Obama Prepares To Address Muslim World


obama2President Barack Obama has gotten tough with Israel and chosen Cairo – where President Hosni Mubarak rules with a firm hand – for his much-awaited overture to the Islamic world in what appears to be a clear break from decades of U.S. policy. Many issues cloud American relations with the Muslim world, but none rankles like U.S. ties to Israel and massive support for the Jewish state in the heart of the Arab Middle East. While the majority of the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims live in Asia, the growing militancy among the followers of the Islamic prophet took root largely in the Middle East. The dramatic strike against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, was the work of Arabs under the direction of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, who was born in Saudi Arabia.Bin Laden cited anger at U.S. support for Israel as the guiding philosophy of the terrorist organization that drew American forces into wars in Afghanistan, where he was believed to be hiding, and Iraq, which was flooded by al-Qaida fighters after the U.S. invasion in 2003.

Those wars and U.S. policy toward Israel have produced a growing belief in the Muslim world that the United States is at war with Islam.

Given those realities, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs played down expectations of a quick turnaround in U.S.-Muslim relations after Obama’s Thursday speech.

“This is about resetting our relationship with the Muslim world. … We don’t expect everything to change after one speech,” he said.

In an interview broadcast yesterday on French television, Obama warned against heightened expectations.

“I think it is very important to understand that one speech is not going to solve all the problems in the Middle East,” Obama said. “And so expectations need to be somehow modest.”

But Obama’s very public demand last month that Israel stop settlement activity on land the Palestinians want for a state was a clear prelude to the Cairo speech and a sign that he’s serious about regaining the United States’ role as an honest broker in that region, a policy switch that is bound to pay dividends across the Muslim world.

“There is no question that this is a break from the past,” said Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Miller, who was deeply involved in the U.S. peacemaking-efforts during the Clinton administration, said it is clear Obama will not be “coddling the Israelis.” At the same time, he said, the president does not appear to have developed his policy on Israel beyond demanding it stop building settlements.

“I don’t see that he has an ‘or else’ he is ready to use” against recalcitrant Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has flatly rejected the president’s demand on settlements.

In a pre-trip interview with National Public Radio, Obama was diplomatically blunt.

“Part of being a good friend is being honest. And I think there have been times where we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory in the region, is profoundly negative not only for Israeli interests but also U.S. interests. And that’s part of a new dialogue that I’d like to see encouraged in the region,” Obama said.

By linking Israeli settlement activity to “U.S. interests,” Obama may well have been laying out part of his planned speech to the Muslim world.

“I bet the speech will largely be about the Arab-Israeli stalemate,” said Miller, adding that Obama also “will have to address Arab authoritarianism.”

By choosing to speak in Cairo, Obama opened himself to criticism that grows out of Mubarak’s long and authoritarian rule in Egypt, a leading Arab country.

Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar Sadat, was the first of only two Arab leaders to sign a peace treaty with Israel. He was assassinated by Muslim radicals three years later in 1981. Jordan’s deceased King Hussein signed a peace accord in 1994.

Seeking to head off criticism of having selected Cairo for the much-awaited speech, Obama told NPR:

“I think it’s a mistake for us to somehow suggest that we’re not going to deal with countries around the world in the absence of their meeting all our criteria for democracy.”

U.S.-Egyptian relations were severely strained under former President George W. Bush as he pushed for democratization throughout the Arab world in conjunction with the Iraq war.

The State Department announced yesterday that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton would travel to Egypt for Obama’s speech and meetings with Mubarak, a sign that the administration is counting on Egypt to play a moderating role and to serve as a mediator in any larger peace initiatives in the Middle East.

By changing focus toward the Arabs and showing a willingness to open a public rift with the hard-line Netanyahu, Obama may score points on style with his Islamic audience. But the game won’t be won until he manages to negotiate a larger peace among the Arabs and Israel.

“It’s a good thing he’s patient,” Miller said. “In the Middle East, there is only long and longer.”

Meanwhile, Al Qaeda No. 2, Ayman Zawahiri said in a new audiotape Tuesday that President Obama is not welcome in Egypt.

“Obama’s message to the Muslim World was delivered when he visited the Wailing wall, with the Jewish skullcap on his head…when he performed the Jewish prayers despite claiming that he is Christian,” Zawahiri said, reminding his audience of Obama’s pledge before the AIPAC conference to make Yerushalayim the undivided capital of Israel.

The al Qaeda deputy chief accused Obama of approving the “Zionist aggression on Gaza,” of sending more troops to Afghanistan and continuing to bomb tribal areas of Pakistan, and of leading the “brutal campaign” against Muslims in the Swat valley. He said the Obama administration’s message to the Muslim world can be seen in the continued use of secret prisons and the breach of the Geneva conventions regarding terror detainees.

“Obama’s bloodied messages have reached and are still reaching Muslims, and they shall not be masked by the PR campaigns, the theatrical visits and the courteous words,” Zawahiri said.

“As for his choice of Turkey and Egypt to be the places from which to address the Muslim world as he claims, well, this choice holds another indication that simply says that the kind of Muslims the Crusader Americans would be pleased with are those who abandon Islam and embrace secularism, those who acknowledge Israel, conclude security agreements with it, and take part in its military drills.”

President Obama had visited Ankara last April and delivered a speech before the Turkish Parliament where he pledged to strengthen ties with the Muslim world.

Zawahiri directed part of his criticism at the Egyptian regime, accusing it of further tightening the blockade imposed on Palestinians in Gaza, and accusing Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak of grooming his elder son, Jamal, to succeed him as President,” in order to maintain the corruption and the reliance on America, the Crusaders and the Jews.”

Zawahiri, who previously called President Obama “a house negro” upon his election in December, said that only the corrupt “butchers and tyrants” of Egypt would welcome President Obama there, but not the sincere honest Egyptians. “The honorable people of Egypt despise Obama and consider him an international criminal, and an arriviste politician who serves the Zionist cause in order to get promoted to the highest levels of government.”

He concluded his message by urging Egyptians not to welcome the U.S. President in Egypt.

{Washington Times/NPR/Matzav.com Newscenter-Elisha Ferber}


  1. I think the muslim world should be trying to show why all other religious denominations should should believe they are a peaceful religion….with muslim suicide bombers in the US, the UK, Spain, India, the list goes on…..

    Muslimns can practice their religion freely in the West (there may be discrimination, where is there none?)…however for Christians and Jews in some muslim countries it is ILLEGAL…..and even if it is officially not illegal, it is dangerous, yet they dare preach about discrimination…..why are they so threathened by other religions? One chooses to be a Jew or Christian……Islam was spread by force, not by peace. This is a simple fact. Where are the peaceful muslims…please speak out!