Chicago Tribune: World sees award with hope, doubt

chicago tribune

News of President Barack Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize sparked wildly different reactions around the globe Friday, from elation to skepticism to icy disdain. As Tribune Newspapers reporters sought opinions from Moscow to Kabul, one frequent thread was optimism — tempered by a growing demand that the American president yet deliver on the expectations that he, and now the Nobel Prize committee, have raised so high.

CAIRO — The Arab world greeted Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize with praise for his efforts at reaching out to Muslims but also with frustration that the president’s eloquence and charisma have not forced dramatic change on the ground.

Bloodshed continues in Iraq, Afghanistan drifts in violence and uncertainty, and talks to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have stalled. Obama inspired the region in his Cairo address to Muslims in June, regarded as a wise and conciliatory gesture to erase the combative years of the Bush administration and mend relations with the Arab world.

But as months passed, passionate words and good intentions were seldom enough. Success here is traditionally measured by the progress the White House makes toward the creation of a Palestinian state. And, for many Arabs, Obama has been stymied and outflanked by a stubborn Israeli government that shows little inclination for peace.

— In Kenya, the birthplace of Obama’s father, word of the Nobel Prize was greeted by many as a hometown victory. Since his election last year, Obama, whose grandmother and half siblings still live in the East African country, has been a source of pride and inspiration to Kenyans, many of whom are bitterly disappointed by the corruption and ineffectiveness of their own leaders.

“It’s another win for Kenya and for Africa,” said Kenyan student Julius Omondi, 19.

In 2004, Kenyan Wangari Maathai became the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in battling deforestation and promoting conservation.

Others said they found it ironic that a Kenyan and now a half-Kenyan have been honored for their peace work, even as the country itself remains mired in insecurity.

— Edmund Sanders

— Improving badly eroded relations with Moscow and pushing for cuts in both countries’ nuclear stockpiles has been a key piece of Obama’s revamped foreign policy.

But as word of his winning the Nobel Peace Prize spread through Moscow on Friday, the reaction was distinctly chilly.

No official congratulations were immediately forthcoming from the Kremlin.

“The awarding of the prize to Obama testifies to the deep disappointment caused by the policies of George Bush,” Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament, told RIA Novosti.

“Obama, with all his virtues, has not been active in world politics long enough for people to be able to say with a clear conscience, ‘Yes, he deserves it.’ ”

— Megan K. Stack

— Many Afghans are illiterate, and people in the countryside, by and large, had never heard of the Nobel Prizes. But even among the educated elite in big cities such as Kabul, there was some bemusement over Obama’s selection.

“I’m not sure I understand — this isn’t for peace here, is it?” said bank worker Homaira Reza. “Because we haven’t got any.” Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whose relations with the Obama administration have been distinctly chilly, congratulated the U.S. leader, expressing hope that with Obama’s “vision and leadership … peace and normalcy will return to Afghanistan and our region.”

— Laura King

— Muslim and Jewish leaders in Obama’s adopted hometown expressed surprise about the award but said Obama deserves it, both for what he’s done and for the direction he’s taking the country.

“He’s reignited the idea that America can again be a beacon of hope for the world,” said Rabbi Steven Bob, who co-chaired the national Rabbis for Obama movement during the campaign. “We have a special purpose and we’re just not another country.”

Amina Sharif of the Chicago branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations also praised Obama’s approach. “A lot of Muslims felt hurt under Bush, and Obama’s healing some of those wounds.”

However, she said, Muslims in the U.S. and abroad are losing patience for him to fulfill some promises in the Middle East, including pressuring Israel to end settlement building in the West Bank. “He’s said many times he’d do this, but he hasn’t actually done anything yet,” she said. “It’s left many Muslims worldwide feeling hurt.”

— Daniel Simmons

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