Al-Ahram Weekly Online   4 - 11 June 2009
Issue No. 950
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Abdus Sattar Ghazali

Rebuilding the US image

Now is the time for Obama to make history, writes Abdus Sattar Ghazali*

Like the Arab and Muslim worlds, the seven million strong American Muslim community will watch with eagerness -- and optimism -- the 4 June visit of President Barack Obama to Egypt. This will be his second outreach visit to a Muslim country in a bid to save the US's image that has been much damaged by his predecessor, George W Bush, and his "war on terror".

During his first visit to a Muslim country, President Obama visited Turkey in April and declared that the United States "is not and will never be at war with Islam". Resonating with Obama's gesture, the latest opinion survey indicates that more than half of those polled in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were hopeful and awaiting a new US policy under his administration.

However, to the disappointment of many, so far there is only cosmetic change in Obama's policies towards the Muslim world. Despite election pledges to pull out from Iraq, the US now plans to retain its forces for at least a decade. Sending more US troops to Afghanistan is likely to further escalate the volatile situation there. Forcing the Pakistani army to launch operations in Swat has created a humanitarian emergency including the displacement of millions of people who, like in Iraq, became refugees in their own country. This has reinforced anti-Americanism and created fertile ground for the recruitment of suicide bombers.

Obama's announcement to close the infamous Guantanamo Bay military prison is seen merely as a move that appeared to symbolically separate his administration from Bush's. Tellingly, in a court filing, the Justice Department has argued that the president has the authority to detain terrorism suspects without criminal charges, much as the Bush administration asserted. It provided a broad definition of those who can be held, which was not significantly different from the one used by Bush.

At the same time, the US detention facility at Bagram, in Afghanistan, is being expanded -- nearly doubled in size -- in order, possibly, to accommodate 200- plus detainees from Guantanamo, as well as future POWs from Obama's expanded war on Afghanistan.

It would not be inaccurate to say that on all these issues Obama doesn't talk like his discredited predecessor, but he does act like him.

The Arab-Israeli conflict is the main source of contention between the West and the Muslim and Arab worlds. Israeli massacres of unarmed Palestinians in Gaza are fresh in our memories. The Arab and Muslim worlds are awaiting a bold initiative by President Obama on the Arab-Israeli issue.

It is expected that President Obama will call for a two-state solution to the conflict. It will be a welcome agenda provided it is not proved just another manoeuvre to gain more time for Israel to continue its present arrogant policy towards the Palestinians.

American Muslims, who overwhelmingly voted for Obama in the November 2008 election, fully support the president's mission to Egypt. They impatiently await the positive outcome of the visit as US foreign policy in the Arab and Muslim worlds directly affects the Muslim American community.

* The writer is executive editor of the online magazine American Muslim Perspective .

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