CAIRO – A messiah won’t be landing at the Heliopolis airport Thursday. Nonetheless, the expectations raised by Obama’s brief visit to Cairo are almost messianic. Souvenir shops are selling pendants with the caption “Obama – new Tutankhamen of the world.” In Egyptian terms, it’s a super-compliment. No one-hour speech can fulfill such expectations; neither can a two-hour speech.
Obama’s decision to place the Arab world as the top priority of his foreign policy was not prompted by messianic aspirations, but rather, by constraints. America needs the Arab rules and Arab public opinion more than ever before.
The hatred to America exacts American casualties on a daily basis in Iraq and Afghanistan. Without Arab support, America would be unable to extricate itself from there without leaving behind scotched earth and strategic damages. And there’s the Iran problem too: Addressing it would be much harder without the cooperation of Arab rulers.
Obama is walking a tightrope. As he needs the Arab rulers, he must tone down his rhetoric in respect to democracy and human rights. We see historic irony here: George W. Bush, a rightist Republican who believes in religious values sought to bring democracy to the Middle East. Barak Obama, a leftist democrat of the ilk American rightists disparagingly refer to as a “bleeding heart liberal” is wooing the Saudi king and Egypt’s perennial ruler.
Obama is also walking a religious tightrope. His middle name, Hussein, helps him captivate the hearts of the masses in the Muslim world. However, it also prompts suspicions by non-Muslims. This suspicion exists not only in America and Israel.
One of the Egyptians we spoke with, a person who is intimately involved in regional politics, at the highest levels, told us that members of Egypt’s largest minority, the Christian Copts, were wary of Obama because of his father’s Muslim descent. Yet once it turned out that he is paying his respects to Egypt, they were reassured: National honor is very important to the Copts, no less so than to the Muslims.
Obama’s speech is like the opening tune of a play that has not yet been written. The question is what will happen in Washington later on, and whether we will indeed see the formulation of a plan that would be able to bring together all the anti-Iranian and pro-American powers in the region, including Israel, into one coalition; such coalition would aim to secure regional stability – curbing Iran, saving Iraq and Afghanistan, and a regional Arab-Israeli peace deal.
Only a messiah would be able to secure all these objectives in the course of one term in office.