June 4th, 2009
11:43 AM ET
10 years ago

Muslims welcome Obama's words in Cairo

Obama's speech, at the Great Hall at Cairo University, was an effort to improve the image of the United States among Muslims.

Obama's speech, at the Great Hall at Cairo University, was an effort to improve the image of the United States among Muslims.

(CNN) - Minutes after President Barack Obama finished his historic speech in Cairo, Egypt, on Thursday, CNN correspondent Ben Wedeman's phone rang.

It was Walid Batouti, the owner of an Egyptian tour company, and normally a skeptic of U.S. policy in the Middle East. "Yes, we can!" he shouted, echoing the campaign slogan that brought Obama to power last year. "I've had my problems with the U.S. in the past, but it was a great speech, and we really appreciated it," he said.

Batouti said he was going to put an Obama bumper sticker on his car and drive around town. Reza Aslan, the best-selling Iranian-American author of "No God But God," was also a doubter before the speech.

But his first response was a single word: "Wow!"

"If the purpose of the speech was to forge a new beginning between the U.S. and the Muslim world, he did that," he told CNN by phone from London.

"He spoke in terms no American president has done before," Aslan said, citing Obama's description of the invasion of Iraq as a war of choice, and the word "occupation" in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Aslan wanted Obama to press harder for democracy in the Muslim world, but did not actually expect him to do so while standing next to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power for nearly three decades.

That was "by far the biggest weakness of the speech, but that was expected," he said.

But even Obama's "simple platitudes about democracy" got a warm response, Aslan observed.

"Hopefully he will recognize that by far his biggest applause lines were the democracy ones," he said.

In Pakistan, which the Obama administration has identified as one of its top priorities, the reaction was cautiously optimistic.

"This was an important speech where there were frank admissions of some injustices against the Muslim world," said political analyst Ishtiaq Ahmad, a professor at Quaid-i-Azam University.

But, he warned: "Speeches alone can't make a difference."

And Imtiaz Gul, the head of the Center for Research and Security Studies in Islamabad, said Obama made some false steps.

"Highlighting the billions of dollars in aid only plays up America's arrogance," he said.

Quoting the Quran and America's founding fathers was an effort "to show commonalities and shared responsibilities," Gul said, but added: "It's rhetoric we've heard before and it's much too early to see if it's working. We have to wait and see."

Practical steps in Afghanistan, where the United States is increasing its troop numbers, will make more of a difference than speeches, Gul argued.

"What has to happen is a de-Americanization of the war and the reconstruction efforts."

And in the cafes of Baghdad, Iraq, people wanted less talk and more action.

"This speech will not change anything," said Hussein Mahdi, 52, a former military man. "We want something physical, something real."

"Are those words going to be carried out?" asked Qasim Rasheed, an unemployed 55-year-old. "In our country, we have a lot of politicians who speak without doing anything."

–CNN's Richard Allen Greene, Reza Sayah, and Yousif Bassil contributed to
this report.

Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (111 Responses)
  1. Dubya in a Tutu

    Doug, New Jersey June 4th, 2009 12:16 pm ET

    "send an O'bot and their car (with sticker already attached) to Egypt."

    I love that idea, living in a blue state and witnessesing libs each and every day, this would bring a great deal of fear to the mid-east.

    Have the lib drive that car around on their roads, they would see Democrat Americans who have a total disregard for human life not unlike the extremist Islamists who blow up cafes.

    Or the Christian extemists that kill doctors?

    June 4, 2009 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
  2. PaulMoATX

    irenewonderful speech.i just hope that kissing israel butt will stop soon,with them as friends,who needs enemies.

    It sounds like you are a little behind on what's going on between the President and Israel. Obama has just recently called for Israel to freeze all settlement construction on occupied land in the West Bank, and here are a couple of quotes from the President:

    "Part of being a good friend is being honest," the US President said yesterday.

    "I think there have been times when we are not as honest as we should be about the fact that the current direction, the current trajectory, in the region is profoundly negative, not only for Israeli interests but also US interests."

    BTW, I haven't seen Obama kissing anyways butt. He's a leader, not a follower, and showing it.

    June 4, 2009 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  3. Bill, Bloominton IL

    More words and no action.

    June 4, 2009 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  4. chutchin

    Oooeee Doug from New Jersey...you sound rather like a bitter idiot...

    June 4, 2009 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  5. Former Republican

    Hey Jimbo, did you take a big hit on your military industrial complex stocks after that speech?

    June 4, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  6. sunnydee

    Wow – great speech! But the proof will come with the resulting actions that are taken by the gov't. Already the speech is out on the internet in a dozen languages to reach the most vulnerable audience for the extremists. If this continues, there is a real chance for change in the MidEast. Two things I'm surprised about (although I probably shouldn't be)....why do the posters who say they want "action" all believe that the entire world's problems should have been solved in the last 4 months and that the President is a failure because they haven't been yet?? It takes time people – calm down! The other thing....I have listened to the same speeches as the other posters. Why am I hearing a new respect for other countries and peoples, where others are hearing "apologies"?? Boggles the mind how some people continue to be happy to swim in the muck of such negativity.

    June 4, 2009 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  7. MT

    Finally, someone that understands that Israel isn't top dog and shouldn't be treated as such. They are no longer being persecuted and no longer should treat Palestinians as such.

    June 4, 2009 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  8. Ted

    Excellent. But we still have a long way to go in overcoming the Bush administration's attitude towards Islam. Obama knows that. But I will bet that no one throws shoes at Obama.

    June 4, 2009 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  9. sensible Cape Coral FL

    "This is great time for genius to be alive." Abigail Adams

    June 4, 2009 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  10. elliott

    Of course they welcome Osama...I mean Obama...he's one of them. (refer to his speech)
    This maniac is bad for America!

    June 4, 2009 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
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