On a side tour of the kingdom Wednesday, US President Barack Obama met with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and is scheduled to make a speech in Cairo on Thursday about measures he’d adopt for the Middle East. Saudi Arabia was added into his presidential tour in the last hour.
Chris Matthews, who hosts Hardball with Chris Matthews Daily on MSNBC, told the audience at the 31st Annual New York University International Hospitality Industry Investment Conference which concluded Tuesday that the president will be “bringing” something from Riyadh to Cairo, packed with some positive news. With Obama’s agenda covering oil prices, Iranian issues and most likely, the Middle East peace process and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Matthews anticipates Obama’s stance will be more generous towards Israel but definitely, will benefit the entire Middle East region.
The general consensus is, as of press time, Mr. Obama will deliver in Cairo measures for a two-state policy adoption by Israel and the Palestinian territory; however this time, Israel may be more pleased with the announcement. Despite latest expectations of an Israeli upper-hand on the road to peace map which may not resonate well with Arabs, all across the Middle East today, Obama is being received warmly by the people – a welcome not enjoyed by any US president for quite a while.
In the Mid-East, Arabs believe the US president should visit Gaza and not skip it. Amjad Shawa, the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organization Network coordinator for Gaza, said, “Gaza is still under siege — there’s been no real movement from the US to pressure Israel to allow the people in Gaza to reconstruct after the bombing campaign of a few months ago. It’s virtually impossible to get goods in or out.”
Ann Wright and Pam Rasmussen, part of the 66-member delegation, including Americans from 18 states currently in Gaza, believe it is wise for Obama to see Gaza for himself before structuring policies with Arab partners. Colonel Wright, a co-leader of the delegation, a retired US Army colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in 2003 in opposition to the Iraq war said, “If President Obama can, at the last minute, add a visit to Saudi Arabia to have a private dinner with the king, then he certainly can go to Gaza.”
Rasmussen, who is with the women’s peace group CodePink, is a coordinator of the delegation. She said her delegation, the group of peace activists, bringing toys and building playgrounds for the traumatized children of Gaza, has launched an international petition calling on Obama to visit Gaza and see the destruction for himself. They will return to Cairo on June 4 in time to deliver to the US embassy the petition asking Obama to visit the war-torn region and to push Israel and Egypt to open the borders, she added.
Meanwhile, some critics have also started to send out messages that the president should also engage Cairo deeper into the peace process. Hedy Epstein, a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust, author of Remembering Is Not Enough said today: “Of course, it’s good that Obama will be commemorating the victims of the Nazis while in Europe. But in Cairo, he should acknowledge the 700,000 people who were driven out of what would become Israel in 1948. Some of those same Palestinian refugees are now in Gaza and continue to suffer the attacks.”
An Imam in Chicago talked about Obama skipping Muslim places of worship. Abdul Malik Mujahid, president of the Muslim group Sound Vision and vice chair of the Council for a Parliament of World Religions said that President Obama visited churches and synagogues in the US during his election campaign, but not a mosque.
Osama Khalil, a PhD candidate in US and Middle East History at the University of California, Berkeley focusing on US foreign policy in
the Middle East, said: “The United States has an opportunity to redefine its relationship with and role in the Arab and Muslim World. That is how President Obama will be judged, not by one speech. While his speech is certainly a positive development, it must be followed by concrete steps to demonstrate that it is not empty rhetoric designed to mask the same failed policies.”
Khalil added, “Of particular importance to most Arabs and Muslims is ending the 24-month siege of Gaza, the ongoing Israeli occupation and settlement construction in the West Bank, as well as the occupation of Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, and continued US support of dictatorships who have little popular support in their own countries, including his hosts in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.”
At the time of writing, news wires have reported only very little about Obama’s latest push for an open dialogue with the Muslim world, but have confirmed he will put the finishing touches on a highly anticipated speech about United States’ relationship with followers of Islam in Cairo on Thursday morning.
More than a billion Muslims await his words that may make a turning point in the history of US-Middle East relations. However, they still urge him to visit Gaza.