November 23, 2009 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 556

Arab World Reacts to President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize Win

November 23, 2009
Egypt, Syria, The Gulf, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 556


Reactions in the Arab media to the awarding of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to U.S. President Barack Obama were split into support and opposition. The supporters of the move stated that Obama deserved the prize for the spirit of reconciliation and moderate messages that he broadcast to the world - in contrast to his predecessor George W. Bush - and that the prize further validated his activity. Those opposed stated that the prize should not be awarded for good intentions alone, that Obama had so far shown no real accomplishments, and that his Middle East policy was no different from Bush's, in effect and in practice.

The following are some reactions from both sides:

Lebanese Daily Al-Mustaqbal: Obama Embodies the Principles of Justice and Peace

In an editorial, the Lebanese daily Al-Mustaqbal, which is owned by Al-Mustaqbal faction leader Sa'd Al-Hariri, stated: "Usually, the [Nobel Peace] Prize is given to a distinguished personage for something in particular that he accomplished - but apparently this time the prize is being given to President Obama for the ideals and values that he brandishes...

"Obama very quickly linked his presidency, which he is still just beginning, to exceptional and attractive slogans: justice in the U.S. and justice on the international level... Along with a plan to withdraw from Iraq, Obama set in motion a serious initiative for peace in the Middle East, accompanying this initiative with another for intercultural and interfaith dialogue. He stressed his belief in a world without violence and without means of violence, including nuclear weapons and weapons of [mass] destruction.

"The most important thing... is that in his speech at the U.N. General Assembly in September, Obama particularly emphasized the end of the unipolar [world] order and the beginning of the just partnership of all countries in building the future of the world...

"For decades, there has been no embodiment of the principles of justice, peace, and dialogue, and [a call] for nonviolence, in the American administration... or in a particular leader. For a long time, there was no 'global movement' based on the principles to which Obama adheres... and there was no leftist [movement] anywhere across the world waving and defending these principles...

"[Obama] is a '21st-century phenomenon,' and millions across the planet hope that President Barack Obama will succeed in implementing the principles and values to which they adhere..." [1]

Egyptian Columnist: Obama Deserves the Prize - And More!

Suleiman Gouda, columnist for the independent Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm, wrote: "The awarding of the Nobel Prize to Obama arouses amazement and confusion, because this man is still in the first months of his presidency, and has as yet done nothing of value for peace...

"When we look at what has been done on the ground - particularly in occupied Palestine, whose sons' suffering increases daily, it seems that Obama is not so deserving of the prize. But when he is weighed in the balance of ideas, trends and intentions overall, it appears that he is deserving of the prize - and more!

"Obama came to Cairo University on June 4 and gave a speech there, addressing the Muslims and Arabs. He closed a black chapter in relations between them and the Bush administration, which had continued for eight years. In that famous speech, he presented not only new attitudes towards the Muslim world and the Arab world, but also stressed the idea of the establishment of an independent Palestinian state alongside an Israeli state..." [2]

Qatari Columnist: "Obama Has Some of the Merits of Gandhi and Mother Teresa"

Mazen Hammad, columnist for the Qatari daily Al-Watan, wrote: "It is true that Obama has not executed anything concrete in his nine months of rule - but the prize was awarded to him because he spread worldwide a different view towards global conflicts... Obama has some of the merits of [the Mahatma] Gandhi and Mother Teresa.

"Let Obama receive the prize, since he is the only leader who talks about peace from the depths of his heart - and the prize will greatly encourage him to purge the world of nuclear weapons, to stop global warming, to establish peace in the Middle East, and to [get the U.S. out of] Iraq and Afghanistan. Let him work, because he still has lots of time." [3]

Kuwaiti Attorney: "You [Are Indeed] Deserving"

In an op-ed in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa, Kuwaiti lawyer Salma Al-'Ajami praised the award. She wrote: "It was a wise act on the part of the chairman and members of the [Nobel Prize] committee in Oslo, to give the Nobel Peace Prize to the American president - not only because they greatly admire a president with honest intentions, values, and [positive] stances, but also because throughout his [political] career he has helped actualize humanitarian values such as freedom, justice, and peace.

