Read this in Huffington Post:
Obama vs. Obama
During his visit to Cairo, Obama can write a new chapter in history. The idea that the American President will address Islamic Nations from Cairo, capital of Egypt and home to Al Azhar University carries a symbolic gesture that can open the door for a new era of dialogue and understanding between the West and Muslims. For decades, Muslims have been accumulating negative feelings of victimization and accusing the U.S. of using double standards especially as a result of the lingering Palestinian suffering. Muslims blame the U.S. for its blind support to Israel shielding it from Security Council resolutions and international justice. During the last 8 years, the curve of the relationship dived to its lowest levels ever, with President Bush’s decision to invade Afghanistan and Iraq and his “War on Terror” which Muslims saw as being mainly directed against them.
The war against extremism and violence, however, is a war of minds and hearts. Hearts that could never be won through use of military power or invasion. With every civilian casualty falling in the crossfire in Iraq for instance, the U.S. would acquire new enemies and lose potential friends. The war against fanaticism should have been fought against injustice, intolerance, poverty and oppression. It should have been fought through creation of opportunity, hope and change of dire circumstances leading to frustration and despair. This gesture to address Muslim grievances comes at a critical hour in the history of our world. This opportunity may not come again.
The war against extremism, hatred and exclusion is everyone’s war. Obama should engage Muslims everywhere to side with peace, freedom and tolerance. During his campaign, Obama enjoyed tremendous support in this part of the world. People placed very high hopes on Obama to deliver the change he promised and fix what they saw as decades-long problems. Upon his historic victory, most Muslims cheered and celebrated. The biggest challenge facing the American President is this image of a Superhero-Obama who can fix all problems and solve all complex issues. Obama must therefore walk on very thin ice in trying to balance between aspirations and realities. Between promises and policies. Between what is said now and what can practically be implemented during his term or terms as a President. For instance he must try to balance between Israel’s security and Palestinian rights. Between amicable relations with existing regimes ruling Muslim countries and long-term friendship with the people who regard these regimes as oppressive and corrupt. Between regional stability and demands for reform and democracy.
Some pessimists regard the choice of Cairo as the venue for this historic address as blow which undermines U.S. commitment to democracy and human rights. Supporters of neocon hard-line confrontational approaches are now saying “we told you so”, pointing out that this choice of venue gives a blank check to oppressive regimes and shows that the new administration’s support for democracy in the Middle East has waned. Aly Eddin Helal, a senior ranking member of the ruling NDP party in Egypt, in an interview with Al Ahram Daily paper last Friday, saw the visit as a signal that critics of the Egyptian regime who had been calling for democracy, reform and respect of human rights have lost their bets. Optimists, on the other hand, believe that Obama’s policy of using soft power, with publicized friendly gestures towards governments carries a less visible side within. They believe that tough diplomacy demanding progress and reform behind closed doors has been much more effective than Bush’s blunt rhetoric which was ill-received and produced negative reactions from old stubborn leaders in an area of the world where public scolding leads to losing face.
The stakes are high and so are the expectations. Muslims will listen to Obama and he has a chance to get to their hearts and minds. He can frankly tell Muslims that they need to change their ways. But he has to provide them with alternative means of getting their justice. The United Nations and the structure of the Security Council have both failed to justly address Muslim issues. This contributed to rise of terrorism and political advances enjoyed by extremist political factions. Obama now has what no other Western leader have ever had, a feeling amongst people in this part of the world that they can relate to him. That he in turn can relate to them and understand suffering of the weak and the marginalized. That their pleas can find sympathetic ears from someone who managed to move through the ranks and achieve what was once considered an impossible accomplishment. Obama remains hero of the people. And that is a tough place to be. Obama the man has to try hard to keep up with Obama the legend. This is the challenge before Obama.