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Babylon & Beyond

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

Category: Obama in the Muslim World

LIBYA: Obama confident in rebel leaders

Earnest President Obama has confidence that rebel forces are gaining the upper hand in Libya and will be able to transition to “free and Democratic” Libya soon, White House officials said Wednesday.

Speaking from the president’s vacation retreat in Martha’s Vineyard, Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Libya’s rebel government, the Transitional National Council, is in the “early stages of trying to put some governmental infrastructure in place” and that the U.S. is committed to helping them in that effort.

“We do have confidence in the TNC,” Earnest said during a briefing Wednesday in Vineyard Haven. “It was this president who led the effort to, several months ago, to recognize them as the proper ruling entity in that country. And we are encouraged by the way they have conducted themselves so far, and we intend to be a partner and to be supportive of their efforts … to put in a governmental structure and transition to a freer Libya.”

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LIBYA: Obama expresses concern about transition

Obama President Obama interrupted his vacation on Martha's Vineyard Monday to address events in Libya.

Although the president expressed confidence in NATO forces and the international coalition's response so far, he voiced concern about a potentially bloody transition from the longtime rule of Moammar Kadafi.

“The rights of all Libyans must be respected,” he said, noting that "fierce fighting" has continued and that Libya is "at a tipping point."

He said Kadafi could reduce the bloodshed by relinquishing power and calling on his forces to lay down their arms.

But Obama, who has been monitoring events in Libya from Massachusetts, said much of the country had clearly moved beyond Kadafi's grasp.

“The future of Libya is in the hands of its people,” Obama said. “This much is clear: the Kadafi regime is coming to an end.”

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MIDDLE EAST: Reactions to Obama's speech


Reaction in the Middle East to President Obama’s speech on U.S. policy toward the region ran the gamut from surprise to support to disappointment. Following are selected, edited comments from observers in some of the region's nations:

“It was not expected that Obama would criticize any of the U.S. allies, but he did so when he talked about Bahrain and called for a dialogue with the opposition while calling for the release of prisoners. Obama set a new approach toward the Middle East … opening a new chapter with the Arab world.”

                        — Hassan Sahili, student at the Lebanese University in Beirut

“Emotionally, President Obama’s rhetoric and eloquence appealed to the ears of his audience across the world. But Obama fell short of my expectations when he referred to Syrian and Bahrain authorities.

I expected him to be more serious and harsher in his criticisms of President Bashar Assad [of Syria] and Al Khalifah in Bahrain. Both these countries are run despotically and heavy handedly. Bahrain … is the U.S.A.’s ally, and Syria is not an ally of the U.S.

Both governments are fiercely and brutally suppressing their own people. I expected President Obama to … clearly put pressure on both governments to cave in to the demands of their own people.…

The U.S. in particular and the West in general are treating the regional countries with double standards, as the violation of human rights in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are ignored or neglected while the human rights breaches in Iran are highlighted.

Anyway, President Obama has got a historic, golden and unprecedented opportunity to seize  his place in history … if he addresses the democracy in all countries in the region” equally.

                    — Sadegh Zibakalam, professor of political science at Tehran University 

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LIBYA: U.S. officials say $30 billion in Kadafi government assets frozen

The U.S. froze $30 billion in Libyan government assets as part of the Obama administration's response to leader Moammar Kadafi's bloody crackdown on protesters, officials said Monday.

The amount represents the largest total in a single order by the U.S. government, officials said.

The order freezing Libyan cash and investments in the U.S., which include assets belonging to Kadafi and his relatives, does not rule out additional assets being frozen later, officials said.

"There may be some additional money that will be blocked as a result," David Cohen, acting Treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, told reporters, "but I can't say what that would be."

President Obama signed an order Friday freezing Libyan assets and also wrote a letter to Congress declaring a national emergency to deal with the political unrest in the North African country.

Obama's executive order, which describes the Kadafi regime as having taken "extreme measures" against Libyans, states: "I further find that there is a serious risk that Libyan state assets will be misappropriated by [Kadafi], members of his government, members of his family, or his close associates if those assets are not protected."

-- Efrain Hernandez Jr.


LIBYA: Obama freezes Kadafi's assets, declares a national emergency to deal with Libya

President Obama signed an order late Friday freezing the assets of Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, his family and members of his regime, and also wrote a letter to Congress declaring a national emergency to deal with the situation in Libya.

Kadafi and his regime have taken "extreme measures against the people of Libya," the order says. "I further find that there is a serious risk that Libyan state assets will be misappropriated by [Kadafi], members of his government, members of his family, or his close associates if those assets are not
protected," Obama said in the executive order.

The sanctions specifically apply to senior Libyan government officials, Kadafi's children, any people who were responsible for human rights abuses in Libya and their spouses. The order was effective as of 8 p.m. Eastern time on Friday.

Obama's letter to Congress outlines these sanctions. In it, Obama says that he has determined that Kadafi's actions against his own people "constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States."

The Obama administration has had to change tacks on its Middle East policy in the wake of the protests that have disrupted the region. The administration is urging beleaguered governments to enact reforms even as it works to preserve partnerships with key allies in the region. Diplomats say that Obama cannot openly call for big changes in the region without alienating some allies.


Obama, Hillary Clinton call on Kadafi to step down

Kadafi using civilian supporters to clear away Libyan supporters

Defiant Libyans flood streets of Tripoli to protest Moammar Kadafi

UN Security Council discusses draft resolution that includes sanctions

-- Alana Semuels

EGYPT: Expats celebrate fall of Mubarak

London Egyptian expatriates joined their countrymen celebrating the fall of President Hosni Mubarak on Friday.

In London's upscale Mayfair neighborhood, about 200 people celebrated Mubarak's departure outside the Egyptian Embassy, where they beat drums, danced the conga, hugged and chanted ”Bye bye, Mubarak” before marching through the streets, Reuters reported.

"This is the beginning of a new chapter for Egypt, for human rights, for democracy, and dignity in Egypt and the Middle East," 30-year-old student Basim al-Bahalwan told Reuters.

Egyptian barber Mohammed Zayed, 28, told Reuters that Egyptians were the happiest people in the world. "Our dignity has returned now this dog has gone."

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EGYPT: American professors urge Obama to 'seize this chance,' oust Mubarak

Noam Chomsky in 2009. More than 80 American academics, including Noam Chomsky and several California scholars, posted an open letter online Sunday to President Obama, urging him to heed the will of the Egyptian people, help remove President Hosni Mubarak and "move beyond rhetoric to support the democratic movement sweeping over Egypt."

"Tens if not hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Egypt and around the world have spoken. We believe their message is bold and clear: Mubarak should resign from office and allow Egyptians to establish a new government free of his and his family’s influence," they wrote. "If you seek, as you said Friday 'political, social, and economic reforms that meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people,' your administration should publicly acknowledge those reforms will not be advanced by Mubarak or any of his adjutants."

They also noted that, "There is another lesson from this crisis, a lesson not for the Egyptian government but for our own. In order for the United States to stand with the Egyptian people it must approach Egypt through a framework of shared values and hopes, not the prism of geostrategy."

In closing, they urged Obama to "seize this chance, turn away from the policies that brought us here, and embark on a new course toward peace, democracy and prosperity for the people of the Middle East" through "a comprehensive review of U.S. foreign policy on the major grievances voiced by the democratic opposition in Egypt and all other societies of the region."


Egypt's military moves to take control of parts of Cairo

U.S. Embassy in Cairo to begin voluntary evacuation flights Monday

Egyptian opposition leaders plan to negotiate with military, not president

Defense Secretary Robert Gates speaks with counterparts in Egypt, Israel about unrest

— Molly Hennessy-Fiske

Photo: Noam Chomsky in 2009. Credit: Juan Barreto / AFP/Getty Images

WEST BANK: More document leaks show U.S. pressure, Palestinian frustrations

Al Jazeera's latest leak of hundreds of secret Palestinian negotiating papers is providing the kind of fly-on-the-wall insights to Mideast peace talks that usually only emerge many years later in the autobiographies of politicians and diplomats.

