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Obama Favors Expediency over Real Change in Middle East

Author: Mohamad Bazzi, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
January 19, 2010


People in the Middle East are used to soaring rhetoric that leads nowhere. They have a term for it: haki fadi - empty talk.

In his appeal to the Arab world, President Barack Obama is dangerously close to being full of haki fadi. As a powerful and eloquent orator, Obama has vowed to revamp America's relationship with the Arab and Muslim worlds after the disastrous presidency of George W. Bush.

But as president, Obama has proven to be a hardheaded political realist who is reluctant to disrupt U.S. alliances with the region's many authoritarian rulers. One of the biggest disappointments of his administration so far is its failure to advance democracy and human rights, especially in the Middle East.

Obama took up the lofty oratory of democracy promotion in his much-celebrated speech to the Muslim world last year.

"America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election," he said at Cairo University on June 4. "But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose."

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