Al Jazeera Discusses Obama's Speech

Originally published on April 22, 2011 4:15 pm
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And we're going to talk now about how the president's address tonight might have played for a global Arab audience.

I'm joined by Abderrahim Foukara. He's the Washington bureau chief for Al-Jazeera. Welcome to the program.

Mr. ABDERRAHIM FOUKARA (Washington Bureau Chief for Al-Jazeera): Thank you for having me.

BLOCK: We heard the president tonight say during the speech that removing Moammar Gadhafi from power would be good for the world, but doing so by force would be a mistake.

How do you think that message is being received among the Arab population in the Arab world?

Mr. FOUKARA: You know, the speech here in the United States, not everyone may agree that it's a historic one, but in the Middle East, certainly the context in which the speech has been made is definitely historic. The fact that he puts so much stress on saving Libyans who might otherwise have been slaughtered by Colonel Gadhafi, that will certainly ring positively with people in the Arab world.

For all the nervousness about the interference or the intervention by NATO and the United States in another Arab Muslim land, I think a lot of people will be happy to see Colonel Gadhafi go.

But only to say something very important that the president mentioned, he mentioned that a continued power run by Gadhafi in Libya would undermine the achievements of the revolution both in Tunisia and in Egypt.

And it's interesting because had - it's a good thing from that perspective that the revolution in North Africa had followed history, not geography, followed history because it went from Tunisia to Egypt, as many other really tectonic shifts had done in the past. It didn't follow geography because if it had followed geography, he would have gone from Tunisia to Libya. And if the chaos that many Arabs had seen in Libya had seen it in Libya first, Egypt would not have happened.

BLOCK: It wouldn't happen to...

Mr. FOUKARA: And it would have made it very difficult for the president to make that strategic argument. Egypt, obviously, is a very important country for the United States.

BLOCK: You mentioned something I'd like to follow up on, and it's nervousness in the Muslim world about U.S. intervention in another Muslim country. How much weight does that hold when balanced against what you also mentioned, which is the sentiment that most of the Arab world will be happy to see Gadhafi go?

Mr. FOUKARA: Well, I mean, the nervousness is substantial. The memory of Iraq is obviously still very much alive in the region. The memory - and it's more than a memory - of Afghanistan is still very much alive. Every day we hear of deaths in Afghanistan by NATO, so people are very nervous about that. But I think the fact that as the president said the call came from Libyans themselves, the opposition in Libya asked for this intervention because they felt that without this intervention, they would have otherwise have been slaughtered. And I think they find a lot of support among fellow Arabs in that fear. I'm talking about the opposition here.

BLOCK: Would you expect to see any more involvement from Arab countries in the military operation in Libya? There have been overtures from Qatar and from the United Arab Emirates, but that's pretty much it.

Mr. FOUKARA: I think if you had additional support for the coalition from Arab governments, obviously, that will be a huge bonus. But even with its current scope only represented by these two countries, these two small countries, Qatar and United Arab Emirates, and militarily, it's not very significant. But what is significant is that it came as a result of the Arab League actually declaring its support for this intervention initially, although Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the Arab League, did seem to have cold feet at some point. But the fact that the Arab League has undertaken this unprecedented step in its history of supporting the move of an international coalition against a fellow Arab government, I think it's very significant.

BLOCK: Mr. Foukara, thanks for coming in.

Mr. FOUKARA: It's good to be with you.

BLOCK: Abderrahim Foukara is the Washington bureau chief for Al-Jazeera's Arabic language station. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.