Live Reactions to Obama's Middle East Speech

The President is discussing the Arab Spring, Israel-Palestine, and bin Laden

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As President Obama delivers his first major address to the Muslim world since the dawn of the Arab Spring, we'll keep you updated on how Twitter users around the world are reacting. For the fire hose of reaction, check out the hashtag #mespeech. You can also find the full-text speech here, highlights here, and a live Twitter-based post-mortem with NPR's Andy Carvin, Foreign Policy's Marc Lynch, and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes here.

2:08: One current of debate to look out for in the ongoing analysis of the speech: Was the Middle East listening? To be sure, the speech was in part directed at a domestic audience (Obama, for example, compared protesters in the Middle East to Rosa Parks and the Boston Tea Partiers). But the President also broadcast his message overseas. CNN's Ben Wedemen writes, "After 2009 Cairo speech reaction was positive. After this one, generally flat, in Libya positive, elsewhere distinctly negative" while his colleague Jim Clancy adds, "As I understand it, most people in the region didn't know he was giving this speech--and don't want U.S. interference." Foreign Policy's Blake Hounshell says that even if people were listening, the address is proving to be a Rorschach test: "The widely very different reactions to Obama's #MESpeech I'm seeing speaks to how deliberately vague it was."

2:05: As analysts continue to digest the speech, some are pointing out that Obama didn't explain exactly why the U.S. has chosen to intervene militarily in Libya but not elsewhere. As former State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley tweeted, "It remains unclear why #Assad still merits a chance to lead the transition in #Syria when #Qaddafi forfeited that right in #Libya."

1:32: What are the big takeaways from the speech? We already mentioned the news about Obama stating that the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on 1967 lines. But Obama's comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, not surprisingly, are in the eye of the beholder. The Drudge Report is leading with the headline, "Obama Sides With Palestinians" while Andrew Exum tweets, "Anyone who writes that this speech was anything but 100% supportive of #Israel has lost their mind." Al Jazeera's Evan Hill, meanwhile, thinks Obama's criticism of Bahrain was most newsworthy. Egypt expert Mona Eltaway writes that the speech wasn't all that surprising. It "skimmed the surface of a lot of impt things but didn't tell people in region anything they didn't know," she argues.

1:07: Another omission in the speech analysts are piling on: U.S. ally Saudi Arabia. The oil giant experienced scattered protests by the country's minority Shiites and sent troops into neighboring Bahrain to help the regime deal with anti-government demonstrations. Arif Rafiq of Pakistan Policy tweets, "Obama did not mention Saudi Arabia because it didn't fit into the narrative. 264 billion barrels of oil got in the way of idealism."

12:57: In discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Obama calls for Israeli and Palestinian borders to be based on 1967 lines with "mutually agreed swaps" and urges Israel to seek peace because of the unsustainable status quo. The Atlantic's Jeff Goldberg points out the "strong language" Obama used against efforts by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to unilaterally win recognition of a Palestinian state at the U.N. in September, while Palestinian journalist Ahmed Shihab-Eldin complains that Obama succeeded "in mentioning Palestinian-Israeli conflict and 'occupation' but does not mention 'nonviolent protest.'" CNN's Ed Henry quotes Middle East analyst Aaron David Miller as saying Obama's border comments, coming a day before a meeting in Washington with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, "will be viewed in negative terms." Why? The AP explains that Netanyahu is "vehemently opposed to referring to the 1967 borders," and until today "the U.S. position had been that the Palestinian goal of a state based on the 1967 borders, with agreed land swaps, should be reconciled with Israel's desire for a secure Jewish state through negotiations." So, in other words, Obama made some news today on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

12:48: Obama is now nearing arguably the thorniest part of his speech--the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--and the Twitterverse knows it. We're seeing a lot of "here we go..."

12:45: Analysts are applauding Obama's support for minorities in the Middle East. Egypt expert Mona Eltahawy observes, "Good to hear #Obama mention #Coptic rights in #Egypt and #Shia rights in #Bahrain. And right after women's rights too." The Atlantic's Max Fisher notes that that goes for Islamist groups, too: "Declaration that U.S. will embrace groups that 'speak uncomfortable truths' sounds like Muslim Brotherhood etc. 'Inclusive democracy.'"

12:38: "Happy everyone? He mentioned #Bahrain," tweets @tbloomquist. Yes, Obama encouraged Bahrain's government and opposition to have a dialogue and added that a dialogue can't take place when some of the "peaceful opposition" are jailed. Al Jazeera's Evan Hill is still skeptical: "Obama stumbled twice when talking about #Bahrain, too much to think he was tinkering with those lines the most?"

12:33: Does Obama want democracy or mere reform in the Middle East? Brookings scholar Shadi Hamid is pursuing this question. Obama, Hamid writes, "says it will be US policy 'to support reform across the region.' Reform, of course, is not same thing as democracy." He points to a 2008 article arguing that Obama favors "dignity promotion" over "democracy promotion."

12:29: This speech is as much about what Obama doesn't say as about what he does say. Several analysts are pointing out that Obama didn't mention U.S. ally Bahrain in listing countries where people are seeking freedom. As Toby Jones notes in reference to Bahrain's ruling family, "Rejoicing in al-Khalifa royal court. No mention of #Bahrain in context."

12:24: As Obama begins his speech, observers are wondering who exactly he's speaking to. Fay Abdulhadi, for example, writes, "Doesn't feel like obama's implied audience is the middle east #MEspeech he's explaining basics to a US audience." But The Atlantic's Max Fisher notes that Obama opened the speech by talking about bin Laden--"whom Americans care about"--and the Tunisian street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi, who set himself on fire, igniting the Arab Spring, "whom Arabs care about." Obama, Fisher writes, is "trying to speak to both groups."

12:07 pm - The speech was scheduled to start at 11:40 a.m. but is instead starting about half an hour late. Twitter has instantly given Obama the same treatment it gave ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak when he belatedly addressed his country: A snarky #whyobamaislate hashtag. Saudi blogger @ahmed writes, "Because he is on AST (Arab standard time)." Abeer Allam at The Financial Times adds, "Just because it is #MESpeech does not mean you have to late! U can only be late to appointments if u LIVE in the mideast." Mauritanian activist Nasser Weddady wonders, "teleprompter issues displaying Arabic names?" Regional analyst Andrew Exum gets in one more: "With a pencil and a map in Hillary's office, drawing the borders of a Palestinian state."

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