Page last updated at 20:05 GMT, Thursday, 4 June 2009 21:05 UK

Chorus of tweets greets Obama speech

Syrian women listen to the speech of US President Barack Obama at a cafe in downtown Damascus
The speech was followed with interest across the Arab and Muslim worlds

Even as US President Barack Obama took the podium at Cairo University, his vision of the children of Abraham mingling peacefully together exploded into irreverent life on the social media and micro-blogging websites Facebook and Twitter.

"Here we go again," tweeted Gazamom, a Palestinian living in the US, as Mr Obama started to warm up, expounding on the "violent extremists" exploiting the tensions between the West and Islam.

I was never shot at by a man quoting Christian texts
Idan Seri, Israel

There were online snickers, as he mispronounced hijab - the headscarf worn by Muslim women - as "hajeeb".

And then came a wave of comments as he turned to the Islamic scriptures - some of it enthusiastic, but not all.

"Stop quoting the Quran, dude! That's really cheesy," cringed Egyptian blogger 3arabawy.

Israeli Idan Seri weighed in on Facebook: "I was never shot at by a man quoting Christian texts, I was attacked by people quoting the Kuran," he wrote.

"With all due respect to all Americans here - you can't talk until you've lost your best friend because someone blew up a bus while screaming 'Allah u Akbar'."

'Going ouch'

Facebook users from countries ranging from Saudi Arabia , the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, as well as the US, gave impromptu commentary - much of it warm - as the White House streamed the address live.

US computer user Zabie Mansoory monitors a Facebook discussion board while watching President Barack Obama's televised speech
The White House streamed the speech live on Facebook

But on Twitter, a few people seemed irritated by the waves of gushing applause in Cairo - even counting the seconds it lasted.

In contrast, supporters of Israel wondered at the silence when Mr Obama condemned violence and Holocaust denial.

Rime Allaf, a political scientist at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London, kept up a flow of acerbic comment: "Come on Saint Obama, I dare you to mention Israeli nukes too, lol."

And later the Syrian-born commentator said: "Not a single mention of Syria... I can hear them going ouch."

Her verdict: "Some safe generalities, some patronizing preaching, and some 'let's all live together in peace' bla bla."

However, a tweet in the name of Queen Rania of Jordan (and linked to her popular channel on the video-sharing website YouTube) was more positive.

"Obama's words: genuine & thoughtful. A much-needed change in tone re: east-west."

Call to action

Mr Obama also came in for some sharp comments on his treatment of democracy: "How about Mubarak and his ruthless suppressing the rights of others?" tweeted Marcy Newman, who describes herself as a teacher, writer and activist in Palestine.

We expect a lot from Obama. May Allah help him
Aliaa Madani, Sudan

And "Obama does this mean you will be recognizing Hamas given they were democratically elected?"

As the US president drew to a close, an oft-repeated theme was a call for deeds to match his fine words.

"Overwhelming speech," wrote Eman Ibrahim from Egypt on Facebook, "actions please!!!!!!!!".

And some comments suggested his speech had, at least in some cases, landed well on target.

Aliaa Madani in Sudan wrote: "That wonderful speech by the first black American president is a good start to change the hatred that others planted. We expect a lot from Obama. May Allah help him in his mission of world peace."

While Hebatalla Ghanem in Saudi Arabia said: "One speech cannot change anything. We must all act."


Most US commentators on the liberal left were happy with Mr Obama's speech. MJ Rosenberg, of Talking Points Memo, was typical in his praise.

"Mission accomplished," he wrote.

"For the first time in memory, an American President spoke to Muslims and Arabs not as antagonists who need to take certain actions before achieving US acceptance but as equals."

Matthew Yglesias, from the Centre for American Progress, was also pleased with the speech, which he thought was intellectually ambitious: "This is a guy who's not afraid to try to express complicated or difficult ideas," he wrote.

But some on the left were disappointed that the president's speech did not go far enough on human rights.

The speech was "disappointingly weak on human rights and specifically women's rights," wrote the Huffington Post's Peter Daou.

"With women being stoned, raped, abused, battered, mutilated, and slaughtered on a daily basis across the globe, violence that is so often perpetrated in the name of religion, the most our president can speak about is protecting their right to wear the hijab?"

These criticisms were echoed at the other end of the US political spectrum, by Jennifer Rubin of Commentary magazine, who wrote that Mr Obama "softly cajoles but makes no mention of the abject abuse of women in the Muslim world."

The main focus of conservative criticism, however, was Mr Obama's treatment of Israel.

"Aside from that levelled... against [the US], his greatest portion of criticism was reserved for the only nation in that otherwise benighted region that actually does believe in human rights and practices democracy, namely Israel. What a disgrace," writes the Weekly Standard's Rachel Abrams.


After a few hours, bloggers and more heavyweight commentators added their musings.

David Horowitz, editor of the right-leaning Israeli daily the Jerusalem Post, titled his comment piece "Obama's admirable, vital new beginning… and unfortunate misstep".

He said it was "heartening" that Mr Obama spoke of the "unbreakable bond" between the US and Israel, but he was disappointed by the brevity of the section on Iran's nuclear programme.

He said it was "jarring indeed" that the Palestinian leadership was not blamed more for the history of failed peace talks.

The more centrist newspaper Haaretz said "a new chapter" had begun, in which the US had put Israel and Arabs "on an equal footing".

"Obama's address placed the ball in Israel's court," wrote correspondent Avika Eldar, referring to Mr Obama's continued pressure on Israel to end settlement activity and endorse a two-state solution.

I think it's important to stress the shock of 9/11 on Americans
Blogger on The Arabist

Speaking on Egypt's state-owned Nile News TV, vice-director of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies Abd-al-Majid said there was "nothing surprising in the US president's speech".

"He did not deal with the details of important issues like the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He only stated general themes."

An unnamed contributor to The Arabist blog comments on sections of the text.

"I think it's important to stress the shock of 9/11 on Americans. Too many people in the Muslim world have forgotten that, to focus on their own grievances," the blogger writes.

Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian journalist and commentator based in the US, said Mr Obama's speech marked a difference in tone and substance from previous US administrations.

"It was good to hear him acknowledge Palestinian pain," she said in a BBC interview.

"But I think the Palestinian issue isn't the only one that upsets the Muslim world. I wish I'd heard more about civilian casualties in Pakistan and Afghanistan."

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