President Barack Obama was greeted with calls of “We love you” when he visited Cairo in his first term, seeking to turn the page on the Bush era with talk of a new beginning for ties between the United States and the Muslim world.
Four years on, Egyptians who attended the Cairo University speech feel let down, a view that hardened when Obama, who has had a volatile relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, showed solidarity with Israel’s leader during his visit there, and stressed the depth of U.S.-Israeli ties.
“If I saw Obama today, I’d say: ‘What happened?’,” said Ahmed Samih, 34, one of several people who shouted out support for the president during his 2009 speech that aimed to change perceptions of the United States shaped by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan launched by his predecessor, George W. Bush.
Obama connected with many of his listeners back then by quoting from the Koran and urging an end to a “cycle of suspicion and discord” with the Muslim world.
Some left believing they had witnessed history. They cited his tough line on Israeli settlements as one example of a shift.
Obama’s first term brought some change: American troops left Iraq at he end of 2011. But it also was a big disappointment for those hoping for an overhaul of U.S. Middle East policy they have long seen as skewed towards Israel.
With civil war raging in Syria, and the Arab world reshaped by popular uprisings since 2009, some of Obama’s former fans do not hold out hope of change in his second term. Regional turmoil had “made him deepen the strategic relationship with Israel”, Ezzat Ibrahim, a journalist who attended the 2009 speech, said.