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Love the Rhetoric, Admire the Oratory: Where's the Action?

Author: Mohamad Bazzi, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
January 20, 2010
The National

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When Barack Obama was elected president of the United States, many in the Middle East expected a dramatic change in Washington's policy towards the region. It is now clear that those expectations were too high.

Mr Obama, as a powerful and eloquent orator, vowed to revamp America's relationship with the Arab and Muslim worlds after the disastrous presidency of George W Bush. But Mr Obama as president has proven to be a hard-headed political realist who is reluctant to disrupt US alliances with the region's many authoritarian rulers.

"No matter how callously defined, neither America's interests - nor the world's - are served by the denial of human aspirations," the president declared in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize. But one of the biggest disappointments of his administration so far is its failure to advance democracy and human rights, especially in the Middle East.

Granted, the Obama administration inherited a decades-old US policy of supporting autocratic regimes - including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan - in exchange for political acquiescence.

That policy seemed to change in June 2005, when the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, told the world that the US would no longer support repressive regimes in the name of keeping political stability. "For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy here in the Middle East - and we achieved neither," she said at the American University in Cairo. "Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people."

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