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Perspectives

June 3, 2009
Anticipation grows in Egypt ahead of Obama speech

U.S. President Obama arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday. His next stop, in Egypt, will feature a highly-anticipated speech in Cairo.

The impending speech has generated controversy over everything from choosing the authoritarian state as a location to what the president may say about Israel and the Palestinians. 

But as Worldfocus partner Link TV’s Mosaic program reports, Egyptians are working hard to make their capital picture perfect, right down to the street level.

Below, Worldfocus contributing bloggers break down what may come from Obama’s speech.

Michael A. Cohen and Brian Katulis of World Politics Review examine the signficance of Obama’s forthcoming speech. 

Obama in Egypt: A Vision for Democracy Promotion

President Barack Obama’s historic address to the Muslim world in Cairo tomorrow offers a prime opportunity to outline a new U.S. vision for democracy and human rights in the region. To accomplish this goal, Obama must firmly reject the notion that safeguarding America’s strategic interests in the Middle East somehow runs counter to the goal of advancing political reform. Instead he must craft a balanced message that recognizes that reform is synonymous with U.S. interests in the region.

Unfortunately, if early signs are any indication, the president seems to be striking the wrong balance. The delayed appointments of key democracy promotion and human rights officials — including the administrator for the Agency of International Development and the assistant secretary of state for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor — suggest that the issue is simply not a high priority.

Policy statements and decisions by top officials are sending a more disturbing signal. In February, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that China’s adherence to global human rights standards, or lack thereof, can’t interfere with larger economic and security concerns. The administration has even acceded to Egyptian demands that economic assistance not be used to support civil society groups and has slashed funds for democracy promotion by 60 percent. The Obama administration seems to be falling into the same trap that has plagued U.S. foreign policy for decades: placing short-term strategic concerns above the long-term imperative to press for reform.

In fairness, Obama has offered a broad and progressive approach to the Middle East aimed at tackling the region’s most intractable challenges. In his first overseas interview with Al Arabiya and his historic address in Turkey, Obama signaled that the United States would do more listening and less dictating in the region.

But it is not enough to engage with the region’s often unaccountable and autocratic leaders. Obama must also reach out to those advocating for change. The right words from a new American president can have a powerful impact on the cause of political reform in the Middle East. Of course, given America’s stained image and complicated strategic interests in the region, striking the proper balance is often easier said than done.

To read more, see the original post.

The views expressed by contributing bloggers do not reflect the views of Worldfocus or its partners.

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#2

Obama Visit Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Russia & Turkey as Perfect Democracies?

Written by Paul I. Adujie

Lawcareer2007@aol.com

New York, United States

Nigerians are a tad too critical on Nigeria, on fellow Nigerians and all things Nigerian; it is enervating!

President Obama of the United States of America is visiting Ghana this summer, and this single forthcoming event, suddenly, is another cannon fodder and lightning rod for some Nigerians who never seem to fail to seize on every and any situation as metaphoric opportunity to denigrate and degrade Nigeria.

Traditionally American presidents have had some order in their “stop-over-visits” to African countries, usually begun in Nigeria; but Mr. Obama for his reason, convenience, or based on pressures or lobby or for whatever reasons, or no reason at all, chose to go to Ghana first, instead of Nigeria or South Africa and for that matter, his father’s Kenya, before going to Ghana! And some Nigerians are now wagging the I-told-you-so finger. Nigeria is a pariah nation they insist; hence the pristine Mr. Obama would not touch Nigeria with a ten-foot-pole!

This singular act by Mr. Obama’s proposed visit to Ghana has been overanalyzed by Nigerians in barrages of flame-throwing debates in cyberspace. Some Nigerians have surmised that Mr. Obama’s choice of Ghana as first country in Africa to stop-over in is because Ghana has had free and fair elections, in particular, the argument goes, Ghana’s recent transfer of power was seamless and free of acrimony. No elections tribunals and cantankerously endless litigations. No do-or-die power struggles. And what is more? Ghana has turned the page economically; she is stable and now has crude oil which America will swiftly turn to now, in place of Nigeria etc

It is quite baffling the way some Nigerians carry on these days about Nigeria and her prospects. Some Nigerians have become experts at talking about Nigeria in only sarcastic and sardonic terms. They talk about Nigeria in cynical and most pessimistic terms. Were Nigerians always like this? Is it possible the prolonged doldrums in which the Nigerian economy? Do Nigerians have fragile egos? Do Nigerians have low sense of selves and country? Why are Nigerians always so self critical on one another, usually based on ethnicity, region and religion etc.

