Wednesday, January 28, 2009

For Barack Obama, winning over the Muslim world is going to take far more than just interviews and eloquent speeches

Geneive Abdo in Foreign Policy, here

"...But people in the Middle East, and particularly Iran, are not swayed by skilled oration and flowery language. If it were poetry Iranians were really looking for, they could always turn to Rumi or Omar Khayyam....

Is he going to reserve seats at the peace table for Hamas and Hezbollah, a necessary step for real progress? And, what does his reference to leaders who cling to power through "deceit and the silencing of dissent" really mean? If, as he says, they are "on the wrong side of history," is the United States going to cut off aid and demand free elections and an end to repression and human rights violations carried out by nearly every Arab regime? Or will he revert to business as usual, like all his predecessors have done?

If the Arab street protests across the region over Gaza -- which in number and rage were unprecedented -- prove anything, it is that Arab regimes are more vulnerable than ever to real dissent and upheaval. There are now opposition movements mobilizing people, such as laborers, members of the underclass, and a new generation of young activists, who in the past never cared about politics. Can the United States afford to further destabilize these regimes?

Arabs and Iranians are relieved to know that Obama is not an ideologue like his predecessor. But as much as he is a visionary, he is also a pragmatist. They worry that the weight of the foreign-policy establishment in Washington and the realities of geopolitics will crush his ambitions -- and theirs in the process."

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