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The Center for the Study of Islam Democracy

Obama struggles to meet high expectations in the Middle East

Barack Obama

President Barack Obama’s Middle East policies have achieved little so far and increasingly appear similar to those of the Bush administration, generating widespread disappointment in the region, according to Arab and U.S. analysts.

The high expectations created by Obama’s election, his conciliatory inaugural address a year ago this week, and his promise of a new relationship with the Muslim world in a Cairo speech last June have been seriously eroded.

“It’s very dangerous because he has raised a lot of expectations when he delivered that speech in Cairo. A lot of people are saying it was wonderful but there is no follow up,” said Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Washington-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy.
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“My biggest disappointment,” added Masmoudi, “is how little this administration is talking about human rights and democracy.”

Initially, many Arabs and other Muslims were cheered by Obama’s quick appointment of former U.S. senator George J. Mitchell as special envoy for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and by Washington’s open call for a complete halt to Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

But the administration’s perceived retreat when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected this demand, and its embrace instead of a 10-month Israeli moratorium on settlement expansion – only in the West Bank – has dampened Arab hopes that Obama will extract from Israel the concessions needed for creating a viable Palestinian state.

Mark Perry, a Washington-based independent military and foreign policy analyst, said the Obama administration’s handling of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has faltered because the president “is surrounded by people … who don’t get the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They think they do … but they don’t.”

There is, he added, “no evidence whatsoever that there’s any kind of original creative, interesting thinking going on on this issue.”

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