"We bow to the modesty of the president, whose first response to the award was that he is undeserving, that it will cause him to act more energetically, and that he will donate [the prize money] to humanitarian organizations.

"We say [to you, Obama] that you [are indeed] deserving of the prize, and there is no disputing that you are different from the others - because you are a person who extended his hand to peace honestly, received the most distinguished prize in the world, and contributed it to mankind..." [4]

Editor of PA Daily: Obama Has No Accomplishments At All

Hafez Al-Barghouthi, editor of the Palestinian daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, stated in an op-ed that Obama had accomplished nothing since the beginning of his presidential term, and had not succeeded in bringing peace anywhere in the world. On the contrary, he said: Since the beginning of his term, "the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq has increased, and the rash of Israeli construction in the settlements in the West Bank has [also] increased. [Furthermore,] he has not managed to stop Iran's nuclear project. [So] on what did those who awarded the prize rely when they gave him this important [sign of] esteem?

"Obama's situation is very like that of many Arab leaders, who at official events wear army uniforms with glittering medals - but when you look at their past, you find a series of defeats and no accomplishments." [5]

Talal 'Awkal, columnist for the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Ayyam, wrote: "If Obama wanted to be worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, he would have to apologize to the peoples of the world for what the U.S. has done - dropping the first atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and using uranium and prohibited weapons in many of its wars, most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan." [6]

Editor of Egyptian Government Daily Al-Gomhouriyya: "I Hope that Obama Wins [Another Nobel Peace] Prize - After Bringing Peace to the Middle East and Afghanistan"

Muhammad 'Ali Ibrahim, editor of the Egyptian government daily Al-Gomhouriyya and Egyptian MP, wrote in his daily column: "As an Egyptian journalist living in one of the world's 'hotspots,' that is, the Middle East, I am absolutely convinced that good intentions are not enough to get a prize - and this is all the more true if that prize is the Nobel Peace Prize, which throughout history has been won by individuals who have truly achieved something, not by individuals who expressed hopes and paved the road with dreams...

"Apparently, President Obama received the prize in appreciation for his stances supporting peace and stability in the world and an end to the armed conflicts, and for choosing to follow a new path different from that of George Bush, who tended towards clashes and conflict. I would think that another reason for awarding [Obama] the prize was his amazing speech at Cairo University on June 4, 2009...

"I hope that Obama wins the prize again - for actual achievements, not for good intentions, honeyed words, and moderate discourse. I hope that Obama wins [another] prize, after bringing peace to the Middle East and Afghanistan." [7]

Syrian Government Daily: It Is Syria that Deserves a Nobel Peace Prize - As Well As Iran, Venezuela and Turkey

As'ad 'Aboud, editor of the Syrian daily Al-Thawra wrote: "The Nobel Peace Prize is not always awarded to those who make peace. [Nobel Peace Prize laureates] Menahem Begin, Anwar Sadat, Shimon Peres, and many others did not make peace at all but were [actually] hostile to peace...

"The [move of] awarding the prize to the U.S. president has more to do with the past and the future than with the present... Obama promised and is still promising peace, [and] he did change the [tone of] the American discourse, at least. He showed that he preferred dialogue and diplomacy [over hostility], and expressed a desire to restrict [the amount of] nuclear weapons in the world. These are intentions for the future, and the prize was given to him in anticipation of their fulfillment. At the same time, [the granting of the prize] was an act of condemning the actions of the Bush administration in 2000-2008... In 2002, the [Nobel Peace Prize] was awarded to former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, [when] the extremist, coercive and domineering [character] of Bush's administration was beginning to become apparent. Jimmy Carter's administration, [like Obama's], preferred dialogue and diplomacy... In 2005 the prize was awarded to Mohamed ElBaradei, secretary-general of the IAEA. This was at a time when considerable pressures were being exerted upon many countries with the pretext of searching for nuclear weapons... [ElBaradei was] trapped between U.S. pressure and the facts that were known to him... [for example, the fact] that there was no evidence for any nuclear activity in Iraq. He [too] was given the prize as an implicit condemnation of the Bush administration...

