On Obama’s “historic speech”:
Obama is doing the unacceptable in ME politics - speaking to the people over the heads of the leaders and the regimes. By doing so he is perceived as having given up on the (albeit autocratic) regimes in the region and connecting to the “new wave” of the MB and other Islamic parties. This in itself strengthens the radicals since people see that the President of the US himself perceives them as the future leaders, so they must be.
There is no doubt that Mubarak’s absence was not due to his mourning of his grandson. He is deeply concerned by the direction of the present administration. Mubarak is a pragmatic and doesn’t get along well with starry-eyed unpractical idealists.
The most important part of the visit and the speech is the order of issues. It was not accidental:
Â• Obama placed US-Muslim relations first (though he didn’t “count” it)
Â• Then “extremism” (no longer “terror”) was a close second, linking Iraq and Afghanistan to the second.
Â• The Palestinian issue came in third, evading any of the practical issues relating to the problem.
Â• Iran was fourth and even then he began not with what Iran is doing in the region (destabilization etc.) but with apologies to Iran for the Mosadegh affair and only then opposition to Iran’s nuclear program. Even then, the opposition is not due to what Iran itself may do with such a capability (bully its neighbors, influence oil prices, escalate with Israel) but due to the arms race that will ensue. That is to say that Iran, with its present regime and current policies in the region and a nuclear weapon is not - per se - the problem but the anticipated responses of its neighbors is.
Â• The rest of the issues he raised - democracy, religious freedom and women’s rights seem to have been artificially separated - after all, true western liberal democracy includes the rest. It seems that he went out of his way not to present the American model - lock stock and barrel and therefore made this distinction.
Â• Then Obama went back to the first point - US-Muslim relations. That is the key in his eyes.
Ultimately, though, he is speaking to a perceived “body politic” of the Muslim world - that which is extremely anti-Western and tends towards Islamist worldviews. By doing so he is abandoning both the regimes in the Muslim countries and the democratic forces in those countries. With the former, he will never be able to give enough for them to see the US as a friend - the very existence of the US as a paradigm of a worldview and life style that is inimical to their own Weltanschauung.
After all of that, there is no doubt that reality will encroach - sooner rather than later - on Obama’s perfect world (a world in which charisma and personal charm moves mountains). The question is now how steep the learning curve will be and what other curves will intercept it on the way.