Things are certainly not the way they should be and ought to be in Nigeria; given Nigeria’s abundance in human and material resources. It is fair to assert that things are not perfect in Nigeria, far from it. Even so, it is unacceptable for Nigerian to pretend Nigerians and Nigeria most imperfect! A Nigerian recently published an article in which he asserted that corruption is in our DNA! That was actually the title of the article. Another Nigerian, apparently not to be outdone, wrote a similar article, shortly thereafter, and asserted that Nigeria and Nigerians are the worst among the worse! Why are we so brutal only on matters Nigeria and fellow Nigerians?

Why are Nigerians ever so brutal on Nigeria and fellow Nigerians? And not on persons and nations who are anti Nigeria and Nigerians, for instance, British Airways? Why do some Nigerians only seem to find expression to condemn and degrade Nigeria, and fellow Nigerians, but never on external attackers of Nigeria and Nigerians?

Why do Nigerians come across as reserving the biggest guns, weapons, knives and worst venoms for Nigeria and fellow Nigerians? Why be so fatalistically irredeemably hopeless in outlook?

Too many Nigerians are increasingly unable to resist the temptations of publically pronouncing Nigeria a failed state or dead nation. More and more Nigerians are too willing to state their desire to create a Nigeria which only exists in fragmentations along ethnic, religious and regional lines etc this is akin to burying one’s head in the sand.

Nigerians should be busy attempting solutions to our myriad challenges instead of pretending that Nigeria is in a post-existence throes and we merely waiting for Nigeria’s burial rites to be complete? Why cannot Nigerians have some middle ground between being filthy-rich and being dirt-poor? Words have consequences, and yes, words do matter. There is a difference between saying a doctor is an abortion provider instead of a baby killer-abortionist. Why do we do violence to language when we discuss Nigeria and fellow Nigerians? And sublimely and ridiculously, same Nigerians are forever magnanimous, reserved and even austere, when they criticize persons, institutions and nations?

Nigerians always seem to demonstrate intellectual honesty, objectivity and extreme brain dexterities in the defense of persons, institutions and nations… excusing, explaining, justifying and giving benefit of doubt etc and, or asserting that Nigeria and Nigerians brought it on ourselves, and after all, we deserve whatever irrationalities emanates from others towards Nigeria and Nigerians, by for instance, British Airways!

Why do Nigerians talk about Nigeria conditions as if irreversible? Why are some Nigerians so cocksure in their pessimistic and cynical certitudes about Nigeria’s fate? Nations rise when citizens are actively proactive in such nation’s best interests. Nigerians should learn to protect and preserve Nigeria.

Nigeria has had her fair share of missed opportunities. Nigeria has had her fair share of crass leaders. And yes, Nigeria has face situations that are increasingly unfathomable and clearly not beguiling. Even still, Nigeria endures. Nigerians ought to be able to make a clear distinction between Nigeria short term and long term interests versus the ephemeral nature of past, present and future leadership, good or bad. No nation or system is perfect!

“No system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other.” – President Obama in Cairo

“That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election.” – President Obama in Cairo on June 4, 2009

“All people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.” – President Obama in Cairo on June 4, 2009

“There is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people” – . President Obama in Cairo on June 4, 2009

These excerpts are culled from the eleven page speech made by President Obama of the United States on June 4, 2009 in Cairo, Egypt and they are relevant to this article, as he makes the case and comparisons for universality of ideals and the complexities of different traditions and conditions on the ground in various nations.

President Obama’s rule of law, freedom of speech, democracy are not things we impose on other cultures regardless of the complexities on the ground … he also have said, he will dialogue and negotiate with seeming enemies or countries with hostile postures towards America. Nigeria, unlike Israel never spied on the US, never rebuffs the US as Israel just did rejecting Mr. Obama’s proposal that Israel abandon occupation and further settlement expansions in Palestinian territories. Nigeria is pretending to work a sort of democracy and a sort of economy.

