Policy Makers: Addressing the Muslim world

Posted in Best practices | 12-Feb-13

It was obvious, Melhem said, that Obama wanted to speak to the Arab and Muslim through Al Arabiya and was trying to deliver the message that there will be a different approach towards the issues of concern to Arabs and Muslims, especially the Palestinian cause.

"At this point, we talked about Mitchell's mission. We talked about many details, which was something I didn't expect. I thought he'd wait for the Israeli elections and Mitchell's feedback,” explained Melhem. Mitchell arrived in the region as the interview was airing on Al Arabiya Tuesday.

"He was positive with regards the Arab peace initiative and stressed he will personally play an active role in the peace process and won't wait till the end of his term or the second, in an obvious criticism of his predecessor Bush."

Media outlets across the world carried Obama's interview with Al Arabiya, eager for the first hint of how the new president would begin to fulfill his campaign promise of change, especially with regard to the Middle East and the Muslim world.

Although Melhem asked Obama in which Muslim capital he would give his promised speech the president was not ready to announce the news during the interview, although that did not stop speculation.

Melhem said some were predicting Obama would choose the Indonesian capital Djakarta since the president spent part of his childhood there and it is the world's most populous Muslim nations, and noted that choosing an Arab capital could create contention among the Arab countries.

Just as Obama discussed the importance of language and words during his on-air interview, Melhem said it “goes without saying” that a president named Barack Hussein Obama would look at the world differently than a George W. Bush.

"This is not just because of the time he spent in Indonesia or because of his African roots, but also because of his understanding of the complications of this world and his realization that America today is not America 20 or 25 years ago," explained Melhem.

Obama used his full name when he took the oath of office despite fear mongering during the campaign that his middle name Hussein indicated he was secretly Muslim. The interview was the first time he explicitly talked about his family’s Muslim background.

“I have Muslim members of my family,” Obama told Melhem. “I have lived in Muslim countries.”

Melhem said he thinks Obama realizes the world is changing and no longer revolves around Europe or the United States.

“His view of the Islamic world will be from that perspective, which is different from that of previous American presidents,” said Melhem.

(Translated from Arabic by Sonia Farid. Written by Courtney C. Radsch)

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