June 7th, 2010
09:09 AM ET

For Arabs wooed by Obama's Cairo speech, flotilla response frustrating

After President Obama's speech in Cairo last year, Arabs were hopeful about the new President, selling shirts and celebrating him. Now, things are a bit different.

A lot has changed since the symbolic Cairo speech President Barack Obama dedicated to Muslims exactly a year ago.

Back then, I wrote a story headline "Middle East eagerly awaits Obama with curiosity and cautious optimism."

Today, it is safe to say that the curiosity has turned into skepticism and the cautious optimism has been replaced by flat-out pessimism. Headlines such as this one: "Muslim praise for Obama dries up a year after Cairo speech" are commonplace for the media who cared to remember the speech on its first anniversary. But, most Arab media didn't give the anniversary any coverage or even mention.

The Gaza flotilla disaster couldn't have come at a worse time for Obama's image among Muslims and Arabs. After all, 9 Turks died, when Israel stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid to Gaza in an attempt to break a 3-year-old Israeli blockade.

Israel: Seized aid ship's passengers being deported | Navy seizes aid boat headed for Gaza

The Muslim world turned to the White House hoping for a stand that mirrors President Obama's promises to the Muslim world.

"The White House is trying to understand the circumstances of what happened," is what they heard.

Video: Obama: Israel has "legitimate" concern

Comparing this reaction and U.S. efforts to block a U.N. resolution against Israel and how other countries and nations around the world responded to the Israeli raid on the flotilla, many Arabs and Muslims found it easy to draw the conclusion that Obama's Muslim love fest is over.

Turkey says Israel can't 'face the facts' on Gaza raid | Kucinich wants Obama to 'call Israel to an accounting'

To know how Arabs feel about the Gaza flotilla attack, all you have to do is cruise through their various media, print and broadcast as well as online. There is no shortage of articles, cartoons and opinions all depicting Israel as a giant menace that always acts above the law, kills, maims and blockades the Palestinians without a shred of remorse or concern about any repercussions. In political cartoons across the region, Israel is portrayed as a boat-swallowing shark, a careless dolphin killer and an unrelenting bull defying international condemnation.

In Oman, Al-Watan newspaper carried this headline: "Israeli crime shakes the world's consciousness, and the victims are aid ambassadors from 36 nations."

The Sultanate of Oman, like most Arab nations, condemned the attack and demanded an immediate end to the Gaza siege. One editorial cartoon in the paper shows Israel controlling life support on a Gaza under siege.

Qatar's The Nation newspaper also had a scathing reaction to the attack and several political cartoons expressing how most Arabs feel about the flotilla attack and Israel's role in it. This one equates the Jewish state to "Terror State" and one of them, is entitled "the latest Israeli horror movie."

Moderate voices are calling on Arabs to seize the opportunity created by last week's flotilla confrontation.

Prominent columnist Diana Moukalled contends the incident has created international momentum in favor of the Palestinian plight in Gaza.

"The diverse responses from the West were neither weak nor lenient despite the obvious reluctant position adopted by the Security Council and the White House," she said in her weekly column in Asharq Alawsat.

In order for an equal battle with Israel, we must not get dragged into a game of bloodshed," she added.

Instead she suggests taking advantage of the limelight, saying, "Israel has lost the flotilla battle so can we take advantage of that?"

Others also have called for calm and moderation in approach and response. The flotilla tragedy certainly united Arabs in many ways. It especially solidified and brought to the surface their animosity towards Israel and highlighted their distrust of the United States while casting a shadow on President Obama's intentions towards Arabs and Muslims.

Those who were moved when they heard President Obama address Muslims directly and hoped for a better tomorrow, are now disappointed, to say the least. They watched other leaders, including some of Israel's staunchest allies, react to a tragedy very close to their heart, but didn't hear from the man who traveled all the way to Cairo last year to talk to them and win their hearts and minds.

