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Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

Category: Barack Obama

LEBANON: Psychic predicts Obama stalling in Afghanistan, Julio Iglesias making comeback

Picture 22

In the year 2010, President Obama's decision to go to Afghanistan will backfire on him and the Democratic Party. Iraqi President Nour al-Malaki will stumble. A major spy network will be uncovered in Syria. Progress will be made on the issue of the disputed Golan Heights. Egypt and and the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah will mend their relationship.

And Julio Iglesias' name will be in the spotlight once again.

Those are the forecasts of renowned Lebanese psychic Michel Hayek, who predicts the coming year will be one of intrigue, prosperity and revenge.

Hayek's annual televised predictions have become a New Year's Eve tradition in the Arab world, and even skeptics put down their champagne glasses and turn up the volume to hear what the new year may have in store.

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IRAN: Is Obama administration dissing the 'green' opposition movement?


As the United States attempts to grapple with Iran over its nuclear program, some worry that it will sacrifice the Islamic Republic's grass-roots opposition movement.

Karim Sadjadpour is an Iran analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. He's regularly hobnobbing with Beltway policymakers and advisors as well as those within the kaleidoscope of think tanks issuing reams of recommendations for them.

He says that opinion in Washington is mixed. Though he himself believes that Iran's opposition movement remains a force to be reckoned with, some disagree. 

"There are certainly analysts in Washington, including within some branches of the U.S. government, who believe that Iran’s opposition movement is either dead or does not deserve to be taken seriously," he said. 

But, he said, "in numerous conversations with the key formulators of Iran policy in the Obama administration I’ve never found them to be dismissive or unsympathetic towards the green movement."

Still, for a whole bunch of reasons, the administration is also hedging its bets. 

"They feel they can’t put all their eggs in the basket of the opposition," he said.

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IRAN: Report of second letter from Obama to Tehran [Updated]


The Iranian news website is reporting that the Iranian leadership has received a letter from the Obama administration, reiterating an offer of talks between Washington and Tehran. 

The report cites no named source, but Tabnak -- the brainchild of conservative Iranian politician and former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezai --  often gets insider information. 

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IRAN: Obama and McCain square off on Iran

It is no secret that the situation in Iran represents a knotty problem for policymakers within the Obama administration. But pity the poor Republicans facing the same questions -- but lacking the unity that comes from being in power.

The demonstrations in Iran have caught the Obama administration between wanting to uphold traditional Western, democratic values (such as freedom of speech and elections free from scandal) and the realpolitik of having to negotiate with Iran over its nuclear plans.

President Obama has tried to maintain some distance, saying he and the world are deeply concerned by events, but it is up to Iranians to choose their own leader. Obama  says the United States remains prepared for tough bargaining with Iran over the nuclear issues no matter who is president.

This approach has pitted two senior Republicans on opposite sides in the Iran debate. Arizona Sen. John McCain said today that Obama's approach on the Iran elections is not tough enough.

McCain, interviewed on NBC’s “Today” show, said the United States should support the Iranian people “in their struggle against an oppressive, repressive regime.” He said Iran “should not be subjected to four more years of [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad and the radical Muslim clerics.”

Continue reading Michael Muskal's post, "Obama and McCain square off on Iran" on our Top of the Ticket blog. Follow Michael Muskal on Twitter.

Complete coverage of Iran's presidential election and the aftermath.

IRAN: Obama says election turnout shows change is possible

The sizable turnout in Iran’s elections could mean that change is possible, President Obama said today, adding that the United States will diplomatically engage with whoever wins.

Iranians packed polling stations to choose between President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or his main rival, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, who served as prime minister in the 1980s and has become the surprise face of reform.

 “We are excited to see what appears to be a robust debate taking place in Iran,” Obama said in a televised session from the White House. The president was in the Rose Garden to discuss children and tobacco and had turned to leave the microphones, but returned to answer a question on Iran, shouted out by a reporter.

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IRAN: Did Obama effect help Iranian moderates?

Photo 547 

A relatively unknown and soft-spoken politician emerges from a pack of powerful leaders to pose a strong challenge against a sitting president who is one of the most well-known public figures in the world.

Among the many questions that will certainly arise around the surprisingly potent presidential candidacy of former prime minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is whether the rise of a certain other president, Barack Obama, might have been a factor. 

Most Iranians say Obama’s speech last week in Cairo had absolutely zero effect on the elections. In fact, its timing may have raised suspicions that the U.S. was up to something. “The Iranians feel that the U.S. is always plotting,” said Ahmad Bakhshayeshi, a political scientist in Tehran.

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EGYPT: How Obama's speech won hearts


Even days after Barack Obama's speech, Egyptians are still captivated by the American president. While some Islamists and opposition figures are dissecting and criticizing the address, many Muslims are waiting to see what the future holds, and if Obama will implement his vision into action. The general feeling is that people's hearts were won over by Obama's rhetoric and flair.


The emotional connection between Arabs, in general, and Egyptians, in particular, with the United States has been a pull-and-push relationship over the last 60 years. The administration of George W. Bush culminated in years of ill will, forcing many Arabs to at least pretend to despise the world's most powerful country. So how did Obama's 55-minute speech succeed in nearly wiping away animosity among moderate Muslims?


