The Washington Times - June 8, 2009, 02:43PM

DOHA, Qatar—A top Al Jazeera editor praised President Obama’s recent Cairo speech as “helpful” and “constructive,” and criticized the outgoing Bush administration’s handling of the Arab world.


Ahmed Sheikh, editor-in-chief of the Al Jazeera Arabic channel, said from the network’s headquarters that Obama’s speech praising Islam and citing the Qu’ran was elegant and well-received. 

“It’s a different tone, a different language, at least, different from what we heard from the previous administration and the White House,” Sheikh said. “This is more helpful, more constructive … At least you don’t have a Donald Rumsfeld or Dick Cheney.”

However, Sheikh said he was skeptical about whether Obama would be able to broker an to end Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“People in this region, as you know, are holding their breath because they want to see what concrete actions are going to take place,” Sheikh said. “Judging from previous experience, I think one wouldn’t be that optimistic.”

Sheikh compared Obama to former President Ronald Reagan, who was unable to convince former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin to stop the settlements. 

“Ronald Reagan was a great communicator,” he said. “He also spoke about the necessity to stop settlement construction in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip at that time. And he was a bit strong about it. And I remember then Menachem Begin came out and said ‘We will see Mr. President, whose will will win.’ I still remember the words, ‘We will see, Mr. President, whose will will win.’ And naturally, it was Menachem Begin’s will that won. Whether this is going to be the same thing this time, I hope it will be different.” 

Sheikh said he hopes Obama will give Al Jazeera an interview soon, despite criticism from conservatives who say the network is a mouthpiece for terrorists such as Osama Bin Laden. In January the president gave an exclusive interview with rival station Al Arabiya. The editor said he was heartened by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent five-minute interview with Al Jazeera.

“Yes, she already gave us that five minute interview and the White House asked us to provide them with the number of our audience, etc., which is good, we think,” Sheikh said. “We will get an interview with the president. If he wants to talk to the Muslim world at large and the Arab world, he must talk to Al Jazeera. The embassy was talking to me the other day and I said ‘We can always wait for the next president to come. If he doesn’t want to, we will wait for the next president. If it takes two terms, why not? We will wait.”


Al Jazeera