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January 27th, 2009
05:08 PM ET

Obama showcased and snubbed

President Obama has taken an early interest in the Middle East peace process.

President Obama has taken an early interest in the Middle East peace process.

Octavia Nasr
Arab Affairs Editor

It's not the first interview Al-Arabiya has landed with an American president. As a matter of fact, since its launch in 2003, Al-Arabiya has interviewed George W. Bush on several occasions. But this one is different… President Barack Obama’s first official interview with any TV network. It is also his personal message to the more than one billion Muslims around the world - one fifth of the world’s population - and he chose Al-Arabiya as his vehicle to deliver it.

So, Al-Arabiya has a scoop and it wants the world to know it. The Dubai-based network owned by Saudi businessmen landed the interview with President Obama and it's wasting no time to brag about it..

The network’s US Affairs Editor, Hisham Melhem who conducted the fifteen-minute interview is now basking in the spotlight. He describes Obama as cool, kind and confident. Just how cool? He borrows an Arabic expression that translates to, "A mountain that no wind can shake!!"

Al-Arabiya Producer Mona Shaqaqi offers some insights into the interview like why there wasn't a US flag behind the president. She says, "When we asked them where is the US flag, they said they wanted the interview to be casual and friendly, not stiff and imposing.. so no flag was used."

Some of Al-Arabiya's smaller competitors stayed away from showing the interview or mentioning its exclusivity. But they reported on what President Obama has said especially the parts about listening instead of dictating to the Middle East and his commitment to peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

While the interview captured the attention of world media, the most watched network in the Arab world, Al-Jazeera, stayed away from it completely both on television and on line. The Al-Jazeera networks, English and Arabic, did not report until now what the new United States President said in his first official message to the Muslim world. Al-Jazeera has not responded to our request for an explanation about their decision not to report the story.

It remains unclear if President Obama has snubbed Al-Jazeera by giving his first interview to their competitor.. But if this is the case, it seems that for now, Al-Jazeera has snubbed him back.

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Filed under: First 100 Days • Islam • Middle East • Octavia Nasr • President Barack Obama
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Mr. Britt

    mike, his wiffe is ashamed to be an american, im sure the same goes for him. when i see OUR flag it brings to mind all the pain and heartache it took to keep, and nobama doesnt care one cent about it.

    January 28, 2009 at 3:51 am |
  2. SanJ

    I am very happy that President Barack Obama took this action. It isn't about he network he used, its about the message and effort he gave to 'take an action' towards healing and beginning a dialogue with Arabs and Muslims.

    January 28, 2009 at 1:22 am |
  3. John Sheets

    I would like to see Obama do more of this direct talk to the Mulsim world. Even after establishing himself, calling for Bin Laden's surrender or appealing to Muslims who may have information on his whereabouts to turn him over. If he's able over time to establish a rapport with them, and be trusted by them, as evidenced by his actions, they may find it benificial to their own well being to forasake Al Queada's violent extremism and see the path to peace lies not in terroism but diplomacy and a meaningful dialogue with America. This interview however was a good first step towards this process.

    January 28, 2009 at 12:18 am |
  4. Christopher in Apopka

    Oh Tammy from LA, ease up on the fear element and assuming the belittlement of the flag was intentional. I'm proud to fly our flag but more proud of our military's defense of it - my whole family is military. It is clear that this president represents the USA, but being bathed in it at every event is not the only demonstration of patriotism and frankly has become a patriotic crutch. We don't need the arrogant tone of W anymore, after all it's only an iterview and not a ceremony. I'm so positive that you will get your share of "President in front of the flag moment" in years to come. Let's don our proud citizen cap and help bring other fellow Americans to higher ground. Help in New Orleans. Volunteer with me to help others less fortunate than you or I, as we type our rhetoric instead of living it.

    January 28, 2009 at 12:17 am |
  5. M.A.Khan

    Talking his mind without a flag is a typical Obama style. He is posing America as a very friendly country. He is really a nice human being and a wonderful US president and I am pretty sure he will increase image of Americans very high. I am a Canadian and all my family want to see his glimpse when he comes here.