Mr. Obama goes to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and Russia places where democracies, freedom of speech and the rule of law have slightly different meaning compared with American definitions and seeming practice of these ideals, even so, America is not perfect. Mr. Obama is magnanimous enough to say so. He emphasizes the need for America to serve as true example of these high ideals, which as he rightly points out, America have not always lived up to these fine ideals.

For all that it is worth, Mr. Obama goes to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Russia and Ghana these epitome of democracy which Nigeria is not? I am not really willing to put so much into the perch of American Air Force One into Accra or Abuja for a few hours. After all, President Jimmy Carter’s perched with President Obasanjo in the late 1978, and President Clinton repeated the feat in 2000, and ditto President Bush in 2003 and despite all these, there is still no steady electricity in Nigeria. There is still no clean water in all hometowns in Nigeria. The road from Lagos to Aba is still what Uche Nworah recently called the Devil’s Highway. Let America have better relations with Liberia and Sierra Leone. History, makes the best case, particularly for Liberia, why not Liberia? Why not visit Sierra Leone with the first female president on the African continent, that’s exemplary, not even the US has thus far elected a female president or vice president all through American history. But Ghana it is. Ghana is lucky shall we say? Will Ghana become as close to the US as Israel is, and publicly reject US president policy position as Israel does? Will the US provide Ghana or Liberia guarantees as the US did for Israel some years ago or refer Ghana and Liberia etc to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund etc? Ghana is so lucky and envied by some Nigerians. Some Nigerian political charlatans are making shameless pilgrimage to Ghana to prostitute themselves to Mr. Obama and his entourage to Ghana that is just sad. Can you imagine Canadian officials going to Mexico to see Obama and his entourage visiting Mexico?

So if Ghana becomes heaven overnight, I will be happy for Ghana. Ghanaians are our brethrens. They have had their fair share of troubles after Nkrumah. Jerry Rawlings snuffed out Acheampong, Afrifa, Akuffo etc. Jerry Rawlings was not a democrat, but, his long stay at the helms of Ghana may have done Ghana some good? It may have provided the discipline, stability and fear of the consequences of corruption in Ghana’s political elite. Would Nigerians have welcomed and tolerated a Rawlings-like extended stay and treatment of Nigerian political elite? Did Murtala, Buhari and Idiagbon not try something close the Rawlings audacity? Rawlings was not a democrat and Ghanaians knew that and accepted the necessary evil of his mission. Nigerians probably wanted Murtala, Buhari and Idiagbon to be democrats with missions and in hindsight Ghanaians were visionaries for allowing Rawlings to perform the necessary evils to exorcise Ghana?

And so it goes that all my adult life, I have lived through ad hoc governance and their accompaniments unforgiving slew of belligerent critics who have insisted daily that the Nigerian sky is falling politically, economically and structurally. Things are bad in Nigeria and have been bad, but the sky hasn’t fallen yet!

Sane persons would have learnt by now, that it is worse than useless to always cry wolf at the slightest appearance of national challenges, even as those who proceed to cry wolf proffer no solutions superior to those they professional critics berate. Some Nigerians find, any and every opportunity to boo Nigeria while insisting they wish Nigeria well with such actions. What does one then say about the Nigerians who are not booing Nigeria or are not fair-weather friends of Nigeria?

Nigerians will probably do better to learn to act like those who perform micro surgeries; Nigerians need to be singularly focused, with discipline and purpose on how to address national malaises. Tackling challenges of Nigeria’s national issues such as scarcity of clean water, absence of reliable and dependable electrical energy generation and transmission for domestic, business and industrial use. Nigerians can confront some of these issues with or without government or even despite the government in Nigeria. Electricity in New York City is not generated or transmitted by government. It is driven by the private sector initiatives. Americans are world’s experts at citizens driven efforts and support groups.

