How the Muslim World Heard Obama's Speech

A roundup of reactions from President Obama's target audience

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The Atlantic Wire already brought you a roundup of general and domestic reaction to Obama's Middle East speech yesterday. But as with Obama's big speech in Cairo two years ago, the address was theoretically directed not at America, but at the Arab world, the site of the recent Arab Spring uprisings and much current unrest. How did this target audience take it? Here's a quick look at the coverage and reaction from Arabic-language media the day after. The "instant view" offered by Reuters, a roundup of quotes from various specialists and public figures, was mixed, but the day-after analysis seems to be that the president gets a B at best.

The Palestinian Al-Ayyam, based out of Ramallah, understandably opens its Friday issue focusing on the parts of the speech relevant to Palestine, though the Arab Spring was Obama's main focus:

"We can say that the content of Obama's speech was expected," writes Ghassan Charbel at Al Hayat, reviewing Obama's "promises of economic support for the emerging democracies in Tunisia and Egypt," his anti-Qaddafi stance, and so forth. He continues, "It is clear that Obama was outlining missions in several directions with varying [degrees of] clarity and urgency. Certainly the United States is trying to build a policy in consideration of the winds of change in the Middle East. And what is most important in the current American president is his capacity  to work with Europe and grasp the sensitivities of Russia and China, who have received instructions from him to take this seriously."

Adel Bari Atwan at Al-Quds Al-Arabi is more pessimistic: "all this familiar talk we have heard on the lips of more than one U.S. official, but the question is about the practical steps to turn it into actions on the ground." He adds: "we heard stuff like this two years ago in [Obama's] first speech at Cairo University … what were the results? … Full retreat on all these promises, the adoption of all Israeli demands, and failure to convince his allies, the Israelis, to freeze settlement activity for only two months."

Meanwhile, Palestinian daily Al-Quds, based out of Jerusalem, outsourced its criticism to the West, reprinting an article from The Independent’s Robert Fisk entitled "Lots of rhetoric--but very little help" and also analysis from Reuters’s Jeff Mason, who had written how the Middle East speech "sent a series of political messages that could resonate in his 2012 race."

Finally, the Egyptian daily Al-Ahram drops a cartoon into the middle of its coverage that seems to sum up Arab views on the speech pretty well. Obama stands at a blackboard insisting that this is an important lesson, having replaced one of the letters in "Middle East" on the blackboard so that the label now implies that this is the land of glory and opportunity. The image it labels, of course, shows the Middle East as if a giant fist had smashed into it, fracturing the globe.

Foreign humor and irony is notoriously difficult to translate. We're indebted to John Chen, research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations, for jumping in to help us figure this out.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.