Experts and ordinary people react to Obama's speech

McClatchy NewspapersJune 4, 2009 

CAIRO, Egypt — Experts and ordinary people involved in Middle East politics voiced a variety of reactions to President Barack Obama's speech Thursday to a global Muslim audience. A sampling:

  • Ayman Nour, perhaps Egypt's best-known political reformer: "I don't think the speech fell short, but he gave the bare minimum. There's only so much he can do in a one hour speech. . . (it would) not engage 95 percent of the Egyptian population. Tomorrow it's business as usual. We are beginning to see fences being mended, but that's as far as I can see today."
  • Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, the founder and president of The Israel Project: "I am very concerned about President Obama's comments that Iran has a right to nuclear materials for energy given the dangerous fact that some of those materials could get into the hands of terrorists including Iran's proxies, Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad."
  • Glen S. Lewy, the national chairman, and Abraham H. Foxman, the national director, of the Anti-Defamation League: "Speaking directly to the Muslim people, he broached issues that have never really been addressed to the Arab world before now. We share the president's genuine quest for respect, tolerance and peace . . . We are disappointed that the president found the need to balance the suffering of the Jewish people in a genocide to the suffering of the Palestinian people resulting from Arab wars."
  • Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a top aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas: "We are facing a new and different policy towards Israel and the Palestinians. The message is for Israel: It is time to stop the settlements, it is time to build a Palestinian state."
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.: "I think it (the speech) was an absolute triumph. He made us all very proud by speaking in a very positive way about a new beginning with the Muslim world and how we can work together, the necessity to fight — to work together against violence. And I was so pleased that he addressed many of the human rights issues, including women's rights."
  • House Republican Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia (the only Jewish House Republican): "I am still very concerned about the question of the Israeli/Palestinian issue vis-a-vis Iran. What I did not hear is enough emphasis on the root causes of what is going on in the Middle East, and that is the sponsorship of terrorist activity by the regime in Iran."
  • Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader: "I think, the president delivered a thoughtful and optimistic speech. But I do have some concerns . . . . With regard to the Palestinian-Israel issue, he seemed to place equal blame on the Israelis and the Palestinians. I have concerns about this. The Israelis have a right to defend themselves."
  • Menna El Massry, 19, a law student: "A lot of people expect Obama to be the savior and create a world of utopia, but policy is policy . . . It is paving the way for change. But will there be a state of Palestine in Obama's administration? I doubt it. Not because I don't think there should be a state — I do — but because I don't think the world is ready for that yet."
  • Mohammed Salem, a.k.a. Sand Monkey, an Egyptian blogger and government critic: "It's not really a new beginning as much as it eased everybody's minds. It all depends on his actions."
  • Wael Abbas, a blogger who's exposed torture by Egyptian police: "I was hoping for more (on democracy and human rights abuses). He was not really direct."
  • Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League and a former Egyptian foreign minister: "We had high expectations and I believe he met our expectations in terms of the vision and how he sees the world."
  • Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman: "We know that one impressive speech will not erase years of mistrust and missed opportunities, just as Dr. King's 'I Have A Dream' speech did not complete the civil rights movement. Deeds will have to follow words. ... But in addressing these challenges directly, President Obama has created an historic opportunity to find a new beginning."
  • Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.: "It was a well balanced speech. It touched on everyone's concerns. I don't mind him mentioning settlements. He mentioned other things as well. And the president has Israel's best interest at heart. This president will never do anything to loosen that bond."
  • (Compiled by Dion Nissenbaum, Margaret Talev and McClatchy special correspondent Aya Batrawy in Cairo, and David Lightman in Washington, from interviews and statements.)

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