Obama was already facing a challenge with the people - not the leaders - of the Arab world. The majority of Arabs were waiting to see if he will come through on his promises to bridge the gap and promote understanding and mutual respect between East and West.

Post-flotilla he finds himself with a tarnished image among those who trusted him and believed he might bring positive change. The intelligentsia that cheered him on last year sent him messages this week to his Twitter account reminding him of his Nobel Peace Prize and urging him to take a tough stance on Israel. With no clear answer coming back to them, Obama might find it much harder to restore the shaky trust he was able to build through his Cairo speech.

soundoff (84 Responses)
  1. Daniel

    I believe Israel has a right to prevent other nations from supplying its enemy. As far as Iran goes, they are very much delusional if they believe they will be able to successfully escort supply ships to Gaza. Israel will intercept, and if Iran decides to get physical, the U.S. will certainly not hesitate to aid one of its closest allies.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:58 am | Report abuse |
  2. Solkar

    People are twisting logic. Yes, there are things going on in Muslim countries where many more innocent people are killed than in the flotilla. But how is that relevant here? And enough about wiping Israel of the map. That is not about to happen, and certainly the Palestinians are not capable of it. The only way in which this can be remotely possible is through Iran. And Iran will be stupid to attempt this and think there will be no consequences.

    The important thing that this incident highlighted is that people in Gaza are living in subhuman conditions due to the blockade. Yes, a large portion of them may be supporters of Hamas, but that does not justify the blockade. Sure Israel has a right to retaliate if its struck by suicide bombers. And it uses that right every time something happens. But it does not have a right to choke the lives of ordinary people of Gaza. I agree many of these people are not our friends and they celebrated when 9/11 happened. But we cannot torture them just because they don't like us.

    As far as winning the hearts and minds of the people in the middle east which the article talks about, good luck with that. I don't think even the rulers of most of these countries can win the hearts and minds of their own people. Instead, the US should focus on acting with fairness and a conscience. I think Obama has what it takes to do this, but he realizes that his energy is better spent pushing the domestic agenda. At least he will have something to show for it at the end of his term. If he spends a large chunk of time on trying to solve the middle east situation, he may have nothing to show for it at the end of the day.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:26 am | Report abuse |
  3. amine chaar

    Obama gave in to the AIPAC and JEWISH lobbyist, after all his chief of staff is an ISRAELI descent. He is a disappointing leader who flip flop but good speaker

    June 8, 2010 at 4:56 am | Report abuse |
    • AmericanD

      Wow. it's time to take an English class, what did that even mean?

      June 9, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
  4. DroFlo

    Not our business. Why do we feel the need to meddle in the world all the time. Lets turn our back on the world for a bit and see what happens when all of our aid money is cut to various countries. Let's see how much they hate us then. Our country is in bad financial shape so think how much we could save by not giving out our resources to people who hate us. We have our own laundry list to tackle, let these ignorant idiots destroy themselves. Either they learn or they perish, like all civilizations in humanities history. I am only tolerant of those who seek methods other than violence to solve their problems. Its funny how every human being has the same necessities, yet we constantly fight over trivial wants and beliefs. No loving God would wish you to commit violence against your brother, nor should he/she expect you to fight his/her wars. We need to just get over ourselves and our selfish, ignorant, and greedy pursuits and start cooperating. Call me a dreamer, but John Lennon and I are not the only ones.

    June 8, 2010 at 5:14 am | Report abuse |
  5. DroFlo

    And another thing...how can the region of the world that is believed to be the "cradle of life" and the location of the earliest civilizations be so uncivilized?? These are just countries that pride themselves on remaining ignorant all the while they are forgetting that once their oil dries up, they will have nothing. If anything, they should be cooperating with more advanced civilizations in attempts at modernizing their economies so they can survive the phasing out and eventual drying up of fossil fuels. But we get hatred, and I understand why...it is the combination of tyrannical propaganda and our empirical pursuits...so really both are to blame. But by both of us being ignorant of each other's situation, we are only making it worse when we use violence as a means for solution.

