With the exception of the "Palestinians are cockroaches" crowd among the Israeli far right, President Obama's speech was received in the Middle East mostly like this:
“I think his performance was marvelous,” said Khalid al-Dakhil, a professor at King Saudi University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. “He seems so much more sympathetic, so much more understanding of the feelings, attitudes and perceptions of Arabs and Muslims. I think it was a speech with a vision, it was designed to set the stage for a new beginning.”
Even the way Mr. Obama began his speech, with his use of the phrase “peace be upon him” after mentioning the Prophet Muhammad, and his opening greeting — “Peace be upon you” in Arabic — struck a chord with many people, particularly in Saudi Arabia, the deeply conservative desert kingdom where Islam was born.
“Starting the speech with the words ‘salaam aleykum’ was a really good approach,” said Ghina Sibai, a 32-year-old art director from Beirut, Lebanon, in comments echoed by others across the Arab world. “Its kind of like a peace treaty. He’s trying to address the Muslim world through its own culture.”
But there were also responses like this, with the Times finding the most skeptics in Syria (or just happening upon some and reporting them as a generalized whole...):
“What is astonishing is that he condemned violence, but he didn’t say a word about what the United States did in Iraq,” said Khalid Saghieh, the executive editor of al Akhbar, a Lebanese daily newspaper that leans towards Hezbollah. “If you want to call for a new beginning, you should at least apologize for tens of thousands of victims in Iraq.”
... “I consider Mr. Obama’s speech a morphine injection to numb the minds of Muslim and Arab people,” said Mr. Abdullah, the Syrian electrical engineer, “so that they don’t mind so much the injustices carried out by the United States in the region, as long as Mr. Obama respects Islamic culture and heritage.”
I think overall, however, it's impossible to characterize the speech as anything but well received in the Muslim world, with caveats. Read more reactions, caveats included, at the Beeb.
Obama told his audience, as I noted above, many things it didn't necessarily want to hear. Indeed the bulk of the 55-minute address was taken up by his discussion of the seven tough issues he identified: violent extremism; Israel; nuclear arms and Iran; democracy; religious freedom; women's rights; and economic opportunity and what he called a "fear of modernity."
But he also told his listeners a lot of things they wanted to hear – his refusal to castigate Islam, even quoting John Adams to that effect ("the United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims"), and his repeated invocation of the search for common ground. Obviously, I could hear the speech only through my ears, but it seemed to me that for the most part he found the tonal sweet spot: firm but respectful where in disagreement, asking people to think a little harder and engage in a little more self-contemplation.
Still, the most striking thing to me was the reaction inside that hall in Cairo, where Obama literally, got some brotherly love from the audience, which interrupted him with cries of "we love you!"
The president delivered an historic address at Cairo University. The full text is here. It ended with an incredible flourish, that includes a quote from my favorite book of the Bible: the book of Mathew: We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written. The Holy Quran tells us, Mankind, we have created you male and a female. And we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.
The Talmud tells us, The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace.
The Holy Bible tells us, Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth. Here's the speech, courtesy of some diligent Youtubers (good luck trying to watch the speech on CSPAN's website. Their streaming absolutely, categorically, blows. BTW it's amazing, in the age of Youtube, how difficult it still is to get a full rebroadcast of anything newsworthy. Instead, what you get are small clips and soundbites, both on cable news and online...) Anyhoo...
It would, of course, be nice to have the whole thing in one file. If I find such a thing, I'll post it.
President Obama's address to Congress and the American people tonight is being described as Reaganesque. I think it was more FDR than Reagan, but there you go. He made clear the challenges we face (the "day of reckoning" part.) but promised the nation that we will recover. So far, the reviews are great. From the AP:
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama gave America the audacity to hope again.
After describing the U.S. economy in nearly apocalyptic terms for weeks, pushing his $787 billion stimulus plan through Congress, the president used his address to Congress on Tuesday night to tap the deep well of American optimism — the never-say-die spirit that every president tries to capture in words. And great presidents embody.
"We will rebuild. We will recover, and the United States of America will emerge stronger than before," Obama said, echoing Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.
"The answers to our problems don't lie beyond our reach," Obama said. "What is required now for this country is to pull together, confront boldly the challenges we face, and take responsibility for our future once more."
The themes of responsibility, accountability and, above all, national community rang throughout an address carefully balanced by the gravity of its times. Job losses. Home foreclosures. Credit crisis. Rising health care costs. Declining trust in government. Obama touched all those bases.
From the White House press office: excerpts of President Obama's speech tonight:
We have lived through an era where too often, short-term gains were prized over long-term prosperity; where we failed to look beyond the next payment, the next quarter, or the next election. A surplus became an excuse to transfer wealth to the wealthy instead of an opportunity to invest in our future. Regulations were gutted for the sake of a quick profit at the expense of a healthy market. People bought homes they knew they couldn’t afford from banks and lenders who pushed those bad loans anyway. And all the while, critical debates and difficult decisions were put off for some other time on some other day.
Well that day of reckoning has arrived, and the time to take charge of our future is here.
On the stimulus bill and his soon to be dropped budget:
The recovery plan and the financial stability plan are the immediate steps we’re taking to revive our economy in the short-term. But the only way to fully restore America’s economic strength is to make the long-term investments that will lead to new jobs, new industries, and a renewed ability to compete with the rest of the world. The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil and the high cost of health care; the schools that aren’t preparing our children and the mountain of debt they stand to inherit. That is our responsibility.
My budget does not attempt to solve every problem or address every issue. It reflects the stark reality of what we’ve inherited – a trillion dollar deficit, a financial crisis, and a costly recession.
Given these realities, everyone in this chamber – Democrats and Republicans – will have to sacrifice some worthy priorities for which there are no dollars. And that includes me.
But that does not mean we can afford to ignore our long-term challenges. I reject the view that says our problems will simply take care of themselves; that says government has no role in laying the foundation for our common prosperity.