"Back then, many in the world were against the pressures of the [Bush] administration, which sometimes reached the level of threats... Syria was against these pressures and threats, as were Iran, Venezuela, other countries in South America, and even Turkey, [the U.S.'] ally, whose parliament was opposed to the U.S. army passing [through Turkish territory] on its way to Iraq. All these countries deserve a [Nobel] peace prize - especially Syria, because it has always advocated dialogue as an alternative and diplomacy as a mode of action. But we do not want prizes, we want peace. We congratulate you, Barack Obama, [in hope] that you will receive the prize and we will get peace, [and] that the prize will be a condemnation of the oppressive past and a [harbinger] of a promising future." [8]

Syrian Columnist: The Choice of Obama as Peace Prize Laureate Is Puzzling

Syrian columnist Salwa Zahr wrote in the Syrian daily Al-Watan that the only good thing about Obama's win was that it prevented the prize from being awarded to the likes of Israeli Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu, which would have been much more surprising. She wrote: "The prize's history shows that it has been awarded to more than one politician who was against every principle of peace, and who in fact had a part in fostering a mentality of militarism, killing and destruction. The first [laureates of this sort] were Menahem Begin and Yitzhak Rabin, as well as [Shimon] Peres, who is regarded as the engineer of Israel's nuclear program and the master-butcher [of the massacre in] Qana.

"When the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded to people who use [their] armies to wage unjust wars... and to exterminate people, [and] when it is awarded to people who pursue their own personal interests and are subordinate to superpowers, such as the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, it is impossible to convince the free [people] of the world that it is an important prize given to those who truly deserve it. Today, when the prize has been awarded to Barack Obama - who on Friday, October 9, 2009, held the fourth war council session on Afghanistan [a reference to U.S. policy discussions] - this probably raises questions regarding the prize [committee], which is flirting with the giant empires while ignoring the political facts [on the ground], and which treats good intentions as real facts and achievements." [9]

Saudi Columnist: Obama Himself Admits He Is Unworthy

In an article titled "Obama Has Received a Peace Prize - For What?" in the Saudi daily Al-Watan, Saudi columnist Khaled Al-Ghanami wrote: "I welcomed Barack Obama's election to the presidency, but when the chairman of the Swedish Nobel Prize committee announced Obama as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, I felt that the win... was neither justified nor convincing. The first question that pops into one's head is... 'for what?' [because, after all,] this prize is awarded only for concrete achievements and not for plans, promises and strategies that remain on paper.

"What has Obama done for us except give a beautiful, tolerant speech in Cairo, in which he relied on hadiths and Koranic verses? In practice, we have seen nothing from him but some attempts to 'pressure' Israel to halt the settlements - pressures which the Zionists, in their arrogance, have rejected... The word 'pressure' means threatening to stop the aid or to impose sanctions. But nothing like this has occurred, and no real pressure has been exerted, only a mild reprimand... Obama has done nothing, and is unworthy of this prize, as he himself has acknowledged.' [10]

Saudi Columnist: Saudi King Should Receive Prize, Not Obama

In his column in the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh, Dr. Hashem Abdo Hashem wrote: "I have already said, in my lecture at Jazan University on [Saudi] National Day... in which I reviewed the measures taken by Saudi King 'Abdallah and discussed his call to the world for coexistence, that [King 'Abdallah's] unprecedented cultural initiative will likely motivate associations, institutions, and scientific centers across the world to propose [him] as a Nobel Prize candidate...

"[This initiative] has become a cultural and humanitarian program that can be implemented anywhere in the world. The day will yet come when the vision of King 'Abdallah comes true - when coexistence will be the best way to bring about world peace and stability, far from clashes between civilizations, wars, and violence, as has been the case to this day.

