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Obama and Arab and Muslim issues

Last updated: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 12:43 AM
Obama and Arab and Muslim issues

Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi



PEOPLE all over the world rejoiced at the victory of Barack Obama in the US presidential election, defeating his Republican rival Mitt Romney. Perhaps some of them were more delighted now than at the time of Obama’s victory over John McCain four years ago. This joy was not restricted to a certain region of the world but encompassed all continents, particularly the African continent.

This was especially the case in Kenya and in the Kenyan village where Obama’s father Hussein Obama was born. Obama’s victory was also welcomed in Europe by the German chancellor, the French president and the British prime minister as well as other European leaders.

The strange thing was that even the Israeli leadership, which did not hide its wish for the victory of Obama’s rival Mitt Romney, welcomed the victory, and Israeli President Shimon Peres expressed his happiness over Obama’s re-election. He said that Obama was a man who would fulfill his commitments and that his eyes were kept on the future. This apparently was aimed at reminding the US president of the promises he had made to Israel which could be interpreted as begging for Jewish votes.

As for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he said that the relations between the two countries were the strongest ever, even though he considered Romney a close friend.

The Arab and Muslim world also expressed their delight though it was less than at the time of Obama’s first victory when they believed he would bring justice and peace to the Muslim world and return to Palestinians and other Muslims their usurped rights.

This was especially evident after Obama’s address to the Arab and Muslim world from Cairo University in which he promised to change the gloomy image created by his notorious predecessor George W. Bush and his group of neo-conservatives. He also promised to work to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict on the basis of a two-state solution by restoring borders to those of June 4, 1967 as well as by halting construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

One of the major promises of Obama was the closure of the Guantanamo detention camp, which was considered by many Americans as a stigma and shame as well as a gross violation of human rights.

However, President Obama fulfilled none of these promises during his first term in office and hence there was little justification for rejoicing over his victory for a second term. Some people say that he did not exert his efforts to fulfill these promises during his first term simply because of his desire to have a second term. In order to achieve this, he could not risk angering the Jewish lobby, they say, and added that during his second term he would be free and would not be restricted by such pressures. So they hope that those promises that were not fulfilled in the first term will be realized in the second term.  

But disappointment seems clear at the very outset of the second term. When the Palestinians expressed their desire to approach the UN General Assembly in their bid to obtain non-member status, Obama’s opposition came not by means of a statement by the US State Department or by the White House spokesman but by the president himself. He called the Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and asked him not to go to the General Assembly with such an agenda. He even threatened to cut off US aid to the PA if it goes ahead with its bid to seek UN non-member status.

Even worse is the position of the US president toward the latest aggression unleashed by Israel on Gaza. Instead of working to stop this brutal aggression on unarmed Palestinians who are reeling under a crippling and unjust blockade imposed by Israel with the blessing of the United States, we find the US president engaged in calling the head of the Zionist state and assuring him of US support and reiterating his determination to stand by Israel. He did this after ignoring calls and contacts made by several Arab and Muslim leaders asking him to intervene to stop this barbaric aggression targeting women, children and the elderly who are in pursuit of a safe haven to protect themselves from roaring Israeli warplanes.

How can Arabs and Muslims pin any hope on a person who has not fulfilled the promises he has made? How can they expect any justice from him as long as he gives more prominence to the wishes and interests of Israel than to those of the United States itself?  How can Arab and Muslim optimists be fooled by his honeyed and resonant words and false promises?

I was surprised to learn that the Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu sent a letter to President Obama asking him to raise the issue of Rohingya Muslims and the injustice being done to them by the Burmese government during his visit to that country. The OIC chief should realize that Obama went to Burma in order to conclude trade agreements and create markets for American goods, and that the issue of human rights whether concerning Muslims or others would be one of his last priorities.

And I was hoping that the OIC secretary general would visit Burma, especially as the president had sent him a formal invitation to visit that country. Such a visit would lead to further media attention and pressure, which could be added to that of international human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and some international influential figures and the free press from all over the world, especially from Arab and Muslim countries. It has been embarrassing that the Burmese opposition leader and Nobel laureate for peace Aung San Suu Kyi has kept silent about the issue. It is essential to persuade her to break her silence and announce that there must be a solution to the sectarian problems prevailing in the Arakan region and that the minorities there must be protected.

Those naive Arabs and Muslims who are lured by appearances and attracted by the spotlight must know that the powerful Jewish lobby in the United States will not allow any US president to deviate from the plans and policies that it has drawn up for him to follow.

It is very rare to see any strong American president take the right decisions and then be able to win a second term. In the case of Jimmy Carter, he became free from the pressures of the Zionist lobby only after his exit from the White House. He then wrote in his memoirs about the injustice meted out to the Palestinians and that Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin considered them to be below the level of human beings.

Carter formed a group of seniors (the elderly in age and position) and called them the “Group of wise men”. They included Nelson Mandela, Mary Robinson, Lakhdar Brahimi, Bishop Desmond Tutu and many others who are working for the success of the oppressed and persecuted people around the world. The group advised the Palestinian leadership to take their issue of non-member UN status for Palestine to the UN General Assembly instead of the Security Council so as to avoid the US veto. America will never allow passage of any important decision no matter how fair, equitable and objective, unless Israel is satisfied with it.  

— Dr. Ali Al-Ghamdi is a former Saudi diplomat who specializes in Southeast Asian affairs. He can be reached at

Disclaimer: Writers’ and readers’ opinions do not necessarily reflect Saudi Gazette’s views unless otherwise stated.
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