by Yousef Al-Mohaimeed
(Editor’s Note: In 2008, I had the opportunity to meet Saudi Arabian author Yousef Al-Mahaimeed at the PEN American Center World Voices Festival in New York City. Here are his thoughts on President Barack Obama’s visit to the Middle East. Joy E. Stocke)
President Obama’s visit to Saudi Arabia was a good opportunity to remove misunderstanding between the USA and Saudi Arabia because, as you know, we had a great relationship for decades. But after September 11th we are suffering as Saudis from the treatment in United States.
I can’t forget my first and last visit to New York City to participate in the PEN American Center’s World Voices Festival. Airport security stopped me for more than three hours without any reason, just because I am a Saudi citizen this was my first visit. They did not care about the invitation from PEN. Anyway, I don’t like to talk about personal experience, but it is one of many cases that happen regularly.
Politically, we are optimistic in the Middle East for Obama’s visit, but at the same time we should be realistic that he cannot export democracy to the Arabian countries from the first world. He cannot make the Arabs believe in freedom of religion, or persuade the Arabian governments to give citizens their rights such as freedom of speech. A long time is needed to build new vision in this area.
The historic speech of Obama in Egypt was great; it was fair for Muslim communities but still contained just ideas and advice. All of us are humans, so all of us deserve peace. We are tired from Iran’s threats, and the insolent threats of Israel government, and Americans in Iraq and the whole area. I think it is not easy to solve many political problems in Middle East.
We always talk about politics and economics, but we cannot talk about the culture, how to change the people in Arab countries, how to make them open minded, and accept other cultures and respect the other religions.
When Obama became president, many Arabs celebrated, because with former President Bush, they felt that the American president, like any Arab president, could decide to do anything whenever he wanted.
Yousef al-Mohaimeed is author of the novel, Wolves of the Crescent Moon.