President Obama Addresses the Muslim World in Cairo
This website is set up in the following languages: Persian, Arabic, Russian, Urdu, Spanish, French, and English. The speech will be translated into at least 13 languages by the State Department.
The speech will also be streamed live from the White House.
This week, the US President travels to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Germany, and France. President Obama is expected to deliver his long-awaited speech to the Muslim world at Cairo University's Great Celebration Hall on Thursday, June 4.
In some ways, Mr. Obama is fulfilling part of his presidential campaign promise to reach out to the Muslim world by giving this speech at Cairo University in Giza, Egypt. Although the visit to Egypt was announced weeks ago, the choice of venue for his speech was made only in the recent days.
President Obama's speech would be seen and heard by an estimated 1.5 billion Muslims around the world. This Muslim world is a myriad of cultures and diverse polities. President Obama would be facing another daunting task as he sought to change Muslim perception about America and Americans since Sept. 11.
President Obama's Cairo speech has been touted to set a new course for U.S. policy in the turbulent Middle East. Mr. Obama hopes to promote the message that his administration is taking a more even-handed approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict than did his predecessors.
Government officials and political pundits are preparing for minute analyses of President Obama's message. It is an important speech as President Obama is opening a new chapter of US relation with the Middle East at-large.
This writer wrote about President Obama's last town hall held in Istanbul, Turkey when he had urged Turkish students to listen and break down stereotypes on both sides, while accepting that neither side was perfect as he encouraged them to stand up against prejudice, whether it was religious bigotry or virulent anti-Americanism. At the time, the audience was small and comprised of university students who were receptive to Mr. Obama's message.
President Obama won't have the same intimate venue as the Tophane Cultural Center in Istanbul, however, his speech would be heard by a diverse Muslim population, including those that view America and Americans with suspicion and wariness due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while some are angry at the US, and those who have high expectations of the change of policy under the Obama administration.
Some questions to mind, namely, will President Obama carry his change message to the Muslim world? How will President Obama battle for the hearts and minds of Muslims, or will he focus on reaching out to young Muslims like he did in Istanbul, Turkey?
The answers to this writer's questions will be seen, heard, and read after the US President delivers his speech at Cairo University.
In the meantime, the Brookings Institution has published the perspectives of several Middle East experts and two clergymen.
The Saban Center at the Brookings Institution Project on US Relations with the Islamic World asked some of the leading experts in the United States to offer their thoughts on President Obama's address at Cairo University in Giza.
Professor John L. Esposito, founding Director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University cautiously welcomed the upcoming Obama's Cairo speech by asking a pragmatic question, "Is he ready to walk the way he talks?"
The good news is that Barack Obama's visit to Cairo and address is anticipated with excitement by many in the Muslim world and will receive global attention. However, Obama will be challenged to build on his inaugural, Al-Arabiyya interview and speeches in Turkey by indicating more concretely his promise of "a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect."
At a minimum, many are waiting to see what Obama says he will "do," especially on hot-button issues like the Palestinian-Israeli issue.
That President Barack Obama has the desire, vision and intelligence to reach out to the broader Muslim world is without doubt. But will his speech in Cairo generate the same comment that a senior Middle East diplomat made after his Istanbul speech: "His words are wonderful but we still have not seen much action."
It was equally important to hear the thoughts of one of the prominent US clergymen, John Bryson Chane, Episcopal Bishop of the Washington National Cathedral in Washington D.C.
Bishop Chane also cautiously applauded President Obama's trip and speech. He urged the US to work jointly with Saudi Arabia and Egypt to seek a a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine on the one hand. On the other, Bishop Chane voiced his concerns about human rights violations in both Saudi Arabia and Egypt that had gone unchecked under previous administrations.
As for priorities, this very first visit by the President must assure leaders such as King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt that the United States seeks a new cooperative, respectful relationship that will serve the interests of all 3 countries, especially as those interests attempt to seek a two state solution that is fair and equitable to both Palestine and Israel.
The second is to encourage a much stronger, collective leadership from the Muslim countries of the Middle East and their leadership in accomplishing this objective.
The priority is for the president to continue to press the cause of human rights in both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, an issue that has often raised questions about U.S. Foreign Policy turning a blind eye to the issues of human rights violations in order to advance America's interests in the region.
Ms. Robin Wright, author of Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East, offered an angle to her cautious sentiments about the Obama's Cairo speech, as she cited the highs and lows that Middle East Arabs experienced under the Bush administration.
President Bush particularly raised hopes with his 2003 speech conceding that the United States made mistakes during the previous 60 years giving priority to stability (that served our interests) over freedoms (that were in their interests). But then the Bush administration did nothing to follow up, except give more speeches - including one the Arabs particularly remember in Cairo by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Vastly diverse Muslim societies now share a common interest in hearing more than another pronouncement that the United States is not at war with the Muslim world or that America backs greater freedoms in the last bloc of countries to hold out against the democratic tide. Either will only irritate them more. They now want substance to prove good intent. It's a simple rejoinder: "Where's the beef?"
Ms. Wright echoed Professor Esposito's sentiments about the importance of follow-up actions in dealing with the Muslim world. Ms. Wright was most optimistic about a potential socio-political transformation in the Muslim world.
Polls indicate that the Muslim world is increasingly turning against extremism because militant groups can only destroy.
Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad and others have failed to provide tangible answers to the problems of daily life, all worsened by the global economic crisis. For the U.S. to really regain credibility and reverse the trends that led to 9/11, Obama will need to help provide specific answers, ideas, and programs addressing the needs of people-economically as well as on political and regional issues such as the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Suhaib Webb, Imam of the Muslim American Society, optimistically expected that President Obama's message would resonate in the Middle East in the long run combined with conciliatory actions.
Obama's visit means many things to me, and I have a basic set of hopes for his visit. I supported him because I found those hopes constantly echoed in his words, actions and policies. And it is that same message that I hope will resonate here in the Middle East. While I do not expect him to change the world with one speech, I expect him to offer those qualities mentioned previously as well as address the following:
- The chronic disease of dictatorial autocratic regimes and systems coupled with the lack of culturally sensitive freedoms are the greatest contributor to the Middle East's problems.
- End the partnerships of torture used in conjunction with some Middle Eastern states and the past administration; expressing a clear commitment to human rights.
- Economic development, investment and cooperation that would serve to address the festering unemployment problem amongst many young people here and the evaporation of a once growing middle class.
- A realistic compassed position on the Palestinian-Israeli crisis.
These individuals temper their optimism about President Obama's overture with a clear sense of pragmatism about US foreign policy and the Middle East.
The world at-large also knows that the US President can not change US policy overnight, but it is hoped that he can usher a different and new approach of engagement and dialogue in the course of conducting foreign policy around the world, and not just with the Middle East.
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