Reviews and reactions around the world to President Obama's Cairo University speech vary from being laudatory to disappointed to downright caustic, depending on where you look. And for their part, Huffington Post bloggers weigh in with a similar spread of of opinion. Scroll down to find out what went well and what didn't from a range of activists, politicians, comedians and more...
President Barack Obama's restrained part-olive branch, part-truth telling 55-minute speech at Cairo University was an outstanding first step in attempting to bridge the gulf that exists between the U.S. and Muslims around the world. While it will take years, if not decades, to create a more peaceful, loving, and just relationship, it is clear that President Obama understands that part of the world in a way that far exceeds those of past presidents. His willingness to speak uncomfortable truths to Muslims and Americans reveals a kind of engagement with the Muslim world that will likely benefit us all.
It was on women's rights that Pres. Obama sought to truly, as Mr. Shrum said, show cultural sensitivity, completely and totally ignoring the horrific issues women face in Muslim and Arab countries across the world. That is the threat of death if they do not kowtow to the men who make the rules and enforce them through beatings, rapes, honor killings and all manner of abuse, mostly in the name of religion. It is a cause I have fought for since the 1990s, when Mavis Leno took up the charge of Afghan women under the Taliban. But today, Pres. Obama chose instead to respect the cultural differences that are not only dangerous for women, but deny them basic human rights.
When it comes to violent extremism towards the populace, talking about an older woman getting blown up was okay, but acknowledging the wholesale violence against women and girls, Obama offered an American shrug in reaction to what women in Arab and Muslim countries have to endure. Mentioning that was just too much. Instead, Pres. Obama focused on, unbelievably, hair and traditional coverings of Muslim women. As for a 13 year-old-girl stoned to death, that was just too much.
Bush ended his sojourn in the Arab world having shoes thrown at him by an Iraqi journalist, who promptly became a national hero in the very country the former president sought to "liberate."
Not only did no one throw shoes at Obama, the crowd of 3,000 in the Cairo University auditorium today -- the speech was not held in an outdoor plaza for obvious security reasons -- gave the new American president a standing ovation.
So it has to be counted a good start.
Yes, Obama is targeting the Arab 'street' and global public opinion - but to the corrupt regimes that dominate that region of the world, his oration means virtually nothing. Repression and suppression will go on uninterrupted. And to those whose abiding hatred of Israel (and thus America) is absolute, Obama's words will be seen as empty and hypocritical.
I can report that the people of this region were greatly looking forward to President Obama's speech today and it appears that they viewed it very favorably. Not only did the audience in Cairo cheer Obama, but not one person threw a shoe at him. However, let's be honest, even if someone threw a shoe, I have no doubt that if former President Bush could dodge one (or two), President Obama could have dodged a shoe even more easily - in fact, I think Obama would have dodged the shoe in a graceful slow-motion style like "Neo" from "The Matrix" and he wouldn't have even missed a word from his speech while doing it.
Today's speech in Cairo, the most historic of his presidency thus far, is just the latest in a string of smart foreign policy moves that President Obama has made since taking office. He added troops in Afghanistan, brought Russia into the Iran conversation, and has spoken humbly with the Muslim world--something his predecessor was incapable of doing. It's been a good first few months.
But it won't be enough.
Cairo was a first chance, on relatively friendly ground, to begin to set out a policy of human rights promotion. He made a good start, but President Obama can be sure that people from Moscow to Beijing and from Rangoon to Havana, as well as in Cairo, Damascus and Tehran, will have been hanging on every word he said, and will now be looking even more closely at what he and the United States government go on to do in the Middle East and beyond.
He commendably touched on the need for girls and women's education in Muslim countries - but ignored the fact that in the Muslim countries where women have least access to education, Islamic fundamentalism is often strongest.
At times in his speech, it was almost as if Obama in his elegant oration was pandering to the fundamentalists and the oppressive governments who have defined the Islamic dialogue for decades. He said that he does not want to be a prisoner of the past, but his speech was littered with history which, while accurate, is old news when it stands alone without direction or context.
"Republicans screw the Arabs. Democrats screw the Arabs, but with a smile," is a popular saying among the dissidents' circles in Egypt. President Obama's choice of our country as his next destination from where to address the Muslim World only validates the saying. Even before his "historical speech" is delivered, Obama's "mini-historical speeches" have been nothing but one slap after the other on the faces of human rights campaigners in the region. After conversing with the Saudi monarch, "yes we can" changed to "I'm struck by his majesty's wisdom." Will the next step be praising the public beheadings in the kingdom as an example of ideal justice?
------------------- The following are from before the speech was given and offer advice, predictions and analysis from that perspective.
Advice and predictions abound in the lead up to President Obama's highly anticipated Thursday speech from Cairo, Egypt to address the Muslim world. While some seem almost saccharine towards what will no doubt be a symbolic gesture, others are more cynical and do not expect the speech to yield much tangible gains. Huffington Post bloggers, for their part, have weighed in and hail from all sides of the spectrum, in varying degrees. Scroll down to get the original advice, predictions and analyses of experts, journalists, politicians, political dissidents and others.