"Since the Nobel Prize committee this year selected the American president Obama, for reasons that convince no one, then the future will deem 'Abdallah's call for coexistence far more worthy [of receiving] the greatest global prizes, as appreciation for his constructive participation in creating peace, wellbeing, and progress in the world." [11]

Al-Hayat Columnist: Obama Has Not Yet Proven Himself

Columnist Elias Harfoush wrote in the London daily Al-Hayat: "This is the first time anyone has received a peace prize for good intentions alone. The previous U.S. presidents who received [the Nobel Peace Prize] had historic achievements: Theodore Roosevelt arbitrated a peace agreement between Russia and Japan, Woodrow Wilson played an important role in establishing the League of Nations, and Jimmy Carter is esteemed for [his role in] the Camp David Accords, an historic milestone in the Israeli-Arab conflict. In this sense, the prize awarded to Obama is a burden for him, [because] he will have to prove himself worthy of it. If he does not, the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize will turn out to have been a waste, and its cost - about one and a half million dollars that go into Obama's pocket - will be wasted as well." [12]

Saudi Columnist: The Prize Is Made of the Blood of Innocents

"Saudi columnist Sharifa Al-Shamlan wrote in the Saudi daily Al-Riyadh: "...In the past, it was Shimon Peres who won the prize - that murderer who broke the arms and legs of children and adolescents during the first intifada, in front of the eyes and ears of the world, and who is still committing one act of tyranny after the other. Now it is Obama who has won... Has he withdrawn his armies from the countries they occupied? Has he compensated the Iraqis for what his country did to them? Has he reopened schools, mosques, and institutions that were destroyed? Will he take care of the sick and the crippled? Will he restore the honor of the countries [that were harmed] and give the orphans of Afghanistan their fathers and mothers back? Aren't we [still] hearing about UAVs bombing homes and towns and destroying roads in villages and cities...?

"We apologize to Obama, but only a short time has elapsed since his inauguration for president... and the prisons have not yet been closed, the innocent people who were jailed have not received restitution or even an apology, and armies are still exterminating people in many countries that are no longer able to [even] take their own decisions. [I ask] the Nobel Prize committee: What sort of peace is this?

"The [institution of] the Nobel Peace Prize is deteriorating, because it has gone from Mother Teresa - who cared for lepers in many regions scourged [by this disease], spreading love, security and health - to warmongers and leaders of armies that burn people and forests... The prize is made of the blood of the innocent and the wretched." [13]

Lebanese Daily Al-Akhbar: Promises Are One Thing, Actions Another

The Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which is associated with the opposition, published an extensive article condemning the awarding of the prize to Obama. The article stated: "This neophyte president has not made any achievement worth mentioning, other than his promises to bring change... Here are president Obama's prominent 'achievements' in the region: In Palestine... he has not responded to Israel's stubbornness by taking decisive measures or exerting pressure on the Hebrew state. On the contrary, lately he has begun to defend it and back it in its crimes by pressuring the Palestinian side to withdraw its support of the Goldstone Report...

"Obama [also] renewed the sanctions against Syria and accused it of continuing to support terrorism in the Middle East and of [undermining] Iraq's stability. [Furthermore,] though the U.S. administration promised to nominate an [American] ambassador to Damascus, after four years without one, an ambassador has yet to appear.

"[As for Iraq, Obama said that] 'withdrawing the American forces from Iraq does not mean abandoning this country.' These few words, uttered by Obama several days ago, neatly summarize the outlook of this Nobel Prize laureate on Iraq - [an outlook] based on the idea of squeezing political and economic profit from Iraq without shedding a single drop of [the American] soldiers' blood. In terms of everyday policies, observers find little difference between Obama and Bush...

"As for Iran, Obama has not been able to melt the ice between [Tehran] and Washington... [Moreover,] since this 'man of peace' assumed the presidency... he has not removed from his new strategy... the option of war against Iran or of sanctions against it, which are to be discussed in Congress..." [14]


[1] Al-Mustaqbal (Lebanon), October 12, 2009.

[2] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), October 11, 2009.

[3] Al-Watan (Qatar), October 11, 2009.

[4] Al-Siyassa (Kuwait), October 11, 2009.

[5] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (Palestinian Authority), October 10, 2009.

[6] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), October 12, 2009.

[7] Al-Gomhouriyya (Egypt), October 10, 2009.

[8] Al-Thawra (Syria), October 11, 2009.

[9] Al-Watan (Syria), October 12, 2009.

[10] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), October 12, 2009.

[11] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), October 12, 2009.

[12] Al-Hayat (London), October 10, 2009.

[13] Al-Riyadh (Saudi Arabia), October 13, 2009.

[14] Al-Akhbar (Lebanon), October 10, 2009.

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