I am happy that President Obama is trying to mend fences with Arabs and Iranians in the Middle East by giving a speech in Cairo.

And many Americans agree, although many think he is being naive, or is sending a message to the radicals in the area that he is willing to “throw Israel under the bus” to obtain peace with the Arab world.

But all over the world, editorials are positive.

As Tom Friedman notes in the NYTimes, just by being elected, President Obama is proof that the American dream works, that there is a country where you can succeed despite being a racial/ethnic minority, or (as is more common in the third world) connected with big shots who own the place.

But there is another aspect to the speech that few Americans seem to realize.

His speech is an “end run” around the government controlled media that is the only source of news for many who live in the area.

One reason for “anti American/Israeli/western” hatred is that the main source of news in these areas are the state run press, and it’s an old political trick to find a scapegoat (in this case, Israel) to hate, to divert anger away from the more pressing problems of corruption, poverty, and lack of basic services.

Put it this way: Al Jezeerah is considered the least biased source of news in many Arab countries, because although they present the news with a local slant, (so many Americans think the network is biased) they are not told what to print by the local government.

So what should the President say?

In the US, in the Wall Street Journal, Paul Wolfowitz thinks it’s a good idea, but reminds the president to remember to mention the importance of freedom for ordinary folks.

Good idea. After all, Egypt is not really a democracy but a dictatorship, and other Middle Eastern countries are either dictatorships/monarchies (Syria, Saudi) or are limited democracies (Iran, Iraq).

Things are changing in the area, and the monopoly on information is weakening. Satellite dishes are reported to be seen even in puritanical Saudi Arabia. Iranian bloggers use software to get around that country’s internet censorship, and Facebook is again open to rally support for opposition candidates in the next election.

So President Obama’s speech has a potential for being one more “culture changer” in the region: not a big one, but a positive one nevertheless.

Now, if he only would mention the importance of freedom of religion…and ask the Saudi King to allow a tiny church in his kingdom so that the one million Christian Pinoys that work in Saudi can worship without worrying that the religious police will arrest them for holding religious services in their homes….

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. She blogs at Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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