30 years), thinks it was a poor choice:

Maybe Barack Obama chose Egypt for his "great message" to Muslims tomorrow because it contains a quarter of the world's Arab population, but he is also coming to one of the region's most repressed, undemocratic and ruthless police states. Egyptian human rights groups - when they are not themselves being harassed or closed down by the authorities - have recorded a breathtaking list of police torture, extra-judicial killings, political imprisonments and state-sanctioned assaults on opposition figures that continues to this day.

The sad truth is that so far did the US descend in moral power under George W Bush that Obama would probably have to deliver his lecture in the occupied West Bank, even Gaza, to change the deep resentment and fury that has built up among Muslims over the past eight years. This, of course, Obama will not do. So Egypt, sadly, it has to be, though he will see nothing of the squalor and fear in which Egyptians live.

Only a week ago, for example, the leader of the opposition Ghad party, Ayman Nour - only released from prison by President Hosni Mubarak's regime in February - complained that he was assaulted in a Cairo street by a man with a make-shift flamethrower, suffering first degree burns to his face. Mr Nour spent three years in jail and is outraged by Obama's visit. "It seems to have been intended to bolster the power of the regimes, not of the people," he said. "We are absolutely astonished that our Egyptian political and civil society are ignored. It gives the impression that American interests are more important than American principles." The investigations of human rights groups show Mr Nour has every reason to be angry.

Personally, I'm in the boat for Beirut. It's the perfect location for east-meets-west, and it's a quasi-democracy. Security issues would certainly be tougher than in Cairo, but US officials are generally safe there (the real beef of violence there is either between Lebanese factions or against the Israelis).

Though it seems Hezb'Allah is going to win the upcoming elections, and they're evil and maniacal and we can't ever associate with them in any way, or something.


Anonymous said...

I actually think Jordan would have been a better choice. Amman is enough detached from Israel that it would be reasonably safe, while still being home to the nation that was probably victimised the most by Western intervention in the post-colonial era.