Talking to politicians, analysts, religious figures and citizens, both before and after the speech, I could sense that Obama has become an accepted figure among most Egyptians. A generation of his family were Muslims, he's the first African American to lead the United States, and some of his views about peace in the Middle East -- which contradict his predecessor's -- have created a good feeling toward him.


Then he chose Cairo as his venue to address the Muslim world, which was considered by many as a massive gesture of goodwill. The previously mentioned reasons made Egyptians simply love Obama's speech before he even started it, commencing his words with "assalamu alaikum" (or "peace be upon you"). Obama's references to passages from the Koran to underline his views was more than enough for some to become infatuated with him straightaway.


It is clear that most Egyptians were waiting for any American gesture, and that hope came in the shape of Obama and his words. People here have a very strong bond with the United States as a country and a culture, especially those born in the 1950s and '60s, who grew up to watching American movies and TV and listening to its pop songs. They were struck by the American dream and many fled Egypt to follow this dream in the U.S.


Younger generations imitate Americans, even in the way they speak English. Politically, many remain suspicious of American foreign policy, but culturally, millions of Egyptians are enamored by America, and by its president. Obama reached out and they have reached back.


--Amro Hassan in Cairo


Photo: President Obama salutes the crowd at Cairo University. Credit: Associated Press

IRAN: Choice of Egypt a mistake, says scholar

Photo 186a Even as the Muslim world eagerly awaits President Obama's address to them Thursday from Cairo, some say he's already dropped the ball in his choice of venue. 

At least one Iranian critic says Obama made a mistake by making his speech in Egypt, which has a peace deal with Israel and was widely criticized during the recent war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip for failing to do enough to support Palestinians. 

"I think that he probably made the worst possible choice to choose Egypt as a place to make a speech," said Mohammad Marandi (pictured), head of North American studies at Tehran University and an American-born U.S. citizen.

"If you’re going to Indonesia, if you’re going to Bangladesh, if you had gone to Turkey, if you had gone to any country, it would have been better than going to Egypt," he said.
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EGYPT: Obama speech great news for Cairo University


Over the last couple of weeks, Cairo University has been at the center of the Middle East’s attention. The university, which will be hosting President Obama’s anticipated June 4 speech, is undergoing major renovations.

The Egyptian government is installing a first-class press and media center near the main hall, where Obama will make his address. The main hall itself is getting a new Egyptian flag – instead of the old torn one –along with air conditioning, lighting and sound systems. Campus roads are being refurbished and swept, and the university’s famous dome is being polished by hand.

Many areas around the university campus also are having  renovations. A number of neighboring streets will be covered in flowers when Obama arrives, a scene that didn’t even occur when Cairo University celebrated its centennial last year.

Cairo University has been a main pillar in Egyptian higher education for generations. But until it was chosen as a venue for the speech, the university had looked pretty much the same for the last 30 years.

It was thought that Al-Azhar Mosque was a main contender as the site for Obama’s speech. Now Azhar officials are looking at Cairo University with envy. Their mosque missed out on a great redecoration opportunity.

Watching how Cairo University and its surroundings are being transformed in a fortnight to one of the tidiest and most beautiful spots in the country may make Egyptians hope the U.S. president visits more often.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Cairo University. Credit: Reuters


EGYPT: Activist burned in attack, says ruling regime involved


Embattled political activist and foe of the Egyptian ruling party Ayman Nour has accused the country's government of ordering an attack in which an unknown assailant burned his face and escaped on a motorcycle.

Nour said he believed "the regime is involved in one way or another" in the weekend attack.

"Somebody might have done it on the regime’s behalf or have done it as a complement to the regime," he told The Times on Sunday in a phone interview.

"I was in the car heading to a board meeting at the party when a guy on a motorcycle put a gas box on fire and threw it at me. My face and hair as well as some of my clothes got burned. Then the guy ran away. I saw him; he seemed to be in his late teens," said Nour. "I suffer from first-degree burns in the face and 20% of my hair got burned." 

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IRAN: For Obama, the road to Tehran leads through Jerusalem

Obama-netanyahu Barely noted in the reports about Monday's meeting between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was a revealing exchange toward the end of the question-and-answer session with a small group of reporters.

The president was asked whether he agreed with Netanyahu's view that dismantling Iran's nuclear program and getting it stop supporting militant groups in the Levant was the first step toward a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. 

Obama said while the charged atmosphere in the Middle East makes it tough for Israel to negotiate with its rivals, he viewed the situation the other way around. 

Read the little-cited quotes below:

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IRAN: Watching carefully as Israel's Netanyahu meets Obama

NetanyahuAlthough Iran wouldn't admit to being too concerned, it is carefully watching today's developments in Washington, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting with President Obama in an effort to persuade him that confronting Iran, not resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, should be the first item on his Middle East agenda.

Netanyahu's visit has been noted on television news broadcasts. The conservative daily newspaper Javan alleged Sunday that Netanyahu had traveled to Washington to report on "the cooperation of some moderate Arab leaders with Israel to confront Iran."

The conservatives who dominate Iran's political establishment abhor Israel's attempts to reach out to Arab leaders. 

The sentiment is the result of a complicated, decades-long game of power politics among the Middle East's major players. 
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