Muslim Brotherhood in audience for Obama Cairo speech – Feature

Muslim Brotherhood in audience for Obama Cairo speech – Feature

Cairo – At least 10 members of parliament from Egypt`s banned Muslim Brotherhood will attend US President Barack Obama`s landmark speech to the Muslim world in Cairo, it was confirmed by the group Tuesday. As well as various lawmakers, activists, charity workers and non- governmental organisations at the address, invitations have been sent to the group for the keynote speech.


The Muslim Brotherhood are officially banned in Egypt, but have 88 seats in the parliament, where they sit as independents.


The invitations for Thursday`s speech came not from the US embassy, but from the sheikh of al-Azhar university, one of Egypt”s most prestigious centres of Islamic learning.


The university is jointly hosting the landmark Obama speech.


“The invitation came from Egyptian institutions, not the US administration,” said Mohammed al-Katatni, head of the Muslim Brotherhood`s parliamentary bloc. “I expect to hear reassurances to the Muslim and Arab world, and I expect that he will push the democratic agenda.”


“The president”s speech is intended to do damage control for the image of US foreign policy following the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and years of blind US support for Israel,” al-Katatni added.


“I think the US government is trying to send a message to the Egyptian government that it will deal with us on the same level as it deals with them, that it considers us as important,” said Egyptian blogger Wael Abbas, who has won awards from international human rights organisations for videos depicting police abuse he has posted on his website,


US-based Egyptian pro-democracy and human rights activists had criticized Obama for choosing to address Muslims from Egypt, saying that it would confer legitimacy on Egyptian President Hosny Mubarak, who has ruled the country under emergency law since 1981.


“I have a problem with this whole notion of a speech to the Muslim world,” Abbas added. “We are not martians. We have the same problems as people in Latin America or Eastern Europe living under dictatorships.”


“I”m going, but I don”t expect too much,” Behay al-Din Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, told dpa. “It has become very clear that the question of human rights and democracy in Arab countries will not be touched, except in general statements.”


US Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough on Friday told reporters that Egypt was a “country with a burgeoning younger population that the president looked very much forward to engaging directly in this speech and in the meetings.”


Many in Cairo will be comparing Obama”s speech to the last major address from a senior US official in the Egyptian capital – the famous occasion four years ago where then secretary of state Condoleezza Rice appeared to confess past US errors.


“For 60 years, the United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East – and we achieved neither,” Rice told Egyptians gathered at the American University in Cairo in 2005.


“Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people,” Rice said.


“Rice”s speech was helpful,” Hassan said. “But the former administration”s strategy wasn”t consistent. It was mixed with invasion of Iraq, giving (former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon a green light to do whatever he wanted, and sending prisoners on CIA flights to same countries that are asked to respect human rights. It was very confused and inconsistent strategy.”


“Rice said everything we wanted to hear from the United States,” agreed Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. “She offered an apology for supporting dictatorships in the region, including Mubarak”s, and a promise to end this support.”


“But what followed was more violations of human rights by the United States, domestically and abroad, and the continuation of support for regional autocrats for the sake of security and stability,” Bahgat said.


“Deeds are far more important than words. Leading by example and admitting past US mistakes is really what we expect from this administration.”


“We know this is a public-relations event for the Americans and the Egyptians,” Bahgat said. “But the most important thing Obama can do with this speech is to do no harm.”


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