Home > Al-Assad, Arab world, Assad, Barack Obama, Bashar al-Assad, Beirut, Damascus, Syria, Tunisia, United States, سورية > People in Middle East and North Africa react to Obama speech(Global Post)

People in Middle East and North Africa react to Obama speech(Global Post)

The major policy speech delivered by U.S. President Barack Obama Thursday was timed so that everyone in the Middle East and North Africa could hear it too. As if speaking to the masses directly, he invoked the name of the street vendor in Tunisia who set himself on fire, triggering the protests that have torn through the Arab World and beyond. “In too many countries, a citizen like that young vendor had nowhere to turn — no honest judiciary to hear his case; no independent media to give him voice; no credible political party to represent his views; no free and fair election where he could choose his leader,” the president said.

Obama called for peace between Israelis and Palestinians and pushed for a two-state solution along the lines of the 1967 borders. He called on Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, to lead a transition to democracy. He also called on Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, to follow through with promises to step down.

He singled out Tunisia and Egypt as positive examples of the force of non-violent protests and he vowed to support their economies as they transition to democracy. He said that Bahrain must hold discussions with the opposition, not throw them in jail. He did not mention Saudi Arabia

So, what do the people who live in these countries think? Mostly they think it was just more of the same.


“I thought it was an excellent speech,” said Radwan Ziadeh, director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies and a visiting scholar at George Washington University who attended the speech at the State Department.

“Obama said that the Syrian regime only has two options: Democratic transition or face more sanctions. This is exactly what we wanted to hear — the change should come from within. He called for a transitional period, which is what the opposition is calling for.”

The Syrian regime has pursued a brutal crackdown of peaceful protests, which began in mid-March. Human rights activists say that as many as 850 protesters have been killed and more than 8,000 have been arrested.

“Obama pledged his support for the people when he supports a democratic Syria.”

In Syria’s Kurd-dominated northern city of Qamishli, Juan Youssef, a Kurdish activist, said Syrians had been eagerly awaiting the speech.

“This speech was a positive step away from the old policies of supporting dictators in the region. Now they are acknowledging peoples rights to self determination,” he said.

Youssef welcomed what he saw as the war on terrorism no longer dominating American policy in the Middle East.

“They acknowledge that the stability of the region can only be guaranteed through democratic states. But I don’t want any foreign intervention inside Syria now or in the future. What we need is pressure to change this regime through flexible, peaceful and gradual stages — so we can get ourselves out of this violent and bloody circle. The U.N. and EU can apply diplomatic and economic pressure on Assad’s regime — but we don’t want general economic sanctions as these would only hurt the people,” Youssef added.

One of the leaders of the Local Coordination Committees, a grassroots youth movement helping to organize the street protests in Syria, said:

“We have to see the whole picture. There have been many pledges from the U.S. before, especially regarding the Palestinians. The change must come from people themselves not from U.S. policy. After Obama’s speech in Cairo people waited for the change to come from the U.S., but now they wait for the change to come from us — which is how it should be,” the protester said.

“While Obama called for a change in Egypt he didn’t expect it to come from the people. We need to understand that all that has happened in Tunisia and Egypt and now Syria has come from the people themselves. Obama is free to say what he wants — and we are free to do what we want in our own way.”

— Annasofie Flamand in Beirut 

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