During his visit to Cairo, Obama can write a new chapter in history. The idea that the American President will address Islamic Nations from Cairo, capital of Egypt and home to Al Azhar University carries a symbolic gesture that can open the door for a new era of dialogue and understanding between the West and Muslims.
... he stakes are high and so are the expectations. Muslims will listen to Obama and he has a chance to get to their hearts and minds. He can frankly tell Muslims that they need to change their ways. But he has to provide them with alternative means of getting their justice. The United Nations and the structure of the Security Council have both failed to justly address Muslim issues.
Regardless of whether they get the day off, or whether or not they look to Obama's visit as a fresh start, or whether they anticipate reproach, or warmth, Obama's visit is by far the most anticipated by any public official in many years. While I was surprised at the number of socialites wanting (and actively trying to get themselves invited) to attend the speech, I was not as surprised as I was when my five-year-old son asked if he could attend the much anticipated event...an event that should usher in positive results that as one observer put it "extend beyond the dome of Cairo University finally getting a bath".
President Obama has the opportunity to make history in Cairo on Thursday. If Obama stands firm on his policy differences with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, he can win tremendous goodwill for the U.S. in the Arab and Muslim world...
And, by stating that the U.S. will work with whatever governments emerge in Lebanon and Iran, Obama can affect the political outcome of the elections in a positive way, regardless of which candidate or party wins: the story of the election won't be "defeat for the U.S." or "defeat for U.S. diplomacy," because the U.S. didn't pick a side. Instead, each election will be an opening for U.S. engagement with the new government, regardless of who wins.
This week's speech not only offers an important symbol of the United States' commitment to opening diplomatic channels in the Arab world, but also will be a chance for President Obama to offer his own contribution to the institution called America. Will he send a message of peaceful cooperation and judicious responsibility, one that will take hold in the heartland and help rectify the bellicose past, or will he gloss over the touchy topics at hand?
Considering the President's "visionary" direction and dedication to a new beginning, there's little doubt in my mind that the behaviors by which our nation lives will be altered by Obama's Cairo speech, a speech that, perhaps, could become an institution in and of itself.
This coming Thursday President Obama will give a much-anticipated speech in Cairo ostensibly addressed to the Muslim world....Yet, one thing that has been ignored is who exactly is anticipating this speech? The answer, in the Middle East anyway, is no one, with the notable exception of government controlled media.
... President Obama is perhaps the orator of his generation, yet what the Muslim world needs now are not the hollow promises of "hope" and "change" but meaningful, actionable change that positively changes their lives. Until then, Obama's words, however articulate and precisely delivered, will continue to be ignored through the din.
The Obama administration has the opportunity to promote a new strategy for human rights promotion in Egypt that will make the Egyptian government a partner in human rights promotion efforts, and that situates U.S. human rights promotion efforts within the multilateral human rights framework by which Egypt is bound - an approach almost completely neglected by previous administrations, egregiously so by the Bush administration.
President Barack Obama's June 4th speech in Cairo will be one of the most important of his presidency.
The success or failure of Obama's presidency may well depend on his actions in the Muslim world, especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan where he has recently committed thousands of additional American troops and billions of dollars. ... Muslims aren't expecting President Obama to solve all of their political problems. But in Egypt the President can allay their darkest (and most common) fears by organizing his administration around an optimistic big idea.
US policy towards Syria is an important element of its approach to a region where conflicts and alliances are interconnected.
To succeed in the Middle East Barack Obama will need to balance micro and macro policy in the correct order. The interconnected nature of conflicts and alliances in the Middle East present even the most accomplished peacemaker with an immense challenge.
Although Obama's shameful silence on Israel's massacre in Gaza and his increasingly unsuccessful and casualty-inducing drone attacks in Pakistan have left many Muslims frustrated, his words of conciliation, dignity and respect continue to inspire optimistic Egyptians and Muslims abroad, whose only currency now is hope for an new era of changed, enlightened US relations with the Middle East that does not depend on dictatorships and prostration.
The popularity of the rock star president has bemused Egyptians who had watched in horror as the American people elected and re-elected George W. Bush. The sudden shift in leadership -- and potentially foreign policy -- has at times been the butt of Cairenes' famed sense of humor: "Obama is a PR campaign cooked up by the CIA."
... [But] ultimately, despite cynicism, security concerns, disappointment and the traffic snarls that Obama's visit is sure to create, Cairo is gratified to receive Barack Hussein Obama and true to Egyptian hospitality, will wait to pass further judgment until after the conclusion of his eight hour visit.
Tomorrow a global Rorschach inkblot test will take place. Obama will speak in Cairo. All around the world there will be cries of alarm and sighs of relief, predictions full of hope and condemnations dripping with outrage, disappointment and celebration, denunciations that the speech was too soft and accusations that it was just more of the same.
The diverse reactions will have little to do with what he actually says though. It will be due to the fact that what the "Muslim World" wants and thinks remains a mystery to most people, including many Muslims who live in it. And because it remains a mystery, when people express policy prescriptions and opinions concerning it, they reveal more about themselves than shed any light on that world or their relationship with it.
As long as this is the case, regardless of what Obama says, there will be continued instability, miscalculation, and danger from all sides.