Deconstructing Obama’s ‘Bow’ to the King of Saudi Arabia

by Sheyi Oriade

In some ways, it is perhaps, inevitable that as America’s first black president, Barack Obama, actions were always going to be subjected to the closest of scrutiny. Inevitable questions regarding his poise, posture, and preparedness for office were always going to feature high on the agenda of News-Networks and their ‘Talking Heads’; Think-Tank specialists; political opponents; and ordinary citizens; particularly, those who from the very outset were uncomfortable with, and opposed to his ascent to, and assumption of, the presidency of the United States of America.

Recently, his bodily posture at an international conference has come under intense scrutiny and debate. Just before a photo shoot of G20 Heads of Government in London; President Obama was seen to approach the King of Saudi Arabia as he neared the dais. And as he got to him, he inclined forward; to such a degree which suggested, that he was; about to embrace his royal counterpart; or adopt a horizontal pose – in a gesture of salutation popularised and practised by the Yorubas; or that he was simply trying to adjust his towering frame to a level which would not appear intimidating to his royal, but older and shorter counterpart.

Undoubtedly, the footage of President Obama’s forward leaning posture jarred quite a few nerves and caused consternation in certain quarters in America. Some commentators in America believe that his posture in that instance did their nation a disservice. Everyone knows, or is expected to know, or at least so it is thought, that American presidents bow to nothing and no one. They receive ‘worship’; they do not give it to any temporal or earthly being. They ‘kick ass’. So seeing their president in such a pose, was in their view, demeaning and subservient, and a poor reflection on their nation.

But was President Obama’s manner of greeting to the King of Saudi Arabia really a bow? And if it was; was it really demeaning or subservient? And in the light of the current global economic climate, which has affected America rather drastically, more than most other nations, does it really matter? Many people, according to their powers of observation, prejudices, and assorted perspectives, will undoubtedly have views and answers to these questions. I imagine some of them will even cover some or all of the following possible scenarios which seek to shed light on the subject:

The New ‘Friendly & Humble’ America Scenario

Those who subscribe to this view see nothing wrong with his manner of greeting. If indeed, it was a bow, then the better for it. To them, the last administration put the nation in such a position of isolation, that America had become increasingly despised around the world. So here was an opportunity to rebuild bridges by demonstrating that a new chapter and page had been opened and turned. One which demonstrated, that America was prepared to engage other friendly nations in a new climate of cooperation and understanding. It was a case of the leader of the world’s leading superpower showing humility to an important ally and trading partner.

The ‘Star Struck’ Scenario

Some might say that, perhaps, he was star struck by being in the presence of royalty, to the point that, he lost, momentarily, his presidential composure. Unfortunately, this scenario carries little weight, because, he alone, was the undoubted star of the G20 Summit. And whatever genuflecting that took place at the summit was mainly aimed at him. He was the one covered in stardust. And besides, in greeting the Queen of England, he merely nodded his head towards her respectfully.

The ‘Conservative & Conspiracy Theorist’ Scenario

‘We told you so’ go the proponents of this scenario. The man is a closet Moslem. And he was showing deference to the pinnacle of that faith. The only problem with this scenario is that he is a professed Christian and one who has attended a Christian Church for 20 years, and has been lambasted for doing so. So what is it to be? He is one or he isn’t one; he can’t be both. He’s got to be either fish or fowl. Would a Moslem baptise his children in a church and swear his oath of office on a Bible!

The ‘Yoruba’ Scenario

Could he be a closet Yoruba? Who at that critical point of coming into contact with the Saudi King, was so overcome by a primordial urge to go prostrate on the floor after the manner of these people? It doesn’t sound plausible, not even marginally so. After all, his name is Obama, and not Obamakin. Aligned to this scenario, is the belief that black people are generally given to more outward displays of respect, much more so than their Caucasian cousins.

The ‘Common Sense’ Scenario

There was nothing untoward about his posture. It was simply a respectful gesture to a royal and elderly leader of one of America’s most important allies and trading partners. An important ally, on whose support, it will need to harness, in order to navigate itself out of the choppy economic waters, it find’s itself in at the present time.


In reality and more seriously, it seems that too much is has been made out of something, that was in actual fact, an innocent and fleeting episode. America has reason to be proud of their president. At the G20 Summit he was the star of the show, as he was of the subsequent conferences, he took part in across Europe. He, and his wife, showcased America in a confident and positive manner; in a way which hasn’t been seen for years. He demonstrated that America remains a strong and powerful nation willing to engage with, and provide purposeful leadership to, much of the rest of the world.