As for Mr. Obama who is giving a major US policy speech in Cairo Egypt, a speech directed at the Muslim world as palliatives of placations, due to the fallout from America’s pursuit with blinders of a twin policy considered antagonistic by Muslims, vide, unconditional US support for Israel, even when Israel rejects Mr. Obama’s counsel to Israel to refrain from continued expansion of Jewish settlements in Palestinian territories and the second policy, which is America’s so-called war on terror, which has unleashed all manners of stereotypes and generalizations against Muslims worldwide, but in Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Afghanistan to mention a few countries with Muslim populations.

Barring safety issues in Pakistan, similar to the safety issues in Cairo Egypt, Pakistan in my view, remains the most strategic locale for Mr. Obama speech targeting Muslims, or why not Indonesia or Nigeria where there about 50 million Muslim each? Why did he choose Egypt, for its Arab proximities?

Mr. Obama by all public accounts is a decent person. He is incandescently brilliant. He is a very disciplined, thoughtful and focused individual and as a result, the pettiness ascribed to the choice of Ghana over Nigeria as an African country to visit now, will have to be more than the pettiness. Saudi Arabia has no pretense to democracy or human rights. No votes and no female drivers etc. Egypt is a democracy if you are not a member of the Islamic Brotherhood and if you are not opposed to Mr. Hosni Mubarak being the only Egyptian intelligent enough to by president of Egypt for more than 30 years! Mr. Mubarak has been president of Egypt for three decades plus, and he is friends of every American president and there goes Mr. Obama to Cairo Egypt to showcase Egyptian democratic credentials?

Nigeria is, according to some, the greatest pretender to democratic ideals and Mr. Obama smelled this from his days in secondary school, then at college and law school and determined then not to ever visit Nigeria, until Nigeria weans itself off of democratic false pretense? Mr. Obama has had enough of Nigeria’s pretense! Oh really? But this assertion and definition of democracy of Mr. Obama, the version by some Nigerians that is, is inconsistent and does not fit Mr. Obama’s own definition of democracy as imperfect in America.

Mr. Obama has often stated his unwillingness to force-feed democracy to nations of the world. Mr. Obama instead, has said that he is quite cognizant of the differences and complexities on the ground in across the world and why democracy may have to grow and be nurtured in varying stages and at varied growth rates across the world. Mr. Obama stated his desire to mold America into a good example to the rest of the world. His recognition, I think, that America has not always lived up to her promise and has not been a good example of America’s much advertised or stated ideals.

It remains to be seen whether as president of the United States, how Mr. Obama navigates the perennially treacherous global terrain of geopolitics

#1

Dear World Focus,

It was interesting to see Mishaal Jmayan try reduce almost all problems within
the Muslim world to the Arab-Israeli conflict. This ignores all other conflicts within the Muslim world, and above all, ignores the role of indoctrination in the Muslim world in conflicts across the globe (Kashmir, Thailand, Nigeria, …) .

There was not a single word about Darfur, or how the Arab League backs the Sudanese regime. There was little focus on the lack of religious and other freedoms across the Muslim world. There is not a mention that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is harped on by the Muslim world because of traditional antipathy to Jews, and because it’s a convenient scapegoat that distracts from their own ills.

There is not a hint in the discourse that if there were no “settlements”, there would still be no Arab-Israeli peace, because the Arab world, including “moderate” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, has not accepted Israel as a permanent state.

Abbas refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state; Abbas demands resettlement of refugees in pre-1967 Israel – which is impossible, which denies the rights of a similar number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands, and sidesteps Arab responsibility for starting the wars. And of course – no mention of Hamas, Fatah fighting.

Wooing the Muslim world by pressuring Israel is not going to bring Arab-Israeli peace when it encourages the Palestinians and the Arab world to stick to every hardline position. Indeed, the Gaza and south Lebanon withdrawals prove this.

Moreover, the Muslim world’s record on rights, freedom, etc. will only be
hardened by appeasement. Nor can it bring anything concrete, when the only acceptable solution to much of the Muslim world is the destruction of Israel.

It’s time to demand responsibility of leaders in the Arab and Muslim world, and not to appease them. It’s time to realize that terrorism will end only when regimes stop indoctrinating in schools and media.

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