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Egyptians set the stage for Obama address

The people of Cairo have some ideas about what the U.S. president should tell the Muslim world this Thursday.

An Egyptian worker cleans a garden in front of the dome at Cairo University, ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Egypt where he is expected to deliver a speech on June 4 in Cairo. (Asmaa Waguih/Reuters)

CAIRO — President Barack Obama travels to Egypt this week to fulfill a campaign promise to address the Muslim world.

The president will spend Wednesday in Saudi Arabia and land in Cairo on Thursday before heading to France and Germany.

In the several hours he’s likely to be in Cairo, observers expect to hear him extend an olive branch to Muslims, boost Egypt’s status as a regional leader, stare down extremism, and make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

All in a day’s work for the man who once jokingly referred to himself as Superman.

Obama has decided to fly into the region at a time of deep crisis. Gaza lies in ruins, the Pakistani government remains unstable, Hezbollah appears set to win elections in Lebanon and Iran continues to rattle the saber. Terrorist threats abound and Obama is banking on the fact that words still count.

Obama has chosen to speak at Cairo University in the heart of the city.

Unlike Al-Azhar University across town, which is a hub of Islamic scholarship in the Middle East, Cairo University is better known — or perhaps notorious — for its political legacy, having graduated Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and Naguib Mahfouz.

Egyptians, meanwhile, are unabashedly quick to note that their country was the obvious choice for Obama to visit.

“I am not surprised [Obama chose Egypt] because we speak about Egypt as very important to the U.S.,” said Diaa Rashwan, a scholar at Egyptian think tank Al-Ahram Center.

Street-level buzz has gone through the roof as Obama’s visit approaches. And few hold back when it comes to expressing what they think Obama ought to be talking about.