Arab Americans Seek Change in US Foreign Policy for 2010
In June of 2009, less than six months after taking office, President Obama delivered an unprecedented address to Cairo University in Egypt. In the historic, 55 minute speech, Obama spoke about American-Muslim relations, focusing mostly on the misunderstandings and conflicts adversely dividing the two cultures.
Immediately after the speech, Arabs and Muslims from all corners of the world began to feel a renewed sense of pride in US leadership. With this change in attitude, they spoke out in favor of an administration which communicated altruistic goals, and held not a separatist, but unified perspective of the world.
Public sentiment was overwhelmingly positive following the address, however as 2009 progressed, the once clear optimism surrounding US and Arab/Muslim relations began to fade. Arab Americans, especially, have grown increasingly critical of the new administration and its ability to evoke progress in 2010 and the coming decade.
Right here in the metro-Detroit area, Arab Americans are expressing their concern with the ostensible lack of action. “President Obama has clearly stated intentions to push for efforts to establish a new relationship, but in these downward, tottering times, we need more than rhetoric” says Palestinian-American, Hend Elomari.
Echoing those sentiments, Lebanese- American Amin Abou Fadel says “President Obama has a lot of work to do. There are many unresolved issues and circumstances that continue to underlie and in a sense delay and undermine the stability of the Arab and Muslim world. In all honesty, it will take more than a speech or a handshake to progress in any way, shape, or form. ”
Similarly, Jordanian-American Nick Hawatmeh says, “This administration has been far too removed, uninvolved, and is earning the reputation of being weak among many countries in its foreign policy stance and therefore I am not very optimistic about 2010.”
News website arabdetroit.com has been charting the increase of sentiments such as the aforementioned through its 2009 poll question, “Do you feel the Obama administration is making progress in the Middle East?”
Directly following President Obama’s speech in Egypt, the poll showed people felt optimistic about prospects for peace. However, in recent months, there has been a sharp increase in the percentage of people who disagree with the notion that there are improved US- Arab/Muslim relations. The poll currently shows that 50.6% disagree, 23.8% agree, and 25.6% somewhat agree with the statement.
The change is an indication of Arab Americans’ increased frustration with issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian stale-mate, Iraqi refugee status quo, increased surveillance and profiling of Muslim Americans, and most recently, the US’s militaristic agenda in countries such as Afghanistan and Yemen.
While most Arab Americans have a bleak view of the administration as the New Year approaches, student activist Ryah Aqel tries to remain positive, “I am optimistic about what the year 2010 and the new decade has to bring. The latest move that the Obama administration has made in regards to Afghanistan is disheartening, but there’s been an undeniable shift in public opinion over the past year that is exciting.”
Furthermore, some Arab Americans are caught right in between as they hold on to hope amidst the clout of reality. “I consider myself a pess-optimist” says Arab American writer and critic, Will Youmans. “I am an optimist because I always want to believe things will get better, and I’m a pessimist because I just know they won’t.”
While it is truly undetermined what the year 2010 will bring, it is certain Arab Americans will continue to think critically and speak about how to improve the United State’s position in the Middle East. Indeed, 2009 was the year of rhetoric, however according to Arab Americans, 2010 should be the year of action.