CAIRO – President Obama’s speech to the Arab world here earlier this month is still evoking praises and unfavorable mentions of former president George W. Bush from locals, including a former Egyptian Foreign Minister.
Tell people you’re from the United States on the streets of the Hussein Square, adjacent to the centuries-old Khan el-Khalili bazaar, and you’ll likely receive wide smiles and declarations of admiration for Obama. You’ll hear also that Bush wasn’t the best international ambassador in the Middle East.
Among Egypt’s elite, the feeling is much the same, with participants in today’s Eygpt’s International Economic Forum praising Obama’s address and contrasting his approach with Bush’s.
“[Obama] is a man who is open to new ideas. He is a man who knows how to speak to the third world, not from high above as God all mighty, but as a friend,” said Ahmed Maher, a former Egyptian Foreign Minister. “The relations between Egypt and the United States, which are traditionally good, have been harmed during the last eight years … [Obama] has decided that he will not confront the world, he prefers to enter into dialogue. This is exactly what makes him respectable.”
Maher said Bush’s approach to the Arab world is encapsulated by an experience in 2004, when Egyptian President Mubarack visited the Bush White House and negotiated a number of “understandings,” only to have them all unravel after a subsequent visit by Ariel Sharon to the United States.
“[T]his was the last visit that President Mubarack paid to the United States.,” said Maher, who said Bush paid lip service to the Arab world but didn’t match his words with sympathetic policies.
During the same discussion, U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Margaret Scobey, dismissed claims by some Iranians that the Obama administration is interfering with the outcome of last week’s presidential elections in Iran.
“I think it is an unfair criticism, and it’s not true,” Scobey said. “We do not want to make this an issue, as we have seen so many times happen in Iran, where the process becomes about the United States. What were re watching play out is very much an Iranian process, an internal Iranian debate. “
Scobey echoed Obama’s expressed desire to engage in dialogue with Iran, regardless of whether incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or challenger Mir-Hossein Moussav emerges victorious.