President Barack Obama was greeted with calls of "We love
you" when he visited Cairo in his first term, seeking to turn
the page on the Bush era with talk of a new beginning for ties
between the United States and the Muslim world.
Four years on, Egyptians who attended the Cairo University
speech feel let down, a view that hardened when Obama, who
has had a volatile relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu, showed solidarity with Israel's leader during his
visit there, and stressed the depth of US-Israeli ties.
"If I saw Obama today, I'd say: 'What happened?'," said Ahmed
Samih, 34, one of several people who shouted out support for
the president during his 2009 speech that aimed to change
perceptions of the United States shaped by the wars in Iraq
and Afghanistan launched by his predecessor, George W. Bush.
Obama connected with many of his listeners back then by
quoting from the Koran and urging an end to a "cycle of
suspicion and discord" with the Muslim world.
Some left believing they had witnessed history. They cited
his tough line on Israeli settlements as one example of a
Obama's first term brought some change: American troops left
Iraq at he end of 2011. But it also was a big disappointment
for those hoping for an overhaul of US Middle East policy
they have long seen as skewed towards Israel.
With civil war raging in Syria, and the Arab world reshaped
by popular uprisings since 2009, some of Obama's former fans
do not hold out hope of change in his second term. Regional
turmoil had "made him deepen the strategic relationship with
Israel", Ezzat Ibrahim, a journalist who attended the 2009
The disillusionment was reinforced when Obama arrived in
Israel to a warm reception from Netanyahu.
"There was new chemistry between them," said Ibrahim. "The
people are very disappointed with this warm relationship."
The mood angered Palestinians who blame the collapse of
US-backed peace negotiations on the Israeli leader's
expansion of Jewish settlements on land where they want their
In scenes reminiscent of Cairo, Obama received a rapturous
reception from Israeli students when he delivered a speech in
Jerusalem on Thursday. He called for peace but offered no new
ideas on how to break the deadlock in negotiations.
And despite his call for a concerted effort to secure a
Palestinian state, Palestinian officials saw no sign Obama
was ready to get tough with Israel - a departure from the
Cairo speech in which he was seen to pressure Israel over
"The United States does not accept the legitimacy of
continued Israeli settlements," he said at the time. "It is
time for these settlements to stop," he added.
"I DON'T SEE A GREAT PRESIDENT"
The statement encouraged the Palestinian leadership to demand
a full halt to settlement building before any resumption of
talks. A few months later, the United States put pressure on
the Palestinians to start talks without a freeze.
Reflecting the softer tone, Obama said this week continued
settlement activity was "counterproductive" to peace.
He also drew Arab criticism for saying that now is the time
for the Arab world to take steps towards normalising
relations with Israel - a concession Arabs link to progress
in peace talks.
"Coming to the Middle East at the start of his second term
might be a good sign, but listening to what he said, I don't
see a great president or one that is capable of doing great
things," Hassan Nafaa, a political scientist at Cairo
With high hopes for Obama, Nafaa flew back to Egypt in 2009
to attend the speech.
"The expectations were sky-high," he said. "That was the kind
of speech we were not used to from a president of the United
But that perception quickly changed as Obama was seen to back
down in a stand-off with Netanyahu over settlement building.
"Obama was put under a harsh test and he failed that test,
and for me the settlements was the real issue," he said.
Policy towards Israel was not the only area where Obama
disappointed his Cairo audience. Having spoken of "government
of the people and by the people", Obama was criticised by
Egyptian revolutionaries for being slow to drop US support
for veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak during the 2011 uprising.
Ragia el-Alfy, 23, recalls how people broke into tears during
the Obama speech.
"I felt that there was hope in real change, especially
because he came after the Bush era. But it vanished so
quickly," she said. "He doesn't force the Israelis to stop
their settlements ... he doesn't take action."
"He promised things that he couldn't deliver."