‘The Visit,’ Obama’s lucky timing?

Abdel Monem Said

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I do not know why it is that whenever the American president visits a country, I recall Friedrich Durrenmatt’s play “The Visit” that was later produced into a movie starring Ingrid Bergman and shown in Arab theatres with the name “The old lady’s visit.” The story had become well-known by the end of the 50’s. It is not the story of a lady who returned to her town requesting punishment for the man who raped her and used her wealth to attain a verdict to execute him. It is the story of America which returned to Europe after World War II carrying arms and funds for The Marshall Plan in order to grant the migrants from Europe what they lost before departing to the new world. The play and the later movie were an expression of a world situation that had totally changed after WWII. The Cold War happened and French, British and other small powers’ colonial empires collapsed.

‘The Visit’

Barack Hussein Obama paid us a visit. The visit’s destination was Israel. But regarding its subject, it was more expanded than was initially estimated. He visited Palestinian territories and Jordan. Regarding Israeli-American relations, they were only celebrated by Obama’s visit to one of the posts for the Iron Dome. The visit also removed clouds surrounding Netanyahu’s relationship with the American president who recognized the Jewish people’s historical right to Palestine. The issue is no longer the historical mistake by the Nazis against the Jews in what was known as the WWII holocaust. The issue has become about religious and historical rights that the Israelis will not accept to give up. Obama was ready to ignore Palestine’s historical and religious situation during all the eras which the Palestinian people lived in their land.

Obama’s destiny is that he reforms the mistakes committed by those who preceded him. This will be his path towards making history

Abdel Monem Said

Anyway, this was not the original story. We are now during the second presidential term of Barack Obama. This is his last chance to leave a real imprint on history. Interestingly, the Nobel Prize which Jimmy Carter received years after he left the White House was received by Obama before he even settled inside the White House. But the American visitor knows well that as important as it is to receive the historical prize to achieve peace in the holy land, the mission is close to impossible. It is the kind of task that places those who seek peace in the permanent line of fire of allies, friends and enemies.

Obama’s economic focus

The most difficult historical mission is overcoming the deep-rooted American economic crisis, this is what Barack Obama wants for himself. He wants history to record that he is the man who, like Franklin Roosevelt, got America out of the Great Depression. This will not happen unless there is an American consensus on a historical deal of a new kind that is well-stated in the budget and that imposes the mandate of dealing with debt and deficit and addresses taxes and social programs. Israel has a hand in this whether you believe it or not, he who thinks that the “Jewish lobby” in America has influence regarding the Middle East does not know much about American policy, the “lobby” knows that influence begins to be effective if that influence is exercised in American domestic policy. This is how the young president gained the Jews’ admiration in Israel. We will not wait for long to see the effects of that on American domestic policy.

Obama’s destiny

Obama’s destiny is that he reforms the mistakes committed by those who preceded him. This will be his path towards making history. When he decided that his troops exit Iraq, whether he knew it or not, he was beginning a new history in the region where the possibility of toppling political regimes and their ideologies was opened up. With him, the biggest operation for altering authorities and power in the Middle East began. The American young president’s historical cause is no longer achieving peace between the Arabs and the Israelis. This can wait another century, and there is nothing worrying about it anyway. His historical cause is reorganizing the boiling situation in the region after the vacuum of power that the Iraqi war left. This vacuum led to Iran’s rising influence in the field of nuclear power, Syria, Lebanon are also being affected by Iraq’s power vacuum.


On the other hand, the fall of Saddam Hussein and his party was the natural introduction for the fall of Bashar al-Assad and the shaking of Hezbollah’s position and later Hamas’. Amid all of this and amid all the violence, the region does not need the visit of an old lady carrying money but it needs the visit of a young president who is constantly producing ideas.

Notice the tangible results of Obama’s visit. The first and most important of them was the Turkish-Israeli reconciliation. The Israeli apology to Turkey regarding the Mavi Marmara vessel was no longer difficult. Paying compensations for the victims’ families was not impossible and the Turks did not have a problem in immediately restoring diplomatic relations and other forms of cooperation.

The second result was visiting Jordan and granting it 200 million dollars and considering the country a major partner in several issues. Perhaps coincidence helped here. Kurdish leader Ocalan requested a ceasefire and used the political arena to find a solution. During the same few days, Lebanese premier Najib Miqati resigned. How does all of this fit together? Was it the visit’s aims? Was it a coincidence? Or was it destiny aiding the young visitor? The answer is they are all linked to Syria and they all surround Syria. It is actually a rearrangement process delayed after the American exit from Iraq. This time, rearrangement may be more expanded. Amid deep changes resulting from revolutions, a lot has happened in the region. Obama may make history as the man who attempts to place place these countries on the path to a future that East European and South and Central American countries previously achieved.

Will Obama succeed in making history in the way he desires? This remains the most difficult question for politicians and statesmen. The answer to it always witnesses the complication of the historical process. Obama has learnt from the historians he periodically meets with that a leader must keep trying. As for the result, the old lady who returned to her town waited years for the chance to do so in the play. In our Middle Eastern town, there always plenty of surprises for Obama to watch out for!

This article was first published in Asharq Al-Awsat on March 27.


Abdel Monem Said is the director of al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. He was previously a board member at Egypt’s Parliament Research Center at the People's Assembly, and a senator in Egypt's Shura Council.

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