Free Tribune / Mazen Hayek: Obama’s Second ‘Cairo Speech’: Regimes or People in the Middle East?


All of us remember the first “Cairo speech” of President Barack Obama of the United States on June 4, 2009. At the time, the president talked at length about global interdependence, development, religious freedom, partnerships, the Middle East peace process, the relationships between the United States and Muslims around the world; and obviously, extremism and terrorism.

The President also tackled Iran’s nuclear program and the need to prevent a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

In retrospect, and having witnessed the “Arab Spring” unfold beautifully in 2011, the most revealing part in the first “Cairo speech” was definitely about the “promotion of democracy.” It’s true that the president acknowledged, at the time, that “change cannot happen overnight”… yet, he was vocal about human rights, universal values, participation and mostly, about US commitment to elected forms of governments that reflect the will of the people in the Middle East.

Since the first “Cairo speech” in June 2009, many things have changed in the Middle East and around the world, while others have remained the same. So, what could one expect from the US president in his second “Cairo speech” on Thursday May 19, 2011?

Clearly, President Obama is expected to build on the successful targeted killing by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of Osama Bin Laden, to pave the way for less tensions and more mutual respect and understanding between the United States and Muslims around the world, while noting that the challenge of extremism and global terrorism—along with their financing—will remain in the post-Bin Laden era, for both concerned parties to fight together, in a timely fashion, and efficiently and forcefully.

It’s true that the US president is expected to outline his renewed vision for the Middle East peace process (post-George Mitchell) but one would expect him to simultaneously pay tribute to the recent “Arab Spring”—thus demonstrating how the US commitment to democracy in the Middle East is going to gain momentum, especially in those countries where “people power” alone is not enough to face tyranny and regimes still “living in denial.”

In the same context, young and talented Arabs—whose average age doesn’t exceed 25, and who account for 60 percent of the region’s total population of 360 million—expect the US president to tell them, loud and clear, with whom America intends to build new partnerships in the Middle East: Is it with regimes or with people?

Going forward, young Arabs cannot and will not accept for the US to talk to them about democracy, liberties, freedom, human rights, universal values, advancement and partnerships, while still supporting unethical, unaccountable and non-elected forms of governments, in the name of “regional stability” or “strategic alliances” or “security shield” (vs. Iran).

In addition, young Arabs cannot and will not accept to see the US standing blindly alongside Israel when they need an “honest broker” to reach the much-anticipated just, comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East.

In 2011, the Arab world made the right choices: so, will the United States know how to choose, who and when?

(Mazen Hayek, a regular columnist for Al Arabiya can be reached at: [email protected] (twitter: @HayekMG)