US President Barack Obama's speech yesterday marked a "new chapter" in diplomacy after the Arab Spring uprisings, the leader explained. Talking from the US State Department, shifting from a military to a diplomatic emphasis, Mr Obama insisted on the interrelated nature of the US-Middle East relationship: "though these countries may be a great distance from our shores, we know that our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics and security; history and faith", he said.
The speech was detailed and touched on different countries in the region. Starting with Egypt and Tunisia, he then turned to Syria, Iran, Bahrain and Israel and Palestine. While Obama first insisted on America's decision to support reforms and transitions to democracy within the region, he moved from one country to another, clearly outlining the US's different positions towards different regimes. Trying to distance himself from what was just a few years ago called by certain politicians, media and academics "a clash of civilisations", the president hinted at a shared value system between the US and the Middle East: "
"We face a historic opportunity," he said. "We have a chance to show that America values the dignity of a street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator", he said talking about the street vendor who set himself on fire in Tunisia and fuelled the start of the uprising.
"As Americans have been seared by hostage taking, violent rhetoric, and terrorist attacks that have killed thousands of our citizens - a failure to change our approach [in the Middle East] threatens a deepening spiral of division between the United States and Muslim communities," Mr Obama added.
Key points in Mr Obama's speech:
- Obama's discourse consisted of the politician outlining seven key points that reveal the new line of conduct of the US in its Middle East related foreign policy.
In a first place, the president guaranteed American support for democracy and insisted the US will use all its resources to encourage reform in North Africa and the Middle East.
"The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region. We support a set of universal rights. Those rights include free speech; the freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of religion; equality for men and women under the rule of law; and the right to choose your own leaders - whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus; Sanaa or Tehran."
- Secondly, he announced it will cut $1bn of debt for a democratic Egypt and work to create Enterprise Funds to invest in Tunisia and Egypt.
"Second, we do not want a democratic Egypt to be saddled by the debts of its past. So we will relieve a democratic Egypt of up to $1bn in debt, and work with our Egyptian partners to invest these resources to foster growth and entrepreneurship. We will help Egypt regain access to markets by guaranteeing $1bn in borrowing that is needed to finance infrastructure and job creation. And we will help newly democratic governments recover assets that were stolen.
- A third key point is Obama's address and warning towards Syrian President Al Assad:
"The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy. President Assad now has a choice: he can lead that transition, or get out of the way. The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests; release political prisoners and stop unjust arrests; allow human rights monitors to have access to cities like Daraa; and start a serious dialogue to advance a democratic transition. Otherwise, President Assad and his regime will continue to be challenged from within and isolated abroad."
- Moving on to Iran, Obama insisted the US will continue to insist the Iranian people deserve their universal rights, and a government that does not smother their aspirations
"This speaks of the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime, which says it stands for the rights of protesters abroad, yet suppresses its people at home. Let us remember that the first peaceful protests were in the streets of Tehran, where the government brutalised women and men, and threw innocent people into jail. We still hear the chants echo from the rooftops of Tehran."
- Bahrain was also approached with the US president blaming the brutality of the regime and denouncing its disregard for human rights:
"We have insisted publicly and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain's citizens, and will not make legitimate calls for reform go away. The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can't have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail. The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis."
- The final and awaited key point concerned the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Obama clearly outlines America's opinion by announcing that the countries borders should be based on pre-1967 borders with agreed swaps.
"The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognised borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state."