    June 8, 2010 at 5:24 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jeffrey

    I am a Chinese who read a lot from both pro-Israel and pro-Muslim medias, and know the history of the land pretty well, so I hope I make a well-informed comment.
    I believe the extremists on both sides (Zionists and Islamic extremists) represent only a small minority of all their respective people. I want to think that most people in Israel and Arabic countries are reasonable, kind-hearted people who love peace and detest war. Unfortunately, it's the violent minorities that are most vocal and influential on both sides (Hamas and the military right wing of Israel government).
    It appears to me that the current Israel regime thinks it is to their best interest to continue the status quo and delay peace talks as much as possible, because they have the backing of the US and are not penalized for the illegal settlement expansions as well as other crimes by international standard. I suspect that this Israeli regime wants nothing less than continuing settlement expansions until it controls all of Palestine.
    In reality, I don't think it's to Israel's best interest to continue the status quo. There is no evidence that the Gaza blockade has weakened Hamas, but it certainly breeds more hatred towards Israel for many future generations. Israel may have far superior military power than all of their neighbors combined now, but that won't last forever.
    In history (Chinese history at least), in order to have true lasting peace between two countries at war, the stronger country needs to initiate the peace effort by demonstrating grace and fairness and respect for humanity. I am afraid Istael is far far away from doing that.

    June 8, 2010 at 6:02 am | Report abuse |
    • AmericanD

      Jeffrey, for claiming to know the history of the area "pretty well", you're very VERY uninformed of it.
      How did the Palestinians get into refugee camps?
      Who owned the land before the pogroms? (I doubt you even know what the word refers to)
      If you think you know the recent history (since Israel gained statehood) well, then answer me this: in the wars immediately following it's creation, was Israel militarily superior? Did they receive ANY US assistance in their first war?
      Also, how many times has Israel offered INSANE concessions, only to have the Arab side spit in their face.

      No offense, but you seem to think you cover your closet anti-Semite well, but your lack of knowledge of the facts, and unwillingness to research proves otherwise.

      June 9, 2010 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Ahmed

    just let me tell u something guys , in the mideast our governments doesn't represents our people they are loyal to u.s & israel ( if it's up to the people we would have declared war against israel ) & in 73 Egypt didn't slaughter the israelis , israel took Sinai in 73 from Egypt by force & we were taking it back , israel is a state of terror Rachel coorie was killed when she tried to protect a Palestinian family ( please dont tell me it was self-defense ) , hamas is not a terrorist organization it's a legal resistance organization , when 2000 arab people including women & children are killed by israel u call it self defense & when an israeli soldier is injured u call it terrorism .for me i wish if we prepare for a war against israel , we defeated it once & we will do it again

    June 8, 2010 at 6:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Naama A.

      Ahmed, great speech really

      I'm an Israeli a mother to 2. Keep doing what you do, fueling hatred.

      If you had kids, you'd understand. The situation is so much more complicated. The war you suggest will only bring death to thousands of people.

      June 8, 2010 at 8:01 am | Report abuse |
  8. International Waters

    There seems to be a question as to whether or not this aggressive move was legal. NO, because it was conducted in international waters. Defending of any nation is limited to 12 miles from any shoreline. We need to turn the story around and think what would have happened if the ships were US supply ships and the Arabs had done the same ??? Its a shame, the only empire to save the JEWS were the TURKS. The only allied they had in the ME was the TURKS. Isolation did not work for the Chinese or Russians (good luck ISRAEL). What happens when an ARAB state acquires the Nuclear Bomb, same as N Korea and the rest of the world. You need to pay attention. Must each country produce this bomb to be heard (god forbid). It is obvious ISRAEL is sponsoring Terrorism around the world in the name of defending itself. Like all empires in our history, US will lose its overall supremecy and Israel will be forced to negotiate, why wait, sit down and talk and resolve, Not ALL arabs are terrorists, not ALL muslims are terrorist, and not ALL christians are terrorists, and not ALL jews are terrorists. Its never too late, killing unarmed serves no cause it only builds up hatred..

