Emiratis feel that 'things can really change'

UAE Emiratis and UAE-based academics give a warm reaction to Barack Obama's speech to the Muslim world.

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ABU DHABI // Emiratis and UAE-based academics yesterday gave a warm reaction to Barack Obama's speech to the Muslim world, in which the US president cited Dubai as an example of the "astonishing progress" that can be achieved without betraying local tradition. Sana'a al Ketbi, a 19-year-old Emirati studying finance at Zayed University said she felt Mr Obama was serious about changing America's relationship with the Muslim world.

"I feel that, with him, things can really change," she said. "People love him, and he's now becoming more acceptable here than Bush was. "What he said about women really moved me. He has two daughters and I think because of that he really wants our women to have what they have. I think it's great that he stressed Islam's peaceful nature and that it is completely different from what extremists make it out to be."

"I loved how he addressed young people and talked about their responsibility," said Sara Abdulla, an Emirati housewife from Abu Dhabi. "He made an effort to connect with the audience by quoting from the Quran. It's a speech I'll never forget." Another Emirati housewife, Umm Mansoor, said she liked Mr Obama's dignified manner. "Obama approached the audience in a peaceful manner, which is what you want when you're promoting peace," she said. Academic observers said Mr Obama's mention of Dubai's prosperity was a "pat on the back" for the way the Gulf states have gone about embracing globalisation.

"The reference to Dubai in the context of prosperity raises expectations and morale, especially at this time of financial crisis," said Muhammad Ayish, professor of communications at the American University of Sharjah (AUS), adding that he hoped Mr Obama would make good on his pledge to increase academic exchanges between the US and Muslim countries. "It was a pat on the back for the approach taken by the UAE and other Gulf governments who are trying to develop, not just to be economically successful but also to carve out a role for their national populations and help them into the workforce," said Neil Patrick, professor of political science at AUS.

Mr Obama's measured tone when addressing Iran and its nuclear ambitions suggested the issue could be "finessed" without escalating tensions, Mr Patrick said, which in turn may reassure Gulf states that they will not be put in the awkward position of being asked to enforce sanctions against their regional neighbour. "The Gulf states need to feel they are not just being used as economic weapons and need to be reassured about their proper place in any new arrangements between the US and Iran," he said.