Obama in Cairo for landmark speech

Expectations run high as US president prepares to address Muslims with a view to mend ties.

obama mubarak
Mubarak, left, and Obama held talks soon after the US president arrived in Cairo [AFP]

Attacking hypocrisy

In depth

undefined Obama offers change to Muslim world
undefined Americans ‘negative’ about Muslims
undefined Winning the war of words

undefined Arabs gear up for Obama speech
undefined Egypt awaits Obama address
undefined Indonesia watches Obama

Your media:
undefined Send us your video footage and pictures

“It’s very much an invited audience, security is extremely tight and one of the opposition newspapers today, in its front page said that Obama is arriving in Egypt but Egypt has been evacuated.

“Parts of the city have been closed down and other parts have been given a major facelift. They have been washing and painting and cleaning all the routes in which the president will travel as he moves to the various events across Cairo and then to the pyramids,” Bays said.

Egyptian media reported that refurbishments of the Cairo University alone cost over $2.4m.

US officials said on Wednesday that Obama would talk candidly about a range of issues that had “caused tensions between the US and the Muslim world.”

Ben Rhodes, Obama’s foreign policy speechwriter, said: “He will discuss in some detail his view on the conflict and what needs to be done to resolve it.

“He will discuss both what that means in terms of Israelis and Palestinians and the United States and the Arab states as well,” he said.

In an interview with the New York Times, Obama himself suggested he would urge Arab states to be more open and direct.

“Stop saying one thing behind closed doors and saying something publicly,” he said.

“A lot of Arab countries are more concerned about Iran’s nuclear weapons…than the threat from Israel but won’t admit it.”

“There are a lot of Arab states that have not been particularly helpful to the Palestinian cause,” he said.

Ostensibly, the address is part of a broader effort by Obama to rewrite US foreign policy that under George Bush, his predecessor, alienated allies and fuelled a wave of anti-Americanism in the Muslim world.

Mending ties

The US president’s choice of Cairo underscores his focus on Muslims in the Middle East, where he faces some of his biggest foreign policy challenges.

Local media reports said refurbishments of the Cairo University alone cost over $2.4m [AFP]

Obama is also seeking to build a coalition of moderate Muslim governments to support his efforts to revive stalled Middle East peace talks and help the US curb Iran’s nuclear programme.

How well Obama’s 45-minute speech – to be simultaneously translated in 13 different languages – is received would largely depend on what he says about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the issue the Muslim world cares most about. Muslims view the United States as uncritically pro-Israel.

Our correspondent said that expectations on the streets about Obama’s speech were high.

“A lot of people here, however, are very positive about Obama himself and remember the campaign slogans of change and they believe he’s a man who might want to bring change but they’re not sure Obama alone can do that alone.”

Saudi talks

The US president arrived in Cairo from Saudi Arabia, where he held talks with King Abdullah on issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Washington’s overtures to Iran and oil.

“I thought it was very important to come to the place where Islam began and to seek his majesty’s counsel and discuss with him many of the issues that we confront here in the Middle East,” Obama said before the talks on Wednesday.

The meeting came as al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden accused Obama of “antagonising Muslims” in a tape broadcast by Al Jazeera.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies