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The ground truth from Cairo.
[Editor's note: GlobalPost will have reaction and analysis throughout the day to Obama's speech to the Muslim world. For more GlobalPost coverage, read about the view from Dubai, and from elsewhere in the world.]
CAIRO — By the time President Barack Obama arrived at Cairo University to deliver his much-anticipated address to the Muslim world, he had already accomplished much in the Arab world’s most populous city.
Obama visited with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. They focused on trying to break the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, according to news reports. President Obama then headed to the Sultan Hassan Mosque with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for a tour.
Obama strolled the mosque in his socks, and Clinton wore a loose headscarf in deference to Muslim tradition.
Egyptians across Cairo crowded around televisions and radios to hear the president’s address, as various Arab TV stations dubbed his words in Arabic.
But it didn’t take any translation to understand some of his opening words, which were a simple gesture of respect.
“Assalaamu alaykum,” Obama said, wishing peace, in Arabic, to the 3,000 attending Egyptians.
In his speech, Obama made almost immediate mention of the discord between the West and the Muslim world, bringing up both European colonialism and Muslim extremism.
He then framed the purpose of his visit.
“I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition,” he said.
Obama also showed a new willingness to open up about his own history. During the presidential campaign, Obama sought to distance himself from his Islamic roots in an effort to combat rumors he was a Muslim. His middle name, Hussein, was often used as fodder for his opposition.
Since taking office, though, Obama has re-emphasized his past. In his Cairo speech, he mentioned that his father was Muslim, that he had lived in Indonesia, and that he had worked with Muslims in Chicago.
In the lead-up to Obama’s speech, many around Cairo were concerned that Obama would rely on rhetoric rather than offering specific strategies for dealing with a region in a deep state of crisis. Obama needed to offer a plan for action, many from across the Egyptian political spectrum said, for them to view his speech as a success.
Obama did take on some of the pressing regional issues in his address.
“Make no mistake,” Obama said, “we do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.”