The other day, protesters stormed over the wall of the United States Embassy in Cairo, Egypt, capturing the American flag and destroying it. The rioters were angry over an amateur American video denouncing Islam. Protesters also attacked the United States consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and killed the U.S. ambassador there. Both events took place around the 11th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11.
Now many people remember President Obama’s speech of June 4, 2009 at Cairo University? Entitled “A New Beginning,” the speech was billed as a restart in U.S.-Muslim relations following President Bush’s distant attitude to be given by a cosmopolitan President who as a child had lived among Muslim populations in Asia. Remember also that the President had promised to support the creation of a Palestinian state and said that he would be prepared to begin direct negotiations with Iran. He also said that he opposed Israeli settlements and was hopeful of reviving peace talks between Israel and Palestinian authorities.
This reminder is not to blame President Obama for these particular riots or the killing. The film was made by individuals not associated with the American government. Nor is it totally correct to blame the President for the current situation. But, the reminder does show that the enormous expectations in the Muslim world towards the new President have not been fulfilled, nor has the tragic situation in the Middle East positively changed. Not only has the U.S. Embassy in Cairo been stormed, but Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has a more and more tense relationship with Washington as he continues to beat the drum of war with Iran and encourages new settlements.
The political campaigns in the United States are focusing on domestic issues such as tax equality, reducing the debt, restructuring Medicare and Social Security. Very little is being said about foreign affairs, especially by the Republicans. The presidential campaign has been reduced to the usual declarations of support for Israel with a little China bashing thrown in for good measure. Although most people in foreign countries seem to favor re-electing President Obama, the election will be decided by voters in the United States. The election is for the President of the United States, not for President of the World. As former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local.” And that is certainly true this year in times of economic hardship.
No one likes to see a flag torn down in anger of any country, especially if one has the passport of that country. The killing of the ambassador is reprehensible and merits international condemnation. As the scene in Cairo unfolded, it is sad to reflect on how popular opinion has changed in such a short period of time there. It is also difficult to remember now how the United States supported the rebels in Benghazi in overthrowing Mouammar Kadhafi. And it is difficult to see how it will improve in the near future.
When Ingrid Bergman asks Sam to play “As Time Goes By” in the movie Casablanca, it is a melancholy reminder of the tragic story of two star-crossed lovers. Events overtook their brief but passionate relationship. Will the same be true of the United States and the Muslim world?