If anything, at all, it is clear that he is a wise man and one who understands that sometimes, and particularly, in difficult times, such as these, it is advantageous and even necessary sometimes to ‘stoop to conquer’.

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Faith April 22, 2009 - 6:53 am

Akinola, I have/had no problem with you choosing to disagree with this or any other writer. It was the manner and tone of your comments that motivated me to address the issue. My point is that we can disagree with someone without going/getting into personal attacks. I am sure Sheyi Oriade is able to defend himself if he wants to. I just felt that for a site as good as this things could be done in more civil tones, hence my reference to Tennyson Aliu’s tone/manner of comment. As I said in my previous comment, this is being done in good faith and spirit.

Akinola April 21, 2009 - 8:13 pm

First of all Faith, I had no idea that the writer in question was a male. Pardon my ignorance, but I thought the writer’s name was typical of a female Yoruba name. However, given the progressive age we all live in, names, like all things traditional, can no longer be counted on to remain the same!

In your defense of Sheyi Oriade, you stated that you often share his/her views. If that is true, then why should you expect me or anyone else for that matter to consider your castigation of my own view, which is in opposition to Sheyi’s view of all issues, as objective?

I simply find Sheyi’s view of Obama to be amazingly cultish! It was my attempt to understand why that prompted me to suggest in my response that maybe she is in love with him. That suggestion wasn’t meant to disparage her. It was just a conclusion based on my own virtual pshycho analysis of her writings on issues concerning Obama!

I understand that you would prefer that I express my view in the manner Tennyson Aliu’s was expressed. But since my name is Akinola and not Tennyson, I hope you will accord me my own individuality just as I have accorded you yours in your response which goes counter to that of Tennyson!

Look Faith, we disagree and that’s OK. When you look at anecdotal evidence and polling results all across America, you will realize that this Obama that was supposed to be the uniter of us all remains the most divisive political figure in the History of the Nation. So, you and I are not alone in our disagreement!

Faith April 20, 2009 - 10:59 am

Akinola, I make a habit of reading this writer whenever he writes. I like his writing style and often agree with his views. I had some reservations about Obama’s bow too, but at least the writer highlighted some different scenarios in trying to unravel his behaviour. Even if he saw nothing wrong with it. It is clear you dislike Obama as much as the writer seems to like him. No problem. But to go to the extent that you have in attacking him is uncalled for. Look at Tennyson Aliu’s comment above. It is balanced and dignified. I hope you take these views in good faith and spirit and refrain from this sort of conduct. This site deserves much better!!!

Akinola April 16, 2009 - 7:51 pm

The conclusion portion of your article is a clear indication of your undying love for the Obama guy. It doesn’t seem to matter to you what he does, you will continue to defend and justify his glaring misdeeds! Substantial percentage of all your articles on this page are dedicated to promoting, defending and justifying Mr. Obama. If I didn’t know any better, I might erroneously conclude that you are probably his most fervent virtual stalker! But why?

His G20 meeting that you lauded in your piece was a disaster for America as a Nation! Read the English version of some French dailies on the web and you will understand what I mean. When the French lecture American leadership on Capitalism, it’s time for Americans to re-exaime their choice of that leadership.

But why should I even bother to provide you with evidence surrounding the ineptness of President Obama when we all already know that your love affair with the man has nothing to do with reason? It has everything to do with your emotion!!! It’s probably too bad for you that the man is already married.

N.B. Sola: I don’t consider anything in my response a “personal attack”. It’s just an accurate observation. But if you consider it to be a “personal attack”, let me know and I will FURTHER refine it.

Gbenga April 15, 2009 - 5:10 pm

Obama was being respectful to a King. Nothing wrong with that.

Tinu April 15, 2009 - 2:07 pm

Thanks for the article. Obama needs our support. People will try to misjudge his actions. America needs to reach out more and he is reaching out. We need strenght and humility in leadership.

tennyson aliu April 15, 2009 - 3:18 am

this author espoused a purely liberal view, i am a nigerian and very proud of the fact that someone of african decent is president of the USA but i caught cold chills to see obama bowing down to this despot we should never bow to this representative of primitive theological dogma

and i think OBAMA owes us an apology


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