Time for Action, Mr. President!

Aijaz Zaka Syed – Dubai

Are the winds of change indeed sweeping the Middle East, or is it my hyperactive imagination coupled with my Obamania that is playing tricks? Ahead of President Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, a Gallup opinion poll has reported a significant turnaround in the Muslim world’s perception of America since Obama’s election.

The poll, conducted in 11 Arab countries during Obama’s second month in office, shows that although general approval of the US role in the Muslim world remains low, ratings of the US president himself have gone up. I hardly need remind my perceptive readers about Bush’s popularity in the Muslim world.

But —  and this is an important ‘but’ — a considerable number of respondents in Muslim countries said they would like to reserve their judgment on Obama until the end of his term — apparently to see if he delivers on his Middle East promises.

Given the role the US and other Western powers before it have played in the Middle East over the past century or so, this skepticism is hardly unwarranted.

So when Obama speaks in Cairo today, he will be addressing a global audience of Arabs and Muslims who have come to respect and admire him for what he stands for and represents.

The outreach message in Obama’s inaugural address, and the talk of seeking ‘a new way forward,’ touched hundreds of millions of hearts across the Muslim world. And his subsequent, repeated attempts to reach out to the faithful around the world, putting his own Muslim roots on the table, have strengthened this bond. His diplomatic initiatives on the Middle East peace front and his unconventionally blunt message to Israel haven’t gone unnoticed either.

However, there appears to be a huge chasm between this growing groundswell of goodwill for Obama in the Muslim world and what is seen as impossible ground realities of the Middle East, not to mention the excessive sway of special interest groups and lobbies over the US establishment.

While more and more Arabs and Muslims — even the most hardened cynics of them — appear to be joining the Obama fan club, there still persists robust skepticism about our hero’s ability to flesh out and implement his vision and make good on his promises.

There is no doubting Obama’s commitment to the Middle East peace — a just peace that offers freedom, dignity and equal rights to a long persecuted people — and his efforts for a better world. But, even the strongest of his supporters are not entirely confident that Obama could defy the hallowed tradition of US presidents licking the Lobby boots.

When the US, Britain, France and other victors of the World War II were working on the UN resolution recommending the partition of Palestine and creation of Israel in 1947, a group of US ambassadors in the Middle East cautioned President Harry S Truman against the move, warning of the Arab outrage and backlash. ‘Right now, I have hundreds of thousands of Jewish constituents to worry about,’ had been Truman’s curt reply.

This is how it has always been. It’s these ‘Jewish constituents,’ supporters and moneybags that have successfully controlled, manipulated and simply blackmailed successive US leaders on both sides of the political divide. These vested interests have been the bane of the Middle East.

In fact, if Palestinians and Israelis have been locked in a never-ending, mutually destructive conflict for the past six decades or so, putting the Muslims and the West on a collision course, it is this small but extremely powerful minority that is to blame.

It is their blind support and protection that encourages and cheers on Israel to perpetuate the hell that Palestinians have been living for nearly four generations. Moreover, instead of being grateful for finding themselves a home after centuries of wandering and persecution across Europe, the Israelis have to constantly gobble up more and more Palestinian and Arab land while its original inhabitants live and die like animals.

When will this nightmare end? And does Obama have it in him to put an end to it by confronting Israel? Can this President succeed where his predecessors repeatedly failed? I hope to God he does; so do millions of others in the Middle East and around the world.

President Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, and Egypt, the great cradle of civilization, would be remembered long for the unprecedented euphoria and expectations they have generated across the region.

The only thing that can make this visit to the Middle East different and truly remarkable depends on Obama’s ability to follow his uplifting and euphoric message of change with action. We have had enough of rhetoric and speeches, Mr. President. What the Middle East — and the world — expects and badly needs now are real, concrete and meaningful steps. As Prof John Esposito, the co-author of What a Billion Muslims Think says, people in the Middle East are getting rather tired of words.

There is no doubt that under this President, US direction has undergone a clear and perceptible change. However, as Hamas deputy leader Ali Baraka argued this week, this change of language and policy in Washington must manifest itself on the ground in the Middle East. This must begin with the emancipation of Palestinians and eviction of all Arab land by Israel. I know this is easier said than done — especially now when there is a lunatic fringe in power in Tel Aviv.

However, the US has no option but push its long-pampered ally and so-called friend, that has given it nothing but grief and grapes of wrath, to fall in line and surrender what never belonged to it. All this bluff and bluster of Bibi and his thuggish deputy, backed by the Zionist power on Capitol Hill, is very impressive. But if the US really puts its mind to it, I do not believe the world’s greatest power cannot bring the monster it mollycoddled all these years to its senses.

For God’s sake, we do not need any more grandstanding from a visiting US leader. We do not want any more fine speeches. We only need him to take a just stand — for justice, freedom, dignity and basic rights — the ideals and values that the US claims to champion.

I know this is not the easiest task in the world. But Obama has to do it. As he appears to realize, this is in America’s own interest and necessary for the world peace. For the challenges that stare America in the face in the Muslim world — whether it is Iran’s nuclear ambitions or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan-Pakistan — everything traces itself back to the mess in the Holy Land. The road to world peace goes through the Middle East.

– Aijaz Zaka Syed is Opinion Editor of Khaleej Times. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: aijaz@khaleejtimes.com.

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