Q+A-Why is Obama speech to Muslim world important?
|Sunday, May 31,2009 04:56|
|By Ross Colvin|
WASHINGTON, May 31 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama will give a highly anticipated speech to the Muslim world in Egypt on June 4 in which he will seek to reach out to Muslims alienated by the previous Bush administration"s policies.
WHY IS THIS SPEECH IMPORTANT AND WHAT DOES HE HOPE TO ACHIEVE?
Obama"s speech is ostensibly aimed at the more than 1 billion Muslims worldwide, but he will likely focus on Muslims in the Middle East. Promoting a more stable and prosperous Middle East is in the United States" long-term national security and economic interests. Restoring U.S. influence in the region is vital as Obama seeks the help of moderate Muslim majority nations in the stand-off with Iran over its nuclear program. He will use the speech to build on his earlier efforts to mend ties with the Muslim world that were badly frayed by the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the treatment of terrorism suspects in the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
WHY IS HE GIVING IT IN EGYPT?
Analysts say because it was the least bad option in a region whose governments are mostly authoritarian. The Obama administration says it chose Egypt despite its poor human rights record because it is the "heart of the Muslim world" and that the speech is bigger than where it is given. Analysts say Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country and where Obama spent some of his childhood, would have been a better bet as it is a democracy, but it is not seen as representative of the Arab heartland of the Muslim world.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS OF DOING IT THERE?
A crackdown on government opponents Muslim Brotherhood politicians or on journalists ahead of Obama"s visit would be hugely embarrassing for the president. Dozens of Brotherhood members have been detained and released in recent weeks but no more than usual. Analysts say they expect the Egyptian government to be on good behavior, but Obama still faces the risk of being seen as endorsing President Hosni Mubarak, in power since 1981 and whose last election was marred by charges of vote-rigging and the arrest of his main opponent.
IS THIS THE FIRST TIME HE HAS REACHED OUT TO MUSLIMS?
In his Jan. 20 inauguration speech, Obama said he sought a new way forward with the Muslim world "based on mutual interest and mutual respect," a phrase he repeated in a major speech during his visit to Ankara in April in which he also said the United States" relationship with the Muslim world could not simply be based on opposition to terrorism. He said then he would unveil specific programs to advance trade, investment, education and health in the region in the coming months. Obama also gave his first television interview as president to an Arab channel, and one of his first acts after taking office was to order the closure of Guantanamo prison.
WHAT IS HE LIKELY TO SAY?
The White House has scotched speculation that Obama might use the speech to unveil a new Middle East peace initiative, although it says he will talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But analysts say that if Obama is serious about improving relations with Muslims, he needs to show them he is serious about pursuing a peace plan. They say Obama needs to go beyond his trademark soaring rhetoric and give solid details of how he plans to build better U.S.-Muslim ties. The big question is whether he will follow in the footsteps of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who in 2005 used a speech in Cairo to press for democratic reforms across the region. Analysts say Obama is unlikely to upset his hosts and will be more conciliatory.
HOW WILL MUSLIMS VIEW IT?
Obama polls well in the region, better than the country he leads, and his election was greeted with relief by many who wanted improved relations with the United States. Most will be looking to see what he says about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. "People in the region are looking to Obama with a great deal of hope. They are anxious for him to succeed and chart a new path in this relationship," said Steve Grand, an expert on U.S.-Islamic relations. Many Muslims believe former President George W. Bush"s policies in the region were biased in favor of Israel. They may also want to hear some mention of the United States" own human rights record in the region.