    January 28, 2009 at 12:16 am |
  6. Karen Bradshaw

    I think President Obama is on the right track at solving peace in the Middle East. My prayers and thoughts are with him, Hillary Clinton, Mr. Mitchell and even Vice President Biden. I think they all can help the crisis over there.

    January 27, 2009 at 11:52 pm |
  7. Anna

    "There wasn't a US flag behind President Obama"? Why not? Why would the US flag be "missing"? Is this anything like the Bible also "missing" during the re-do of the oath last week?

    January 27, 2009 at 11:44 pm |
  8. Bonnie Crawford

    President Obama's interview was well done. Regardless of the television station, news spreads by word of mouth as well. We are in the process of developing trust where there as been mistrust, developing partnership where we have made enemies and listening to the view of people from other cultural backgrounds. The goal here is to create a climate to negotiate peace in a difficult situation. It will take time and patience to establish the sound relationships we seek around globe. It's a good start!

    January 27, 2009 at 10:52 pm |
  9. Annie Kate

    I hope that Al-Jazeera only snubbed Obama's interview because they didn't get it and not because they don't believe his sincerity or because they really don't want to be allies of the US. IF the latter is the case then I hope El-Arabiya becomes the leader in news over there and helps in the quest of friendship and peace.

    January 27, 2009 at 9:48 pm |
  10. Mike, Syracuse NY

    So the US flag is too imposing? Well tough, it should have been there. I guess our new President is ashamed of where he came from.

    January 27, 2009 at 7:17 pm |
  11. Pete Jones

    All day, President Obama's first interview has been labeled "Obama talks to Muslims" or "Obama addresses the Muslim World" on CNN. The coverage has made specific mention that the first interview was granted to Al-Arabiya, rather than an American network (a good choice, by the way). The nature of this coverage, however, makes it seem as though American and Muslim are two different things. President Obama may have spoken to Middle Eastern Muslims, but there are Muslims all over the world who do not have access to Al-Arabiya, especially in America. It may just be semantics, but it feeds into the notion that all Muslims are Middle Eastern and/or fundmentalists.

    January 27, 2009 at 6:17 pm |
  12. Paula Vergara, Boston, MA

    What a change it is to see Obama running this country instead of G.W.
    He is well on his way to mending fences and building bridges that were ripped apart by the Bush administration. Barbara Bush is out of her mind if she thinks that her other son, Jeb has a shot at the presidency in four years. He can barely tie his shoes.

    January 27, 2009 at 6:11 pm |
  13. Maria

    As you mentioned Octavia, it is competition. Al-Jazeera still ahead of Al-Arabiyah in term of viewers and experience!!! Al-Jazeerah reaction is common between the Arab world media, but it is important to say that the majority of Muslims do not speak Arabic.

    January 27, 2009 at 5:47 pm |
  14. Abel Tsegga

    The Borgen Project has some good info on the cost of addressing global poverty.

    $30 billion: Annual shortfall to end world hunger.
    $550 billion: U.S. Defense budget

    January 27, 2009 at 5:42 pm |
  15. c,ca

    I hope that this important step that Pres. Obama has taken towards better relations with the Middle East is not overshadowed by nit-picking about petty details.

    Will there be a news-alert on "another" cable network, about the absence of an American flag? Or a big to do over bruised egos between Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya? I sure hope he was wearing a flag pin and had his hand on a bible when he did the interview, or we'll never hear the end of that!

    I was very pleased with the interview. He made some very good points. I hope people will cut through the frills and get down to the substance.

    January 27, 2009 at 5:33 pm |
  16. Tammy, Berwick, LA

    Or maybe Al-Jazeera just isn't interested in what the man has to say and isn't wasting time on him. Not everyone is enamored with the toy in DC. What I find so disheartening is that the flag my friend died defending while serving this nation in Iraq isn't worthy of this president using when he gives an interview. But then again we knew how little the military means to this new commander-in-chief before he was elected. Statements like he made last night show how out of touch with reality he really is when dealing with terrorists. Then again we saw that when he wanted to close Gitmo so fast. And I really have to wonder how safe this nation will be within the next three years under this man's leadership. Bush inherited the catastrophe of 9/11 from foibles in the Clinton administration. Well, here we go with the second round. My guess is Al-Jazeera sees Obama for the same joke almost half the nation did on election day.

    January 27, 2009 at 5:24 pm |