President Barack Obama called for a "new beginning between the
United States and Muslims" Thursday and said together, they could
confront violent extremism across the globe and advance the timeless
search for peace in the Middle East.
"This cycle of suspicion and discord must end," Obama said in a
widely anticipated speech in one of the world's largest Muslim
countries, an address designed to reframe relations after the
terrorists attacks of Sep 11, 2001, and the US-led war in Iraq.
a gesture, Obama conceded at the beginning of his remarks that
tension "has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and
opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which
Muslim-majority countries were often treated as proxies without
regard to their own aspirations."
"And I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the
United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam
wherever they appear," he said.
the same time, he said the same principle must apply in reverse.
"Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the
crude stereotype of a self-interested empire."
Obama spoke at Cairo University after meeting with Egyptian
President Hosni Mubarak on the second stop of a four-nation trip to
the Middle East and Europe.
The speech was the centerpiece of his journey, and while its tone
was striking, the president also covered the Middle East peace
process, Iran, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the violence
struggle waged by al-Qaida.
Obama arrived in the Middle East on Wednesday, greeted by a new and
threatening message from al-Qaida's leader, Osama bin Laden. In an
audio recording, the terrorist leader said the president inflamed
the Muslim world by ordering Pakistan to crack down on militants in
Swat Valley and block Islamic law there.
But the president said the actions of violent extremist Muslims are
"irreconcilable with the rights of human beings," and quoted the
Quran to make his point.
"Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism -
it is an important part of promoting peace," he said.
The White House said Obama's speech contained no new policy
proposals on the Middle East, and he issued an even handed call to
Israel and Palestinians alike to live up to their international
must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, and
recognize Israel's right to exist," he said of the organization the
United States deems as terrorists.
"The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with
institutions that serve the needs of its people," Obama said.
"At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's
right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine. The United
States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli
settlements" on the West Bank and outskirts of Jerusalem, he said.
"It is time for these settlements to stop."
for Jerusalem itself, he said it should be a "secure and lasting
home for Jews and Christians and Muslims ..."
Obama also said the Arab nations should no longer use the conflict
with Israel to distract its own people from other problems.
treaded lightly on one issue that President George W. Bush had made
a centerpiece of his second term - the spread of democracy.
Obama said he has a commitment to governments "that reflect the will
of the people." And yet, he said, "No system of government can or
should be imposed upon one nation by any other."
times, there was an echo of Obama's campaign mantra of change in his
remarks, and he said many are afraid it cannot occur.
"There is so much fear, so much mistrust. But if we choose to be
bound by the past, we will never move forward," he said.
The president's brief stay in Cairo included a visit to the Sultan
Hassan mosque, a 600-year-old center of Islamic worship and study. A
tour of the Great Pyramids of Giza was also on his itinerary.
The build-up to the speech was enormous, stoked by the White House
although Obama seemed at pains to minimize hopes for immediate
"One speech is not going to solve all the problems in the Middle
East," he told a French interviewer. "Expectations should be
Eager to spread the president's message as widely as possible, the
tech-savvy White House orchestrated a live Webcast of the speech on
the White House site; remarks translated into 13 languages; a
special State Department site where users could sign up for speech
highlights; and distribution of excerpts to social networking giants
MySpace, Twitter and Facebook.
Though the speech was co-sponsored by al-Azhar University, which has
taught science and Quranic scripture here for nearly a millennium,
the actual venue was the more modern and secular Cairo University.
The lectern was set up in the domed main auditorium on a stage
dominated by a picture of Mubarak.
Human rights advocates found that symbolism troubling: an American
president watched over by an aging autocrat who's ruled Egypt since
"Egypt's democrats cannot help being concerned," wrote Dina Guirguis,
executive director of Voices for a Democratic Egypt.
The university's alumni are among the Arab world's most famous - and
notorious. They include the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
and Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfuz. Saddam Hussein studied
law in the '60s but did not graduate. And al-Qaida second-in-command
Ayman al-Zawahri earned a medical degree.