Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Obama's Unspoken Message in Cairo
FUSE Hiroshi / Journalist

July 9, 2009
On June 4, U.S. President Barack Obama gave a well-orchestrated speech in Cairo. Choosing Cairo University, a major educational institution in the Middle East, as the venue of the speech, and also gaining the support of Al-Azhar University, which is considered the highest authority on Islam, were both effective in giving the impression of a "new beginning" between the United States and the Islamic world and a "reconciliation with Islam."

In Japan, foreign ministry officials, reporters and ambassadors from Middle East countries were invited to a commemorative reception held at the official residence of Charge d'Affaires James P. Zumwalt, where a video of the President's speech was shown on large-screen television. It was an exceptionally aggressive publicity effort, considering that the speech did not even take place in Japan.

One could say that in comparison, the speech itself was designed to please all and offered nothing new. Nevertheless, it represents the basic stance of the United States in dealing with issues such as the Middle East peace process, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran. The speech was timed for the day before the start of the Six-Day War, on June 5, 1967. One theory has it that the day was chosen in consideration of the fact that the grave issue of occupation had its beginnings in that war.

While the speech covered a broad spectrum of issues, I was particularly impressed by the part where President Obama stated that "no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by any other." He paused for a moment, but there was no applause. The audience was probably not sure where he was going next.

However, once the speech resumed with references to "government that is transparent," "freedom" and "human rights," a round of enthusiastic applause came from the audience. And as the President went on to say that power must be maintained "through consent, not coercion" and pointed out that governments must respect the rights of minorities and show a spirit of tolerance, an audience shouted: "Barack Obama, we love you!" to which the President responded: "Thank you."

There must have been an unspoken message behind this dialogue. Democratization of the Middle East advocated by the previous administration of President Bush was cut short in disrepute, and the Regime Change Theory of overthrowing hostile governments without hesitation ended up amplifying resentment towards the United States. Through his comments, President Obama seemed to be saying: "you can rest assured because the United States will no longer take such a course of action."

But there is more to this. The younger generation of Egyptians must surely have sensed the criticism against the Mubarak government in this speech. Egypt's President Mubarak has sat on the throne of power for 28 years since 1981, and there is speculation he intends to hand over the presidency to his son in a de facto inheritance of power. While Egypt is a pro-American country, seen from U.S. standards there are some aspects that can hardly be described as a democratic state.

In the case of Saudi Arabia, which was President Obama's first stop before visiting Egypt, an absolute monarchy has continued into the world of the 21st century in the absence of a clearly stated constitution, political parties, and a parliamentary body. More than a few Middle East governments, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, must have sighed in relief at hearing the Obama speech. Regardless of whether "democratizing the Middle East" was a good or bad idea, these governments had succeeded in eluding the pressure to democratize to reach the point of a "new beginning" with the United States.

While engaging the Islamic world in a strained relationship would defeat the purpose, adopting an overly conciliatory tone would mean ignoring the dissatisfaction of the masses. Such is the dilemma faced by President Obama. And his speech gave us a renewed awareness about the difficult relationship between the United States and Islam.

The writer is Deputy Chief Editorial Writer of the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

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2009年 7月 9日









一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