    June 8, 2010 at 6:28 am | Report abuse |
  9. Mike

    There is a silent war within Turkey and secularizm is loosing ground due to birth rate of intellectuals and educated ones, We must be carefull not to give more ammunition to religious ones to rally more support from within.
    It might NOT be very pleasant if Turkey slides more east (2nd largest army in Nato), we have to awaken the secular ones.
    so be carefull with your comments, every negative comments might result one more secular vote will be lost towards radicals.
    Every country has their share of bloody history and every one of them has bad apples, some more rotten than others

    June 8, 2010 at 6:34 am | Report abuse |
  10. Paolo

    Arabs are so blind. They are always looking for someone to blame at every corner for their own doings. What they fail to do is to look in the mirror to see all of the misery they cause to the world. There is a reason why the Israelis behave that way. It is due to terrorism on Israelis. The Pals embrace terrorism. Hamas is terrorism. It is their own doing and they are getting what they clearly deserve. Get rid of Hamas and they may have hope.

    June 8, 2010 at 6:36 am | Report abuse |
  11. Robert

    Let me tell you what is frustrating. There are MANY oppressed minorities in ALL the countries in that forsaken part of the world. In fact, this could be said of pretty much any country on the face of this earth. However, what is so frustrating here is that there is NEVER ANY progress in improving relations ANYWHERE with ANYBODY. Nobody addresses the abuses of the Assyrian, Chaldean, Syriac, Coptic Christians, let alone the Kurdish and Shi'ite problems. If the Arabs could provide a credible record of respecting minorities and promoting toleration in the modern era, it would go along way in helping their cause against Israel. The Arabs need to understand that they've handed the U.S. a responsibility that they have never been able to carry out on their own. When people from all over the world feel they can immigrate to Arab countries, instead of a mass exodus to the West from Arab countries, we can finally all make progress together. God willing!

    June 8, 2010 at 7:28 am | Report abuse |
    • AmericanD

      How about we take a brief look at how the Arab nations that cover 95% of the land of the Middle East treat the so-called Palestinians?

      June 9, 2010 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  12. AlexM

    All you guys are wrong for doing what you are doing, we have young minds reading that will spread wrong news tomorrow because of the things you guys type here. Facts or Fiction posted here will be used for tools of argument tomorrow at schools.

    You guys are making racist people by the things you type here, people will make a choice at what side they would like to take and they will follow that side for a very long.

    That is great you guys are backing up your beliefs, but you must understand, this is not your JOB.

    The sad thing is our media has alternative motives themselfs, they choose sides for us too, now we have you people also choosing for us?

    Remember this, the large chunk of people will not make their choice do to the facts they have seen, but where they are from. People will blind facts they do not like, and listen, then repeat to others the facts they do like, making themselfs believe anything they want.

    Please guys, save your chats for your friends one on one, do not spread your facts over something like this that might reach millions of people, including teens and kids.


    June 8, 2010 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |
  13. Peace be with you

    Jews and Muslims should accept Christianity as their religion and start loving each other like neighbors.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:10 am | Report abuse |
  14. Thomas Paine

    CNN stands for Continuous Noise Network who can tell the news from the sales pitch? Oil sludge we don't like in our Gulf. News sludge we get from CNN every waking moment of ever day. 24 / 7 😉

    June 8, 2010 at 9:04 pm | Report abuse |
  15. AmericanD

    The entire "flotilla" publicity stunt was nothing short of a terrorist attack on Israel. Anyone who can't see the obvious is either a wanna-be Hitler or really REALLY stupid. Time to ask yourself, which one are you?

    June 9, 2010 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
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