Bold Actions Must Follow President’s Call for End of Status Quo toward Middle East & North Africa

May 19, 2011

The Muslim Public Affairs Council today commended President Barack Obama’s stated pledge to shift U.S. policies toward the Middle East and North Africa, particularly his repeated recognition that the “status quo is unsustainable” in both the Middle East and the United States' approach to the broader region. As the world looks on, the test moving forward will be what bold and decisive policies and actions will take place to turn the rhetoric into reality.

SEE: Full text of President Barack Obama’s speech

“President Obama’s support of democracy, human rights and self-governance for all people, irrespective of our geo-political interests, is a crucial stance which reflects our nation’s values,” said Haris Tarin, Director MPAC’s Washington, DC, office, who was on hand for the president’s speech. “As each country in the region continues to struggle to bring about lasting change and democracy, we as Muslim Americans underscore the point that our short-term national interests must align with our long-term values and vision for the region."

"Failure to change our approach threatens a deepening spiral of division between the U.S. and the Middle East," the president said, before an audience at the State Department.

The president repeatedly underscored the U.S.’s commitment to support the self-determination of people across the region, and warned Middle East leaders that continued resistance to calls of reform from their people means their days are numbered. He specifically outlined sanctions against Syria and Iran, and criticized Bahrain and Yemen.

At the core of the regional struggle for self-determination is the ongoing struggle of the Palestinian people for their own state. MPAC supports Obama’s statement that a “democratic Jewish state cannot exist with a permanent occupation.” Stressing the administration’s support for a two-state solution which abides by 1967 borders and self-governance by Palestinians, Obama made an important statement about the U.S. needing to tell the truth as a reflection of its commitment to Israel.

Calling for an independent state is crucial for U.S. policy in the region. But the test moving forward for the administration will be if they stand firm in pressuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to make changes in policy that will create the conditions which actually allow for a Palestinian state and security for both Palestinians and Israelis. Prodding Israel to accept that it can never have a truly peaceful nation that is based on "permanent occupation" is commendable, but the world will be watching to see if U.S. policy will back that statement up with real action. The first test will be later this week when Obama addresses the annual conference of the American Israeli Political Action Committee.

Finally, we echo the president’s characterization of Osama bin Laden as a “mass murderer” rather than a “martyr,” and his recognition that bin Laden and al-Qaeda are increasingly irrelevant to Muslims worldwide who are successfully using peaceful means to achieve real change.

Obama’s parting words also made an important cultural link between centuries-old American struggles for advancement and those of the people of the Middle East and North Africa:

“For the American people, the scenes of upheaval in the region may be unsettling, but the forces driving it are not unfamiliar. Our own nation was founded through a rebellion against an empire. Our people fought a painful civil war that extended freedom and dignity to those who were enslaved.

“And I would not be standing here today unless past generations turned to the moral force of nonviolence as a way to perfect our union -- organizing, marching and protesting peacefully together to make real those words that declared our nation: ‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.’” 


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