Monday, June 8, 2009



Four days after President Barack Obama delivered his address to the Muslim world at the Cairo University on June 4,2009,the Government-controlled English media in China is yet to comment substantively on his address.

2. The only substantive comments so far have been on the significance of his visit to Saudi Arabia, a curtain-raiser to his visit to Egypt and on the reactions to his speech in Israel. The Chinese media also reported briefly the salient points of Osama bin Laden’s audio message to the Muslim world disseminated by the Al Jazeera before Obama arrived in Cairo.

3. The comments on the significance of Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia were contained in an analysis by Li Xuejiang, senior reporter of the People’s Daily in the US. His comments were disseminated by the Xinhua on June 4,2009, in a despatch under the title “How does Obama play “Middle East card”? The analysis said that Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Egypt had two objectives and his halt in Saudi Arabia had “multipurposes”.

4. The article said: “This is Obama’s first-ever trip to the region since becoming President in late January, which has two obvious objectives, namely, to declare his goodwill to the Muslim world so as to help improve the image of the United States among Muslim people worldwide and to advance the Middle East peace process. President Obama has multiple purposes in his visit to Saudi Arabia. The first and foremost is to urge this oil-rich Arab nation to go on contributing in stabilizing the global oil market; the second is to discuss with it the Iran issue, which is of concern to both nations; and the third is to ask the Saudi government to persuade Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), and Prime Minister (President) Asif Ali Zardari to compromise to each other and reconcile themselves to the prospect of stabilizing the situation in Pakistan.The fourth purpose of his visit is to urge Saudi Arabia to beef up its support to the power of Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority and, the last but not the least is to ask the Saudi government to lead the Arab world in indicating some goodwill signs to Israel, so as to facilitate restarting the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.”

5. The article added: “In Egypt on Thursday, President Obama would make a speech to the Muslim people worldwide. Sources acknowledged that Obama will make the speech at elite Cairo University aiming at strengthening the US ties with the Muslim world. However, people cannot expect that his speech in Cairo would change everything and put an end once and for all to all negative impressions the unfair U.S. Middle East policies have left on people worldwide if he fails to come up with concrete policy measures.”

6. Before Obama delivered his Cairo speech, the Xinhua disseminated a collation of various key quotations of Obama relating to the Muslim world since he assumed office on January 20. It was not clear whether this collation was prepared by Xinhua itself, or whether it was merely circulating a collation prepared by the staff of Obama in Washington DC before he embarked on his tour. The collation is annexed.

7. Before Obama arrived in the Middle East, Xinhua disseminated a curtain-raiser on his visit based on an analysis of comments made by the staff of Obama and some non-Governmental analysts in the US and Egypt.The curtain-raiser said: “Analysts said the speech aims at rebuilding U.S. credibility in the Muslim world, which was tarnished during the Bush era. Though he has made a successful debut in a Muslim country two months ago, Turkey does not belong to the Arab world that represents nearly half of the Muslim countries. The NATO member, which stands across Europe and Asia and is carrying out reforms for a long-expected EU membership, is deemed by the West as part of Europe. His wide-ranging speech in the Turkish parliament focused on the cooperation of the two allies rather than a comprehensive stance on Muslim issues.”

8.It added: “The U.S. President chose Cairo as his platform to reach out to both the Muslim world and Arab world. Egypt as a country “in many ways represents the heart of the Arab world,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs……Obama’s decision of making the speech in Cairo University rather than the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, which hosted his special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell and top diplomat Hillary Clinton, also implies his determination and readiness to get involved in the Muslim publics (politics?) .”

9. The Xinhua commentary on the reactions in Israel covered in a fairly detailed manner the reactions in the electronic as well as the print media. It concluded: “All of the Israeli coverage sought out what would make for good talking points at home. One that many picked up on was the way the audience applauded every time Obama referred to the Koran and Muslim values, or threw in a word in poorly pronounced Arabic. At the same time the highly-educated gathering did not clap when Obama urged them to recognize Israel and to reject Holocaust denial. These are highly sensitive issues in Israel and the opinion formers here say as a collective the Arab world must address these issues early on if it expects Israel to rejoin the peace process.”

10. The Chinese are apparently waiting to study how the Islamic world as a whole reacts to Obama’s speech before formulating their own analysis. They would be particularly interested in finding out how the Islamic elements in Pakistan—– Al Qaeda, the Afghan and Pakistan Taliban and the various Islamic political parties—- react to Obama’s address. This would ultimately determine whether the speech helps in cooling down the anti-US anger in the Pakistan-Afghanistan region or not. Till 9/11, the widespread anti-US feelings in the Islamic world were largely due to the Palestine issue. Since then, so many other issues have cropped up that the situation is more complicated now. It is no longer a simple question of just addressing the perceived Arab anger.

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )



U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to deliver a speech to the Muslim world in Cairo University on Thursday.Following are some key quotations of Obama on Muslims since taking office in January.

On Jan. 20, Obama mentioned the word “Muslim” twice in his inaugural speech.
– “We know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.
– “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

On Jan. 26, Obama chose the Saudi-owned and Dubai-based Al-Arabiya satellite TV for his first television interview since taking office.
– “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy, we sometimes make mistakes.”
– “(There are) respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there’s no reason why we can’t restore that.”

On April 6, Obama made a speech at Turkish Parliament in Ankara, capital of a Muslim country.
– “The United States is not and will never be at war with Islam.”
– “America’s relationship with the Muslim world cannot and will not be based on opposition to al-Qaida.”
– “The United States has been enriched by Muslim Americans. Many other Americans have Muslims in their family, or have lived in a Muslim-majority country — I know, because I am one of them.”

On June 2, the British broadcaster BBC aired an interview with Obama, who was about to fly to Middle East.
– “There are misapprehensions on the part of the West about the Muslim world, and obviously there are some big misapprehensions about the Muslim world when it comes to those of us in the West.”

On June 2, the French television channels I-Tele and Canal Plus made an interview with Obama, who will visit Europe for D-day commemorations a few days later.
– “If you take the number of Muslim Americans, we would be one of the largest Muslim countries of the world.”
– “What we need is to create a better dialogue, so that the Muslim world understands better how the U.S., but how effectively the West thinks about many of these difficult issues — terrorism, democracy.”