Though some of the initial coverage and spin by Al Jazeera and other organizations has been inaccurate or out of context, the documents themselves offer a treasure trove of detailed information about Palestinians' internal strategy and tactics. Most of the documents were produced by the Palestinian Authority's own attorneys, advisors and negotiators and include transcripts of private strategy sessions and internal talking points. It's a bonanza for Israel, which can get a peek into the Palestinian thought process as recently as last year.

One December 2009 document discusses "Palestinian Messaging and Implementation." Another lays out the legal risks of a premature declaration of statehood. An internal summary of where peace talks last broke down reveals that Palestinians were prepared in 2008 to limit the number of returning refugees to 15,000 a year for 10 years, or 150,000.

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UNITED NATIONS: Israel's absence during Obama speech draws attention

President Obama's call Thursday in an address before the U.N. General Assembly for Israel to extend its West Bank construction moratorium got little reaction from the Israeli delegation. That's because they weren't there.

As Obama spoke about the importance of supporting U.S.-brokered peace talks, television cameras panned to empty chairs at Israel's U.N. desk.

Speculation immediately spread across Internet sites and among arm-chair analysts about whether Israel was snubbing Obama and boycotting his speech. Israel has been resisting mounting international pressure to extend the partial moratorium, which is set to expire Sunday. Palestinians have threatened to quit peace talks if construction resumes, though they've also hinted in recent days that they are open to a compromise.

Israeli officials have denied their absence was an intentional slight, saying they were observing the Jewish holiday of Sukkot and had informed the U.S. in advance that they would not be present.

Nevertheless, American officials expressed some disappointment that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to skip the U.N. meeting, sending other Israeli leaders to represent the country. Obama had hoped to use the forum to continue efforts to prevent peace talks from collapsing.

And some of Netanyahu's right-wing colleagues condemned Obama's speech, accusing the U.S. president of "inappropriate interference."

-- Edmund Sanders in Jerusalem

YEMEN: Clerics condemn foreign intervention, threaten global jihad

Yemen  A group of 150 Islamic scholars, sheiks and imams in Yemen issued a statement today condemning foreign intervention in the nation's affairs, with one leading cleric calling for global jihad if Washington sends forces to battle Al Qaeda.

The statement, distributed on glossy yellow brochures and CDs to taxi drivers and passersby, was designed to remind Yemenis and Muslims worldwide that this Arabian peninsula nation will not be a puppet of the United States, said Sheik Ali al Warafi, a member of Yemen's conservative Islamist party.

Sheik Arif bin Ahmad al Sabri, a member of parliament who read the document aloud to a group of several hundred men and women in a mosque in Yemen’s capital, Sana, called it a crucial step to maintaining freedom and independence in Yemen.

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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: Obama's speech in Cairo draws world reaction

Saeb Erakat, chief negotiator for the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority:

“This was a very important speech, in which President Obama reinforced the message that ending the occupation and establishing a viable and independent Palestinian state was in the mutual interest of Palestinians, Israelis and indeed the entire world. Progress towards peace hinges on both parties implementing their obligations under existing agreements....

“President Obama also expressed the need to address the daily injustices that Palestinians face. This includes the dislocation, dispossession and insecurity that millions of Palestinian refugees face, the intolerable realities of Israel’s occupation, especially in Gaza, as well as the importance of Jerusalem to all faiths and peoples, including Palestinian Christians and Muslims.”

* * *

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, responding to Obama administration shifts in attitude in a speech before the president:

"On the one hand, in Iraq terrorist agents are supported by you,” he said, in an apparent reference to the Mujahedin Khalq Organization, an Iranian opposition group based in Iraq. “On the other hand, you chant slogans of fighting terrorism. All of these actions have made nations in the region become hateful for them.… If the new president of America wants change of the face, America should change this behavior. Words and talk will not result in change. Muslim nations know that when the American government changes in deeds, they [Muslims] will believe its words."

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